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Cathi Wilson v. Rawle & Henderson Llp

November 2, 2011

CATHI WILSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RAWLE & HENDERSON LLP, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Defendant Rawle & Henderson LLP has filed the present Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 30, 2008, Defendant Rawle & Henderson LLP, a law firm, hired Plaintiff Cathi Wilson to work as a legal secretary at its office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff alleges that she performed her job competently during the course of her employment, and was given a rating of "Fully Effective" on her January 26, 2011 performance evaluation. (Id. ¶ 5.) Thereafter, however, Plaintiff was involved in an unspecified workplace incident during which she purportedly acted unprofessionally. (Id. ¶ 6.) As a result, on June 9, 2011, Defendant gave her a warning and placed her on a thirty-day plan to improve her performance. (Id.)

The following day, June 10, Plaintiff contacted Defendant's office manager to request leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA" or "the Act"). (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleges that she needed time off from work to address an undisclosed medical condition. (Id. ¶ 18.) On Monday, June 13, Defendant sent a letter to Plaintiff's physician requesting him to complete a "Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee's Serious Health Condition" form. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff's physician returned the form to Defendant on June 15, confirming that Plaintiff would need FMLA-protected leave from June 10 until July 1. (Id. ¶ 9.)

After requesting additional information from Plaintiff on June 17, Defendant sent her a letter on June 20 informing her that she was eligible for FMLA leave from June 13 until June 30, that she may ultimately be entitled to up to twelve weeks of leave, and that her protection under the Act ensured that she would have a position with Defendant when she returned. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff alleges that the information contained in the letter was confirmed by oral assurances from Defendant's agents. (Id. ¶ 12.) On June 29, 2011, however, Defendant sent Plaintiff another letter informing her that she was being terminated as of July 1, 2011. (Id. ¶ 20.) The letter did not provide a reason for her termination, and Defendant subsequently notified the Pennsylvania Department of Labor that Plaintiff had voluntarily quit her job due to health reasons. (Id.)

Plaintiff filed her initial Complaint in this Court on July 22, 2011. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment on August 26, 2011. Thereafter, on September 7, 2011, Plaintiff filed the First Amended Complaint. The First Amended Complaint contains one count for "Violation of the FMLA," alleging that Defendant unlawfully terminated Plaintiff and failed to reinstate her to her prior position of employment. (Id. ¶¶ 28-36.) Because the Complaint was amended, Defendant's initial Motion was dismissed as moot on September 21, 2011. The following day, Defendant filed the present Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on September 28, 2011, and Defendant filed a Letter Reply on October 10, 2011. Finally, Plaintiff sent to the Court her own Letter Reply on October 17, 2011.*fn1

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Motion to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

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, 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. July 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. Cnty. 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).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56

When a party who moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) presents matters outside the pleadings, "the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, ...


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