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Michael A. Haywood v. the University of Pittsburgh

February 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.


Defendant The University of Pittsburgh ("defendant" or "University") filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) Count C of the Complaint. The complaint (ECF No. 1) was filed by plaintiff Michael A. Haywood ("plaintiff" or "Haywood"). Defendant seeks the dismissal of the federal claim asserted by plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for procedural due process violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because plaintiff failed to allege a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal claim based upon procedural due process violations must be dismissed.


For purposes of this motion, in light of the applicable standard of review, the court will consider the following relevant allegations made by plaintiff in the complaint:

 On December 15, 2010, the University hired Haywood as its head football coach. Pursuant to the employment contract entered into by the parties, Haywood's employment was for a term of five years; he was to receive a base annual salary of $1,000,000. He was guaranteed payments totaling $500,000 for services rendered in connection with defendant's athletic marketing contracts and media events. He was also to receive additional compensation contingent upon his achieving certain performance goals as the head football coach, which could annually total as much as $300,000. Compl. ¶ 4.

 Seventeen days into the term of the contract, Haywood was fired by Mr. Jerome Cochran, defendant's Executive Vice Chancellor. Three days later, Mr. Cochran sent a letter to Mr. Elias, plaintiff's agent, advising him that the University had terminated Haywood's employment contract with defendant for "cause." Compl. ¶ 5.

 On December 31, 2011, Haywood attempted to see his son at the residence where his son lives with the mother, Ms. Beth Marriot, in South Bend, Indiana. An argument ensued between Haywood and Ms. Marriot. Ms. Marriot called the police reporting the incident. Upon arrival, the police took Haywood in custody. He was released the next day. Compl. ¶¶ 6-12.

 After being released, Haywood attempted to contact E.J. Borghetti, defendant's Sports Information Director, to explain what had happened so that defendant could properly respond to press inquiries. Unable to reach Mr. Borghetti, Haywood next called defendant's Director of Athletics, Steve Pederson. Haywood told Mr. Pederson that he had done nothing wrong, and was on his way back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he would explain everything the next day. Mr. Pederson did not ask any questions and never mentioned termination. Unbeknownst to Haywood, Mr. Cochran had already called Haywood's agent, Mr. Elias, and told him that Haywood's employment had been terminated. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing 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. . . . 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. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations omitted).

Two working principles underlie Twombly. Id. First, with respect to mere conclusory statements, a court need not accept as true all the allegations contained in a complaint. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.) Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim must state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 1950. "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. (citing Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157-58). "But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]- that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)). A court considering a motion to dismiss may begin by identifying allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth because they are mere conclusions. "While ...

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