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Carl R. Greene v. John F. Street

January 20, 2011

CARL R. GREENE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN F. STREET, CHAIRMAN JANNIE L. BLACKWELL, DEBRA L. BRADY, PATRICK J. EIDING, AND NELLIE W. REYNOLDS D/B/A PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Defendants John F. Street, Debra L. Brady, Patrick J. Eiding, and Nellie W. Reynolds (collectively "Defendants") have filed the present Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint of Plaintiff Carl R. Greene ("Plaintiff") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1 For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in the manner as set forth in the accompanying order.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was hired on March 3, 1998 to serve as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority ("PHA"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) On March 29, 2007, Plaintiff signed a new employment agreement ("the Agreement") with PHA, which provided a base salary of $275,000, annual incentive compensation of 15% of that salary, and cost of living adjustments. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17; Id. Ex. A, Employment Agreement between PHA and Carl R. Greene ("Agreement") ¶ 2(a)-(c).) PHA could terminate the Agreement immediately for cause,*fn2 or without cause by providing Plaintiff ninety days' notice in advance. (Agreement ¶ 8(a), 8(c).)

In August of 2010, a series of newspaper articles reported that Plaintiff had defaulted on his mortgage, was subject to federal tax liens, and had been accused of sexual harassment by several former PHA employees. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-26.) Subsequent to these reports, on August 26, 2010, the PHA Board of Commissioners ("the Board") placed Plaintiff on administrative leave, and adopted a resolution authorizing an independent investigation of the sexual harassment allegations. (Id. ¶¶ 32-36; Id. Ex. H.) Defendant Street, as Chairman of the Board, was responsible for overseeing the investigation, which was to be completed thirty days after the adoption of the resolution. (Id. ¶¶ 36-38.) On September 23, 2010, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of terminating Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 71.)

Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint in this Court on October 6, 2010, alleging: (1) denial of procedural due process; (2) breach of contract; (3) defamation; and (4) false light invasion of privacy. (Id. ¶¶ 84-111.) Counts One and Two were brought against all Defendants, while Counts Three and Four were brought against Defendant Street only. (Id.) Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss on October 22, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition on November 12, 2010, and Defendants filed a Reply on November 19, 2010.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized 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." Id. at 555. It emphasized that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In the subsequent case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court enunciated two fundamental principles applicable to a court's review of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, it noted that "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, although "[Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has altered some of the fundamental underpinnings of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review. Arner v. PGT Trucking, Inc., No. CIV.A.09-0565, 2010 WL 1052953, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2010); Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. CIV.A.08-0626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jul. 15, 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. FED. R. CIV. P. 8; Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint includes claims for deprivation of a property interest without due process, breach of contract, defamation, and false light invasion of privacy. In addition, Plaintiff argues in his Response in Opposition that the Board deprived him of his liberty interest in reputation without due process. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n at 14-16.) This claim was not included in his Amended Complaint, but the Court will address it in addition to those in the Amended Complaint.

A. Whether Plaintiff has Stated a Claim for Deprivation of a Property Interest Without Due Process of Law

In order to establish a claim for a procedural due process violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege that (1) he was deprived of an individual interest that is encompassed within the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of 'life, liberty, or property,' and (2) the procedures available to him did not provide 'due process of law.'" Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000)). To establish deprivation of a property interest in a job, a plaintiff "must have more than a unilateral expectation of continued employment; rather, she must have a legitimate entitlement to such continued employment." Elmore v. Cleary, 399 F.3d 279, 282 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)). Furthermore, when a party's relationship with a state entity is governed by a contract, a property right only exists (1) where "the contract confers a protected status, such as those 'characterized by a quality of either extreme dependence in ...


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