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Tracy Plumley v. S&D Marketing Inc. and Answernet and Answernet

June 23, 2011



Plaintiff, Tracy Plumley ("Plaintiff"), brings this employment discrimination action against Defendants S & D Marketing Inc. ("S&D"), Answernet, and Answernet, Inc. for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ("Title VII"); 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Am. Compl., Dec. 20, 2010, ECF No. 2. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the basis that it was filed more than 90 days after Plaintiff's receipt of the Notice of Right to Sue Letter. Mot. to Partially Dismiss, Jan. 21, 2011, ECF No. 13. The immediate issue is whether Plaintiff's addition of Answernet, Inc. to the Amended Complaint is timely. This depends on whether the addition of Answernet, Inc. relates back to an entity named in the Initial Complaint.*fn1 For the following reasons, this Court concludes that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint relates back and thus Answernet, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss will be denied.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The relevant facts, construed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are set forth below. Plaintiff alleges that in November 2007 she was hired by S&D and Answernet, Inc. and was subsequently terminated in June 2008. Am. Compl. 18-19, 24. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff retained legal counsel who attempted to negotiate with Defendants about her termination. Resp. 2-3, Feb. 25, 2011, ECF No. 15. These negotiations took place during October 2008, prior to Plaintiff's filing an administrative charge, and were primarily in the form of correspondence with Betty Ann Babjak ("Ms. Babjak"), counsel for Defendants. Resp. 3.

On June 2, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue, and Plaintiff filed her first Complaint. Am. Compl. 5; ECF No. 1. Plaintiff's original Complaint, filed on August 24, 2010, incorrectly named Defendant Answernet Network. Compl. 1, Aug. 24, 2010, ECF. No. 1. Plaintiff sought to correct this error by adding Answernet, alleged to be a group of several interconnected companies, Mot. to Dismiss 5, and the corporation Answernet, Inc. in her Amended Complaint filed on Dec. 20, 2010. Am. Compl.

1. On Jan. 21, 2011, Answernet, Inc. filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, attaching an Affidavit of Ms. Babjak ("Babjak Affidavit No. 1"). ECF No. 13; Babjak Aff. No. 1, Ex. A. On Feb. 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 15. Answernet, Inc. filed a Reply on Mar. 4, 2011, attaching a second Affidavit of Ms. Babjak ("Babjak Affidavit No. 2"). Reply, Mar. 4, 2011, ECF No. 16; Babjak Aff. No. 2., Ex. A.

II. The Parties' Contentions

Answernet, Inc. moves to dismiss Count I of the Amended Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to timely file her Title VII claim against Answernet, Inc. within ninety days of receiving her Right to Sue Letter. Mot. to Dismiss 7-8.

Plaintiff contends in her response that the claims against Answernet, Inc. properly relate back to the filing of the Initial Complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C). Resp. 4-5. Plaintiff asserts that notice of the action may be imputed to Answernet, Inc. because Answernet, Inc. shared counsel with Defendants named in the original Complaint. Resp. 3-4.

Answernet, Inc.'s Reply does not dispute that S&D and Answernet, Inc. shared counsel, but contends that, because S&D and Answernet, Inc. are distinct legal entities, Answernet, Inc. did not know and should not have known that it would have been named as a party to this action. Reply 1-2.

III. Jurisdiction

The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Title VII claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-5(f)(3). The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's PHRA claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

IV. Standard of Review

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). To state a valid complaint, a plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations to "satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007).

Proposed claims that cannot withstand a motion to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds are futile. Garvin v. City of Philadelphia, 354 F.3d 215, 222 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Riley v. Taylor, 62 F.3d 86, 92 (3d Cir. 1995)). To avoid futility, an amendment either must be filed within the limitations period or "relate back" to the original complaint by "assert[ing] a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out - or attempted to be set out - in the original pleading[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B). An amendment that arises from the same conduct ...

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