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Larose v. Chichester School District

March 31, 2010

JOSEPH P. LAROSE, SR., ET AL.
v.
CHICHESTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case comes before me on the defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiffs, Joseph P. LaRose, Sr. ("LaRose") and his wife Donna M. LaRose, raise federal and state claims against the defendants, Chichester School District, Michael T. Golde, and Gregory Bienkowski, for allegedly defamatory statements made by Golde and Bienkowski at a school board meeting. For the reasons that follow, I must grant the defendants' motion to dismiss the federal claims and will remand the case to state court for resolution of the state claims.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs allege that LaRose was hired by Chichester School District in January 2003 as a teacher's aid and football coach, and that he voluntarily retired from those positions in October 2006 for personal reasons. Golde was the school district superintendent between January 2003 and November 2008; Bienkowski has been the director of student activities and athletic director for the school district since 2007. In May 2008, the plaintiffs allege that Golde and Bienkowski attended a school board meeting and made statements in which they accused LaRose of stealing money from the football program and defrauding the school district during his employment. The plaintiffs allege that the statements were false and that Golde, Bienkowski, and others planned to make these statements public for the purpose of injuring LaRose and his family. They further allege that the false statements harmed LaRose's reputation in the community, led his sports clothing and executive placement businesses to lose profits, and caused him and his wife emotional distress.

The plaintiffs brought state law claims for defamation, disparagement, emotional distress, right to privacy, and state constitutional violations,*fn1 and federal law claims under the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.

II. PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

The defendants contend that the plaintiffs have failed to assert any protected property, liberty, or privacy interests to establish their federal constitutional claims and, even if they did, that the plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently plead a policy or custom that would make the school district liable for any federal constitutional violations. The plaintiffs' response is not a model of clarity and fails to specifically address the defendants' contentions.*fn2 It appears the plaintiffs contend that LaRose has a protected property or liberty interest in his reputation and in earning an income from his private businesses and a protected right of privacy to information resulting from his employment at the school district. They also claim that the school district is liable for the alleged federal constitutional violations because it engaged in a pattern and practice of allowing its school board meetings to be used as a platform for defamatory statements.

III. JURISDICTION

This case was removed from the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, based on the plaintiffs' allegations that they were deprived of rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. This court has original jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' federal constitutional claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Because I am dismissing all the federal claims against the defendants, I will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' state law claims. 28 U.S.C. 1367(c)(3).

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. I must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom and view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although Rule 8 does not demand "'detailed factual allegations,' . . . . 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. See also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) ("This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element."). Iqbal clarified that the Court's decision in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), which required a heightened degree of fact pleading in an anti-trust case, "expounded the standard for 'all civil actions.'" 129 S.Ct. at 1953.

V. DISCUSSION

The only alleged federal claims in the amended complaint are contained in Count VII, where the plaintiffs assert that the defamatory statements made by Golde and Bienkowski who were acting under color of state law, deprived them of their "rights to privacy, property and reputation," "continued employment, " and "liberty" in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Although not clearly stated as a ยง 1983 claim in either the amended complaint or the response to the motion to dismiss, this count alleges deprivations of procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs also claim that the school district is liable because it allowed its facilities and functions to be used for public defamation, a claim, if generously read, as ...


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