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Daryl V. Releford, Jr., and Darcius B. v. Pennsylvania State University

March 14, 2011

DARYL V. RELEFORD, JR., AND DARCIUS B. RELEFORD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court in this illegal discrimination action are three Motions to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Docs. 22, 23, 38.) For the reasons articulated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part each Motion.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. 12(b)(6)

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). In resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, as well as "documents that are attached to or submitted with the complaint, . . . and any matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain 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." 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 need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 235 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Accordingly, to satisfy the plausibility standard, the complaint must indicate that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. At 1949. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

Under the two-pronged approach articulated in Twombly and later formalized in Iqbal, a district court must first identify all factual allegations that constitute nothing more than "legal conclusions" or "naked assertions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded for purposes of resolving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Next, the district court must identify "the 'nub' of the . . . complaint -- the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]." Id. Taking these allegations as true, the district judge must then determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. See id.

However, "a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (citing Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1964-65, 1969 n.8).

Rule 8 "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." Id. at 234.

B. 12(b)(1)

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a court is not limited to considering only the allegations on the face of the complaint if the defendant is challenging subject matter jurisdiction in fact. Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n, 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000). In a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, "no presumptive truthfulness attaches to a plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Id. (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). Thus, the court is "free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself whether it has the power to hear the case." Carpet Group Int'l, 227 F.3d at 69. A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should be granted if the plaintiff does not carry the burden of persuasion to show that jurisdiction does in fact exist. Id.

III. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Daryl ("Daryl") and Daricus ("Daricus") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") are twin brothers who attended the Pennsylvania College of Technology ("Penn College"). Defendant Penn College is a technical college located in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. It is a special mission affiliate college of the Pennsylvania State University ("Penn State"). Penn College is a "college, university, or other post-secondary institution" that receives "federal financial assistance" as described by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d-2000d-7 ("Title VI") and is an "educational institution" as set out in the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act of 1961, 24 P.S. §§ 5001-5010 ("PFEOA"). The Penn College Police Department ("Penn College Police") is a department of Penn College. (The above-named Defendants will be collectively referred to as "Institutional Defendants".)

Defendant Tim Mallery ("Assistant Directoy Mallery") was, at all relevant times, the Assistant Director of Resident Life/Coordinator of Housing Operations for Penn College. William Goddard ("Professor Goddard"), Gary Pandolfi ("Professor Pandolfi"), Wayne Gebhart ("Professor Gebhart"), Stephen Manbeck ("Professor Manbeck"), Garret Graff ("Professor Graff"), Robert Gresko ("Professor Gresko"), Richard Taylor ("Professor Taylor"), Peter Kruppenbacher ("Professor Kruppenbacher"), Dale Kissinger ("Professor Kissinger"), and Thomas Ask ("Professor Ask") are or were at all relevant times employed as professors at Penn College. Marc Bridgens ("Dean Bridgens") was, at all relevant times, Dean or Assistant Dean of Construction and Design Technologies for Penn College. Ward Caldwell ("Special Assistant Caldwell") was employed as the Special Assistant to the President for Student Affairs during all times relevant to the action. Carolyn Strickland ("Assistant Vice President Strickland") was, at all relevant times, the Assistant Vice President for Academic Services at Penn College. Norman Hager ("Officer Hager") was employed as a police officer for Penn College Police and James Bies ("Assistant Chief Bies") was the Assistant Chief of Police for the Penn College Police at all relevant times. (Collectively the above-named Defendants will be referred to as "Individual Defendants". All Individual Defendants and Institutional Defendants shall be referred to collectively as "Defendants".)

