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Hara v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Education

January 22, 2010

MONITA HARA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, JOHN TOMMASINI, AND CHRISTINE BRENNAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 9.) Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part as discussed below. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("federal question jurisdiction"), and over Plaintiff's state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 ("supplemental jurisdiction").

BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff Monita Hara ("Plaintiff") was at all relevant times employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as the Superintendent of the Scranton State School of the Deaf ("SSSD"). (Amend. Compl. ¶ 10, Doc. 9.) The Pennsylvania Department of Education ("PDE") is an educational agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 2.) Defendant John Tommasini ("Tommasini") was at all relevant times employed by the PDE as the Director of the Bureau of Special Education. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 3.) Defendant Christine Brennan ("Brennan") was at all relevant times employed by the PDE as the Director of Human Resources. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 4.)

Prior to May 11, 2009, Plaintiff acted as a private citizen expressing concern with the proposed closing of the SSSD as a guest columnist for the Scranton Times newspaper. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 23.) On or about May 11, 2009, Tommasini contacted Plaintiff and informed her she was to meet with him in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the following day. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 15.) On May 12, 2009, Plaintiff arrived for the meeting with Tommasini. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 20.) Brennan was also present at this meeting. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 20.) Tommasini and Brennan discussed the Scranton Times article with Plaintiff, then left the room. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 22-24.) When they returned, Tommasini and Brennan questioned Plaintiff regarding a group of individuals who had been denied access to SSSD to complete an inventory. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff explained that those individuals did not have the required clearances to be in close proximity to the students living in the dormitories at the time.(Amend. Compl. ¶ 25.) In response to this explanation, Brennan told Plaintiff she was being transferred over one hundred and twenty (120) miles away to Harrisburg. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 26, 31.) After inquiring about the details of Plaintiff's new position, Plaintiff told Brennan and Tommasini she did not understand why the PDE kept changing its explanation of why SSSD would be closed. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28.) Tommasini and Brennan again left the room and returned. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.) Upon their return, Brennan informed Plaintiff that she was being suspended for ten (10) days without pay or benefits. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff was forced to resign to avoid tarnishing her impeccable employment history and reputation with a baseless suspension. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 31.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains two counts. At Count I, she brings a cause of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants for violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. At Count II, she brings a cause of action under Pennsylvania law against all defendants for constructive discharge. Defendants' motion to dismiss will be considered as to each claim.

I. Section 1983 Claims (Count I)

Defendants first argue that Plaintiff's claims brought against the Pennsylvania Department of Education pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should be dismissed because states and state agencies are not "persons" under § 1983.*fn1 That states and state agencies do not qualify as "persons" under § 1983 is now axiomatic. By applying rules of statutory construction, the Supreme Court held in Will v. Michigan Department of State Police that Congress simply did not intend to place states within the reach of § 1983 liability. 491 U.S. 58, 62-71 (1989). Because the Pennsylvania Department of Education is not a "person" within the meaning of § 1983, Plaintiff's claims against it at Count I will be dismissed.*fn2

The Supreme Court also reasoned that because a suit against a state official acting in his or her official capacity is no different than a suit against the state, there is no distinction between the two for purposes of § 1983. Will, 491 U.S. at 71. Therefore, Plaintiff's claims would also be barred as to § 1983 claims for monetary damages against Tommasini and Brennan in their official capacities. Plaintiff does not specify whether this litigation is brought against Tommasini and Brennan in their official or individual capacities. Because claims against Tommasini and ...


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