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Mims v. City of Philadelphia

May 19, 2010


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


Plaintiff, Natalie Mims, a former correctional officer in the Philadelphia prison system, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Philadelphia ("the City") and four other City correctional officers: Capt. Giannetta, Sgt. Ferguson, Sgt. Alderman, and Sgt. Galloway.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that the individual defendants, through a pattern of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against her, forced plaintiff to resign from her position as correctional officer. Plaintiff also alleges that the City permitted, encouraged, or ratified the individual defendants' behavior. As a result, plaintiff argues that the defendants deprived her of her rights to equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that they unlawfully retaliated against her for exercising those rights. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, and mandamus requiring the City to revoke a disciplinary suspension.

Before me is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. I conclude that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for violation of her rights to equal protection and substantive due process, has failed to state procedural due process claims against the individual defendants, and has failed to state retaliation claims against defendants Alderman, Ferguson, and Galloway. As a result, I will grant defendants' motion in part and dismiss those claims. I will, however, deny as premature defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's request for mandamus against the City.

I. Factual and Procedural History*fn2

Plaintiff was employed by the City as a full-time correctional officer from September 1997 through March 1, 2009. During her employment, plaintiff allegedly experienced overcrowded and unsafe working conditions. Plaintiff also alleges that she experienced "ongoing discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by Defendants." (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) While assigned to the City's Riverside Correctional Facility, plaintiff filed an informal complaint about her working conditions in the prison system. She thereafter received an allegedly retaliatory fifteenday suspension, which she served from June 3 to 18, 2007. Plaintiff's amended complaint does not disclose the stated grounds for this suspension.

On July 10, 2007, plaintiff learned from her supervisor, who is not a defendant in this action, that the supervisor was being "pressured by Defendants to 'burn [Plaintiff] for anything she could.'" (Id. ¶ 25 (alteration in original).) On July 16, 2007, defendant Giannetta informed plaintiff that defendant Alderman and another correctional officer had reported observing plaintiff "'laughing and talking to [herself].'" (Id. ¶ 26.) Giannetta told plaintiff that she would be relieved of her duties and escorted to the City doctor's office for psychological evaluation. As a result, plaintiff was out of work for seven days without pay.

On July 24, 2007, plaintiff filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission ("CSC") protesting the fifteen-day suspension that she had served in June.*fn3

On August 3, 2007, plaintiff was "attacked and humiliated" by another correctional officer who is not a party to this action. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff reported the attack and was transferred from the Riverside Correctional Facility to the Detention Center.

Sometime in August, the CSC informed plaintiff that her appeal of the fifteen-day suspension was untimely. Plaintiff "re-submitted" her appeal on August 29, 2007. (Id. ¶ 30.)

On October 5, 2007, plaintiff learned that Major Lawton, who is not a party to this suit, and Giannetta were being assigned to the Detention Center. Fearing further "discrimination, harassment, and retaliation" from those officers, plaintiff experienced a "severe anxiety attack" and was escorted to the city doctor's office for psychological evaluation. (Id. ¶ 31.) As a result of the anxiety attack, plaintiff was transferred on October 24, 2007, to the "Alternative and Special Detention." (Id. ¶ 32.)

On November 19, 2007, plaintiff learned that the CSC had granted her a hearing on her appeal of the fifteen-day suspension. On November 23, 2007, however, plaintiff learned that she would be receiving an additional five-day suspension for the same charges that had led to the fifteen-day suspension, which she had already served. That day, plaintiff requested medical leave for stress, depression, and severe anxiety that she experienced as a result of defendants' conduct. An employee of the City's personnel department informed plaintiff that she did not qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("the FMLA") because she had served the fifteen- day suspension. She was instead placed on a medical leave of absence without pay or health benefits.*fn4

On December 7, 2007, plaintiff's psychiatrist, Dr. Kalkstein, concluded that plaintiff was "unable to perform her job duties because of the stress, depression, and severe anxiety that she was suffering" as a result of defendants' conduct. (Am. Compl. ¶ 37.) As a result, Dr. Kalkstein "removed [plaintiff] from work." (Id.)

On March 11, 2008, plaintiff represented herself at the appeal hearing for the fifteen-day suspension. The CSC ruled in her favor and overturned the suspension, finding the suspension unjustified. Plaintiff returned to work on June 1, 2008.

On August 1, 2008, Giannetta issued a written warning to plaintiff which "fabricated an employee counseling" and "threatened progressive disciplinary sanctions." (Id. ¶ 41.) At some point that month, Alderman threatened plaintiff with "bodily harm," and plaintiff reported the threat to defendant Ferguson, her immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 42.)

On January 15, 2009, plaintiff agreed to testify at the disciplinary hearing of Sgt. Joy, who is not a party to this action. The following month, the City of Philadelphia Administration and, two days later, defendant Galloway, informed plaintiff that she would be required to serve the five-day suspension, beginning on March 2, 2009.

On March 1, 2009, Dr. Kalkstein again "removed" her from work and placed her on a medical leave of absence after deeming her unable to work because of "stress, depression, and severe anxiety" arising from defendants' conduct. Plaintiff was "forced to resign" from her position on June 16, 2009, "due to unsafe working conditions, as well as the ongoing discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that she was subjected to by defendants." (Id. ¶ 46.)

On August 25, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint against the City in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, seeking damages and mandamus relief. Although the complaint did not identify the legal source of plaintiff's entitlement to relief, the City construed it as stating causes of action arising under the FMLA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and removed the action to this court.

The City filed its first motion to dismiss the complaint on September 28, 2009. On October 16, 2009, however, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in response to the motion to dismiss, adding the individual defendants as parties and clarifying that she was seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process. The amended complaint sets forth three counts: one for mandamus against the City, one seeking to hold the City liable under § 1983, and one seeking to hold the individual defendants liable under § 1983. The amended complaint does not assert any entitlement to relief under the FMLA or a state law claim for wrongful discharge. The factual allegations in the amended complaint are substantially identical to those in the original complaint.

Because plaintiff had amended her complaint, I dismissed the City's first motion to dismiss as moot. The City and individual defendants then filed the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff submitted a response, followed by defendants' reply.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the "sufficiency of the allegations contained in the complaint." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). The complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do . . . ." Id. (citations and alterations omitted). Furthermore, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact) . . . ." Id. (citations and footnote omitted). Nevertheless, "a complaint 'need not plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory.'" Lewis v. Ford Motor Co., 610 F. Supp. 2d 476, 490 (W.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 429 (3d Cir. 2001)).

When evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court conducts a "two-part analysis." See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). "First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11. "Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009)) . "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to ...

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