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Dean v. City of Coatesville

March 17, 2010

RICK A. DEAN
v.
CITY OF COATESVILLE, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Rick Dean, former Finance Director of the City of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, asserts claims against defendants City of Coatesville and Harry Walker, who is City Manager of Coatesville, for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")(Count I) and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of property rights by wrongful termination and deprivation of property rights by defamation (Counts II and III), and avers state law defamation against Walker only (Count IV).

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), defendants move to dismiss all counts in the complaint save the FMLA count against Coatesville. Defendants have also moved to stay the action pending resolution of Hayduk v. City of Johnstown et al., C.A. No. 09-3948 (3d Cir.), in which our Court of Appeals will address the issue of individual liability under the FMLA. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny defendant's motion to stay and grant their motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part.

I. Factual Background

Coatesville employed Dean as its Finance Director from September 11, 2006 until his termination on or about October 2, 2008. Compl. ¶ 8. On September 8, 2008, Dean claims to have been seriously injured in a car accident, Compl. ¶ 13, which caused him to miss work from September 9 to September 15, 2008. Compl. ¶ 14. On September 9*fn1 Dean notified Walker in an email that he would be absent from work through September 15. Compl. ¶ 15. Though Dean alleges he notified Coatesville and Walker that he would not be at work on those days, he alleges that at no time was he told his absence from work was "unauthorized." Compl. ¶ 16. Dean returned to work on September 15, but was then absent from September 16 through September 19, Compl. ¶ 17-18, having notified Coatesville and Walker that he would be absent those days. Compl. ¶ 19. On September 23 Dean informed Walker that he would be out until October 7 due to prescheduled doctors' appointments said to be related to the accident. Compl. ¶ 20. On or about September 29, 2008, Dean faxed notifications from his physician to Coatesville regarding his need to miss work. Compl. ¶ 22.

Defendants allegedly did not respond to any of Dean's communications. Compl. ¶ 23. Instead, on October 3, 2008, Coatesville, through Walker, fired Dean. Compl. ¶ 24. The letter defendants sent to Dean explained that he had been terminated pursuant to Section 35-8(B) of the Code of the City of Coatesville (the "Code") because he had failed to report to work for three consecutive workdays without authorized leave. Compl. ¶ 26. Defendants also cited the City's collective bargaining agreement as a basis for termination, but Dean claims that he was not subject to that agreement as he was a member of executive management. Compl. ¶ 29. Dean claims that the Code only allows for termination based on delinquency, misconduct, inefficiency or incapability to perform the work of one's position satisfactorily, and requires the approval of City Council for "cause" dismissals. Compl. ¶ 32. The Code also allows for termination for job abandonment where an employee fails to report to work for three consecutive workdays without authorized leave. Compl. ¶ 30. Dean claims that his leave was authorized, that his dismissal was without cause, and that the City Council did not approve his firing. Compl. ¶ 31-33.

Walker and City Council President Karen Jorgenson allegedly told various employees of Coatesville and made statements to reporters that Dean was terminated for "job abandonment." Compl. ¶ 34. Walker reportedly said that he had no idea why Dean had "stopped showing up for work," and added, "I think Mr. Dean fired Coatesville." Compl. ¶ 35.

Dean filed this lawsuit on September 28, 2009.

II. Analysis

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the defendants move to dismiss all of Dean's claims except for Count I against Coatesville. To survive such a motion, a party's factual allegations must raise a right to relief above the speculative level, and a complaint must allege facts suggestive of illegal conduct. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly). The Supreme Court recently clarified the Twombly standard in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), where it held that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted). A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads facts sufficient to allow the court to "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The plausibility standard is not as demanding as a "probability requirement," but it does oblige a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to show that there is more than the mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. (internal quotations omitted).

The Supreme Court in Iqbal established two principles that now underlie the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry. First, although a court must accept as true the factual allegations in a complaint, this does not extend to legal conclusions. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Second, a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 1950. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. If the well-pleaded facts allege, but do not "show," more than the mere possibility of misconduct, then the pleader is not entitled to relief within the meaning of Rule 8(a)(2). Id.

In deciding a motion to dismiss, "courts generally consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim. A document forms the basis of a claim if the document is 'integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint.'" Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).

A. FMLA

Defendants move to dismiss Dean's FMLA claim only against defendant Walker. Dean argues that Walker is liable under the FMLA. Whether Walker, as a public official, can be liable under the FMLA is a question of law currently pending before our Court of Appeals in Hayduk v. City of Johnstown, et al., at No. 09-3948 (3d Cir.).*fn2 Defendants have moved to stay this matter pending resolution of Hayduk. On a motion to stay, the burden is on the party requesting the stay to "make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward..." Haas v. Burlington County, No. 08-1102, 2009 WL 4250037 at *2 (D.N.J. Nov. 24, 2009)(quoting Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 255 (1936)). The ...


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