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Mahon v. Lake Lehman School Dist.

May 5, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 1). Having been fully briefed, the motion is ripe for disposition.


This is a civil rights action brought by Plaintiff James Mahon, III ("Mahon Sr.") and his son Plaintiff James Mahon, IV ("Mahon Jr."). Mahon Sr. is a former teacher and coach with Defendant Lake Lehman School District. (Compl. at ¶ 19 (Doc. 1)). Mahon Jr. is a former president of the Lake Lehman School Board. (Id. at ¶ 22).

Defendants Charles Balavage ("Balavage"), Mark Kornoski ("Kornoski"), Harold Gray ("Gray") and John Oliver, III ("Oliver") were members of the Lake Lehman School Board. (Id. at ¶ 10 to 14). They will be referred to collectively as the Board Defendants.

The plaintiffs allege that, in the years 2006 and 2007, Mahon Jr. used his influence as a former board president to support the District's teachers in a labor dispute with the school board. (Id. at ¶ 22). Mahon Jr. allegedly encouraged the settlement of a contract between the teachers and the board. (Id. at ¶ 23).

Mahon Jr.'s support for the teachers allegedly frustrated the Board Defendants who instructed Defendant Moderno Rossi ("Rossi"), as a non-board member "go between," to speak with Mahon Jr. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 27, 29). Rossi informed Mahon Jr. that his support for the teachers jeopardized the renewal of Mahon Sr.'s job as assistant coach. (Id. at ¶ 24). The plaintiffs allege that Mahon Sr. had already been recommended for the assistantship by the head coach and that board approval is normally perfunctory. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 26).

The plaintiffs allege that on November 7, 2007, the District, through its Board, denied the renewal of Mahon Sr.'s job as assistant coach because Mahon Jr. "refused to change his position which was supportive of the teachers on a pending contract with the District's teachers." (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 28). This position paid Mahon Sr. $4,000.00 per year. (Id. at ¶ 21).

The plaintiffs filed their complaint on November 3, 2009, alleging that the defendants did not renew Mahon Sr.'s coaching position in retaliation for Mahon Jr.'s decision to support the District's teachers, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17). The defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on January 5, 2010, bringing the case to its present posture. (Doc. 9). JURISDICTION

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief).


When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Third Circuit interprets Twombly to require the plaintiff to describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id.

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, "we are not bound to accept as true a legal ...

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