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Michele Vulcano Hall v. Easton Area School District

February 16, 2012


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

Memorandum Opinion

Plaintiff, Michele Vulcano Hall, has brought suit against Defendants, Easton Area School District, Susan McGinley, and John Castrovinci,*fn1 alleging various causes of action arising from her former employment with and termination from Easton Area School District. Specifically, Plaintiff's eight-count complaint alleges discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count I); retaliation in violation of the ADA (Count II); discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Count III); retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV); denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, brought pursuant to § 1983 (Count V); denial of due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, brought pursuant to § 1983 (Count VI); breach of contract (Count VII); and tortious interference with contract (Count VIII).

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. This motion seeks to: strike punitive damages from Counts I-III; dismiss Counts IV-VI and VIII for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and dismiss Count VII for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual Background

Based upon the averments in the complaint, the pertinent facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows:

In August 2008, Plaintiff was hired as a teacher by Defendant, Easton Area School District ("District"). Plaintiff's employment was created through a "Temporary Professional Employee Contract." At that time, Defendant, Susan McGinley, was the Superintendent of the District and Defendant, John Castrovinci, was the Director of Human Resources for the District. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-9, 30; Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1.)

Plaintiff contends that she was informed at the time of her hiring that she would have two to three years to complete her teaching certification. However, in April 2009, Castrovinci told her that if she did not have her certification by the end of the current academic year, she would lose her position. Plaintiff alleges that she suffers from a learning disability, which causes her to require longer time than most people to complete testing and educational requirements. Shortly after being informed that her certification was due by June 2009, Plaintiff requested, in writing, reasonable accommodations under the ADA so as to allow her to secure her certification. Plaintiff reiterated this request numerous times over the late spring and early summer of 2009. Plaintiff claims that the District took no steps in response to her request. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12, 15-18.)

At some point over the summer of 2009, Plaintiff's employment with the District was terminated. While Plaintiff was given no reason for her termination, she surmises it was due to a District policy of replacing uncertified teachers with certified teachers. Plaintiff claims that this policy was selectively enforced and she was specifically targeted. Plaintiff further alleges that her termination was in retaliation for her relationship with her father, who she characterizes as a vociferous and outspoken member of the District's School Board. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 31-32, 42-43.)

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enumerates various defenses and objections a party may raise in response to a pleading. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12.

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the power of a federal court to hear a claim or case. Motions brought under Rule 12(b)(1) may present either facial or factual challenges to the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000). A facial attack assumes that the allegations of the complaint are true, but contends that the pleadings fail to present an action or claim within the court's jurisdiction. Mortenson v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). A factual attack argues that, while the pleadings themselves facially establish jurisdiction, one or more factual allegations is untrue, thereby causing the case to fall outside the court's jurisdiction. Id. at 891. In evaluating a factual attack, the court must assess the merits of the disputed allegations, which may include evidence outside of the pleadings, because the trial court's "very power to hear the case" is at issue. Id. Once the court's subject matter jurisdiction over a complaint or claim is challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists. Id.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept the facts pleaded in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The court may dismiss a complaint or claim only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). However, a plaintiff must provide more than a formulaic recitation of a claim's elements that amounts to mere labels and conclusions. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

III. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

Defendants first argue that Count VII of the complaint alleging breach of contract by the District should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants assert that Plaintiff is a member of the group covered by the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the District and the Easton Area Education Association, and thus Plaintiff's breach of contract claim qualifies as a grievance under the CBA. Because the CBA's exclusive remedy ...

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