Plaintiffs initiated this action alleging illegal discrimination on the basis of their African American race by Penn State and Penn College on August 4, 2010 (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs thereafter filed the instant, twenty-two count Amended Complaint, naming all Defendants on October 19, 2010. (Doc. 16.) Based upon the following allegations, Daryl asserts the following counts: Contract Discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against the Individual Defendants (Count I); a violation of Due Process against the Individual Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); Retaliation in violation of § 1983 against the Individual Defendants (Count III); a deprivation of Equal Protection under § 1983 against all Defendants (Count IV); Title VI violations regarding Discrimination, Hostile Environment, and Retaliation against all Defendants (Counts V, VI, and VII, respectively); Pennsylvania Human Relations Act violations for Discrimination, Hostile Environment, and Retaliation against all Defendants (Counts VIII, IX, and X, respectively); violations of the PFEOA for Discrimination, Hostile Environment, and Retaliation against all Defendants (Counts XI, XII, and XIII, respectively); a claim of negligence against Defendants (Count XIV); and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants (Count XV). Daricus asserts the following, similar claims: Contract Discrimination in violation of § 1981 against the Individual Defendants (Count XVI); a deprivation of Equal Protection in violation of § 1983 against the Individual Defendants (Count XVII); Title VI violations related to Discrimination, Hostile Environment, and Retaliation against all Defendants (Counts XVIII, XIX, and XX, respectively); a claim for negligence against all Defendants (Count XXI); and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants (Count XXII).

During the spring of 2006, Daryl and Daricus both enrolled in the Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning, and Plumbing ("HVAC/Plumbing") program at Penn College. Plaintiffs allege a litany of racial discrimination from that point in time until the present, beginning with Daryl arriving at his dormitory room to find a confederate flag on display and later being covered by the flag and a capirote while he slept, and continuing with regular derogatory remarks by students and, at times, professors, harassment by the Penn College Police, regular accusations of misconduct, and other conduct suggestive of racial animus. Plaintiffs allege that, despite reporting these instances, nothing was done by the administration to prevent or rectify the discrimination. Daryl was eventually suspended because his grade point average fell below a 2.0 for consecutive semesters, and thus was not allowed to return for the fall semester of 2010 or the spring semester of 2011. Daricus is still enrolled at Penn College. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages related to certain claims, and attorneys' fees and costs.

Defendants Penn College and Penn College Police filed their Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 22) on November 1, 2010, and Penn State filed its own Motion to Dismiss on that same date (Doc. 23). As detailed below, the two Motions raise, essentially, the same arguments in support of dismissal with Penn State's Motion adding one argument relevant to their status. Thus, we will address the Motions raised by the Institutional Defendants in conjunction. The Individual Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss on December 20, 2010 (Doc. 38), and we shall analyze that Motion separately.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. The Institutional Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 22-23)

The Institutional Defendants raise the following eight core arguments in support of dismissal of certain claims, and Penn State raises one additional argument: A) Counts V, VI, VII, XVIII, XIX, and XX must be dismissed against the Institutional Defendants because Plaintiffs fail to allege the requisite prima facie cases for each count; B) Counts VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, and XIII must be dismissed because of Daryl's alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies; C) Counts VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, and XIII must be dismissed because Daryl fails to state causes of action upon which relief may be granted. Further, Defendants argue that the punitive damages claims in these counts must be dismissed because they are not permitted to be recovered under a PHRA or PFEOA claim; D) Count XIV must be dismissed because common law negligence claims are preempted by the PHRA; E) Count XV must be dismissed because the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not independent of the discrimination claim and is preempted. Further, the Institutional Defendants maintain that punitive damages cannot be maintained against them as instrumentalities of the state; F) Count XXI must be dismissed because negligence is preempted; G) Count XXII must be dismissed because the relevant circumstances render a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is preempted; H) The Defendants request a more definite statement regarding compensatory damages; and I) Penn State must be dismissed as a Defendant because Plaintiffs do not allege a single action taken by or on behalf of Penn State.

After filing the Motions, the Institutional Defendants withdrew their request for a more definite statement. Plaintiffs have withdrawn their negligence claims found in Count XIV and XXI, and have withdrawn their requests for punitive damages for the claims brought under the PHRA and the PFEOA. We will thus address each of the remaining arguments in turn.

1. Counts V, VI, VII, XVIII, XIX, and XX

Defendants claim that neither Daryl nor Daricus sufficiently alleged facts to establish a prima facie case for racial discrimination, hostile environment, or retaliation. Defendants further assert that punitive damages are inapplicable, and Plaintiffs have ...


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