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Warren v. Luzerne County

February 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie United States District Judge



Following her termination from employment as a Correctional Officer at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility ("LCCF"), Plaintiff, Pearlean Warren, brought the above-captioned employment discrimination suit seeking damages pursuant to state and federal law. Named defendants in the action include: Luzerne County; LCCF; Warden Gene Fischi; and Prison Board Members and County Commissioners Gregory Skrepenak, Maryanne C. Petrilla, Steven A. Urban, Wister Yuhas, and Robert Payne. (Amend. Comp., Dkt. 3, at ¶¶ 5-13.)*fn1 Plaintiff contends that her rights were violated when she was terminated after allegedly testing positive for cocaine on a drug screening test. (Id.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Plaintiff's claims were not properly pled.*fn2 Because Plaintiff has agreed to withdraw certain claims and a number of Plaintiff's claims have not been properly pled, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted. Defendants are not, however, entitled to a qualified immunity defense at this time. Plaintiff will be afforded an opportunity to file an amended pleading that cures the deficiencies of her current complaint, if she can do so in good faith.*fn3

I. Background

Plaintiff is a 56 year-old African American woman. (Id. at ¶ 14.) She was employed as a Correctional Officer at the LCCF for approximately seventeen (17) years. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

On or around March 6, 2008, Plaintiff attended a party and smoked a cigar. (Id. at ¶ 16.) The following day, March 7, 2008, Plaintiff reported for duty at LCCF at 3:00 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 17.) At approximately 9:45 p.m. that evening her replacement told her she was to report to the Main Prison for a drug test. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Plaintiff went to the Main Prison and "took a drug test which did not include a 'split screen' which is listed as mandatory in the Defendant's Correctional Institution's Policy." (Id. at ¶ 19.)

LCCF requires that all drug testing follow the "Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Work Place Drug Testing Programs." (Id. at ¶ 20.) The guidelines require that a Medical Review Officer receive all test results, be a licensed physician, and discuss the results of any drug tests with the individual. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff asserts that these Guidelines were not followed and that Warden Gene Fischi "told the Plaintiff about a positive test which had never been given to a Medical Review Officer." (Id. at ¶ 22.) "Plaintiff requested that a split sample be tested at a different or the same Department of Health and Human Service Lab which was not done." (Id. at ¶ 23.)

On March 13, 2008, Plaintiff was suspended without pay. (Id. at ¶ 26.) On March 14, 2008, Plaintiff underwent another drug screening for over nine hundred (900) drugs. (Id. at ¶ 24.) This drug test would reflect any previous drug use for up to two to three weeks. (Id.) The results of this test were negative except for Rantadine (Zantac), a prescription drug. (Id.)

On April 28, 2008, Plaintiff was discharged for having allegedly tested positive for cocaine. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Plaintiff asserts that "[w]hile drug testing was to be done randomly, the Plaintiff was selectively prosecuted because of her age, race and gender." (Id. at ¶ 25.) She additionally contends that she has "been subjected to a continuing policy of harassment and intimidation constituting a hostile work environment." (Id. at ¶ 28.)

On May 19, 2009, Plaintiff commenced this action. (Comp., Dkt. 1.) On June 3, 2009, an amended complaint was filed. (Amend. Comp., Dkt. 3.) Plaintiff seeks remedies for: 1) discrimination, hostile work environment, and termination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; 2) violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et. seq.; 3) violation of the her First, Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985; 4) violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) 43 P.S. § 955(a) et seq.; 5) conspiracy; and 6) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id.) On July 20, 2009, Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss. (Mt. Dis., Dkt. 5.) The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

The court's task on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiffs may be entitled to relief." Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000). In doing so, all factual allegations and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are assumed to be true. Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). The court, however, need not accept as true a complaint's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." In re Burlington Coat Factory Secs. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not serve to question a plaintiff's well-pled facts, but rather tests the legal foundation of the plaintiff's claims.

United States v. Marisol, Inc., 725 F. Supp. 833, 836 (M.D. Pa. 1989).

The Supreme Court recently abrogated its longstanding decision in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), which had held that a complaint may be dismissed only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." The Court retired this "no set of facts" language in favor of a new standard: a plaintiff's obligation to state a claim for relief under Rule 8(a)(2) "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). As a result of Twombly, plaintiffs were required to nudge their claims "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Id. To state a claim consistent with the language of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which requires only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Id. "[W]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). As such, courts may dismiss a complaint if it fails to "contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562.

Moreover, the Court's more recent decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (May 18, 2009), held that the pleading requirements of Rule 8 mark "a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Consequently, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not 'show[n]' -- 'that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" and the complaint should be dismissed. Id.

B. Section 1981

Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's section 1981 claim contending that there is no private right of action against state entities under section 1981. (Mt. Dis., Dkt. 6, at 8.) Plaintiff has agreed to withdraw her section 1981 claim. (Opp. Br., Dkt. 15, at 4.) Accordingly, Plaintiff's section 1981 claim will be dismissed.

C. Section 1983

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss attacks Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint insofar as it asserts Fourth Amendment illegal search and seizure and Fourteenth Amendment denial of due process and equal protection claims.*fn4 (See Dkt. 6, at 14-16.) The ...

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