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Sims v. Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County

September 30, 2010



Pending before the Court are DEFENDANTS THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY, ADULT DIVISION, PROBATION OFFICE AND JAMES RIELAND‟S MOTION TO DISMISS COUNT I OF THE CORRECTED AMENDED COMPLAINT AND ALL CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANT RIELAND (Document No. 15) and the MOTION TO DISMISS (Document No. 19) filed by the remaining Defendant, James Trozzi. Defendants have filed briefs in support of their respective motions (Document Nos. 16, 19), Plaintiff Alvin Sims has filed briefs in response and opposition to the motions (Document Nos. 27, 28), and they are ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Sims worked as an Adult Probation Officer for the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Probation Office*fn1 for seventeen years. Defendant James Rieland was the Director of the Adult Probation Office. Defendant James Trozzi was the Manager of the House Arrest Unit prior to December 2007.

The factual background is taken from the averments in the "corrected" Amended Complaint and the attached Intake Questionnaire completed by Sims for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Sims is African-American. In 2005, Sims experienced signs of anxiety, depression and panic attacks, which caused him to request a transfer from the House Arrest Unit, then managed by Trozzi. Trozzi believed that Sims was unfit for service and allegedly "poisoned the well" as to Sims‟ reputation. In particular, Sims avers that Trozzi influenced Rieland to form incorrect negative views of Sims, based on stereotypical views of race and mental illness. In December 2007, Sims was arrested and charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. The Probation Department suspended Sims indefinitely. On May 13, 2008, Sims pled guilty to a summary offense of Disorderly Conduct. On July 3, 2008, the Probation Department terminated Sims‟ employment and has refused to reinstate him. The marijuana possession charge was withdrawn and was "expunged" on August 15, 2008. Sims alleges that other similarly situated persons have been treated differently and that pursuant to Department policy he should be reinstated.

On December 23, 2008, Sims completed a questionnaire at the PHRC office. Sims avers that he was told that the matter would be cross-filed with the EEOC. On January 13, 2008, the PHRC sent the information to the EEOC because the PHRC lacked jurisdiction to investigate the matter. The original Complaint in this action was filed on February 3, 2010. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the original Complaint. Sims then filed an Amended Complaint in an effort to address the shortcomings identified by Defendants‟ motion, which counsel subsequently "corrected" in several respects. The "corrected" Amended Complaint asserts the following causes of action: (1) Title VII race discrimination claim against the Probation Department; (2) Rehabilitation Act § 504 claim against the Probation Department; and (3) Section 1983 claims against Trozzi and Rieland for discrimination based on race and/or disability.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint filed by Plaintiff. The United States Supreme Court has held that "[a] plaintiff‟s obligation to provide the "grounds‟ of his "entitle[ment] to relief‟ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (207) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of this requirement, stating that only a complaint that states a plausibleclaim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (emphasis added).

Thus, after Iqbal, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Id. Although the Court "must accept all of the complaint‟s well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-211. Second, the Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.‟ In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff‟s entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show‟ such an entitlement with its facts." Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal 129 S.Ct. at 1949). The determination for "plausibility" will be ""a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.‟" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

As a result, "pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss." Id. at 211. That is, "all civil complaints must now set out "sufficient factual matter‟ to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.‟" Id. at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948).

However, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal changed the other pleading standards for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 must still be met. See Phillips v. Co. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief, and "contemplates the statement of circumstances, occurrences, and events in support of the claim presented and does not authorize a pleader‟s bare averment that he wants relief and is entitled to it." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Additionally, the Supreme Court did not abolish the Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) requirement that "the facts must be taken as true and a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on those merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 553).

Legal Analysis

Defendants contend that: (1) the Title VII claim is barred because Sims did not file a timely charge with the EEOC; (2) the Title VII and race discrimination claims are barred because Sims has failed to point to similarly situated employees who were not terminated; (3) the disability discrimination claim against Rieland is barred because Sims does not aver that Reiland was aware of his disability; (4) Defendant Rieland is entitled to qualified immunity; and (5) Sims‟ claims against Trozzi are barred by the statute of limitations. The Court will address these contentions ...

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