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Michael J. Ruddy and Cherilynn M. Ruddy v. United States of America

November 21, 2011

MICHAEL J. RUDDY AND CHERILYNN M. RUDDY,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss of Plaintiff's Complaint, (Doc. 9), and their Motion to Substitute the United States of America as the Sole Defendant as to Counts I, III, V, VI, and VII of the Complaint, (Doc. 8). For the reasons below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's libel and slander claims (Count III) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff's false light and infliction of emotional distress claims (Count V) will be dismissed for failure to state a claim, but leave to amend will be given. All claims for punitive damages under the FTCA will be stricken. Further, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Substitute the United States as to Counts I, III, V, VI, and VII of the Complaint, as well as Count II.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges the following. Plaintiff Michael J. Ruddy at all relevant times was a loyal employee of the Untied States Post Office in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His wife, Cherilynn M. Ruddy, is also a Plaintiff in this matter. Defendants include the United States of America; the United States Postal Service; the United States Postmaster General John E. Potter; the Postmaster of the Scranton Post Office, Linda Shall; several Scranton Post Office supervisors, including Brian Tucker, Christopher Pugliese, Lisa Bansa, Diane Passerilli, and Rick Dickson; as well as Holly Shope, who was a manager at the Scranton Post Office. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 7-16, Doc. 1).

Ruddy's supervisors implemented a series of malicious actions which were designed to force him to resign. These conditions were not imposed on any other employees. Supervisor Dickson consistently singled out Ruddy, insisting that he sort mail at a rate beyond what was required by policy in order to have him leave work earlier. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37). Furthermore, Dickson threatened on three occasions, against policy, to shadow Ruddy for an entire day. Sometime in November of 2006, this harassment caused Ruddy to sweat and panic. The stress was causing health issues, requiring Ruddy to see a doctor. Eventually, an incident of harassment forced a meeting between Dickson and Ruddy with a Union Steward present. At that meeting, Ruddy told Dickson "I want the harassment to stop," to which Dickson replied "why don't you bid out of my unit." (Id. at ¶¶ 41-44).

While Dickson harassed Ruddy about seventy-five percent (75%) of the time, this percentage increased to ninety percent (90%) when Temporary Supervisor Passerilli took over as Ruddy's supervisor. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-51). Ruddy was inspected six times by his superiors, and other mail carriers asked Ruddy why Passerilli was psychologically attacking him. (Id. at ¶¶ 57-58). On March 18, 2009, Passerilli intimidated Ruddy, watching him as he arrived at work. Five minutes later, she approached Ruddy at his station, instructing him to assist on another employee's mail route. Ruddy explained that this was not possible, and asked to speak to a Union Steward. Ruddy then found himself at Passerilli's desk, surrounded by Defendants Shall, Tucker, Passerilli and one other unidentified supervisor. Ruddy began to sweat, developed chest pain and shortness of breath, and experienced "dagger like pain going through his back and tingling in his left leg." (Id. at ¶ 69). Plaintiff phoned his wife, in front of the group, who agreed to call his doctor. Ruddy then retrieved medication from his vehicle, which had been prescribed for workplace stress. Ruddy's Doctor, after being delayed by Defendants, finally made contact with Ruddy, advising him to go to the hospital, which he did. Throughout the entire ordeal, Ruddy requested a Union Steward three or four times, although none was provided. Moreover, Defendants Tucker and Passerilli carefully watched Ruddy to ensure that he did not contact a Union Steward.*fn1

As a result of these events, the Union filed two grievance that were settled in Ruddy's favor. (Id. at ¶ 121).

As a result of the March 18th events, Ruddy filed an injury claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP). In challenging Ruddy's OWCP claim, several Defendants made defamatory and libelous statements against him. Specifically, Defendant Shope wrote that Ruddy had been in a rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse. (Id. at ¶ 127). Defendant Bansa stated that she had observed Ruddy in 2007 and 2008 with glassy eyes and the smell of alcohol. (Id. at ¶ 130). Defendant Pugliese also said Ruddy smelled of alcohol. None of those Defendants had previously filed any reports or taken any action on those allegations. Ruddy's co-workers and customers have never smelled alcohol on his breath. As a result of their reports, the U.S. Postal Service questioned Ruddy about potential alcohol abuse.

Ruddy claims that the Defendants caused him to suffer emotional distress, humiliation, anxiety, embarrassment, depression, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. (Id. at ¶ 143). As such, Ruddy was prevented from performing his work, was caused to have a physical and psychological breakdown, and was forced to retire early. Plaintiffs claim violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act, and assert state-law claims for conspiracy; invasion of privacy; constructive discharge; libel and slander; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and loss of consortium. Defendants have moved to dismiss, on various grounds, which will be elaborated below. They also seek to substitute the United States as the sole Defendant on all claims excepting conspiracy (Count III) and constructive discharge (Count IV). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Detailed factual allegations are not required.

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211. Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)

Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Ruddy's claims for libel and slander (Count III), invasion of privacy (Count V), and intentional Infliction of emotional distress (Count VI). They urge the Court to dismiss these claims ...


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