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Robert Linskey v. Anthony Guariglia

April 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) filed by Anthony Guariglia, Ross Latona, Martin Quinn, Mark Singer, and Bruce Knick (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff commenced this action after Defendants removed him as Pittston Area School District's Representative to the Luzerne Intermediate Unit in September of 2011. (Doc. 3.) Plaintiff alleges that his removal as Representative to the Luzerne Intermediate Unit violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and amounts to an improper ouster under Pennsylvania law. (Doc. 3.) Defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint in its entirety. Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. Because Plaintiff fails to adequately state a claim for improper state ouster, Count III of the Second Amended Complaint will be dismissed. However, because Plaintiff sufficiently alleges a violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when Defendants voted to remove him as Representative to the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I and II will be denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff, a school board member for the Pittston Area School District ("PASD"), commenced this action on November 4, 2011 against five members of the PASD Board:

Tony Guariglia; Ross Latona; Martin Quinn; Mark Singer; and Bruce Knick. (Doc. 3, "Complaint," ¶¶ 1-6.) The relevant facts set forth in the Second Amended Complaint are as follows:

Plaintiff was appointed to fill a three (3) year term as PASD's Representative to the Luzerne Intermediate Unit ("LIU"). (Complaint, ¶ 1.) On or about August 9, 2011, Plaintiff received a text message from one Defendant which requested Plaintiff to vote for an applicant for a vacant PASD position as a favor to Defendant. (Complaint, ¶ 12.) Plaintiff, however, does not identify the PASD Board Member Defendant that made the request. (Complaint, ¶ 12.) Plaintiff informed Defendant that he had to follow the district's hiring policy. (Complaint, ¶ 13.) In response, Defendant told Plaintiff to disregard the policy because Plaintiff was being asked a favor. (Complaint, ¶ 14.) Ultimately, Plaintiff did not vote for the candidate as requested by Defendant. (Complaint, ¶ 15.)

On September 20, 2011, a little over a month after Plaintiff refused to vote for the favored applicant, Plaintiff was removed as PASD's Representative to the LIU. (Complaint, ¶ 16.) The PASD Board members voting to remove Plaintiff as the Representative to the LIU are the named Defendants in this action. (Complaint, ¶¶ 2-6.) The vote to remove Plaintiff occurred even after PASD's solicitor advised Defendants that Plaintiff's term was for three (3) years. (Complaint, ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was replaced as PASD's Representative at the LIU by Defendant Guariglia, a political supporter of the majority of the PASD Board. (Complaint, ¶¶ 2, 18-19.)

Plaintiff subsequently filed an action against the PASD Board members that voted for his removal in their individual and official capacities. (Complaint, ¶¶ 2-6.) Plaintiff asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as a supplemental state law claim for improper ouster. (Complaint, ¶ 7.) In response to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the action in its entirety. (Doc. 7.) According to Defendants, the Second Amended Complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7). (Doc. 7.) Defendants' motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard for a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

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. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). 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 Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). 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, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 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 (3d Cir. 2009). 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, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (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," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 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." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

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)).

B. Section 1983

42 U.S.C. § 1983 states, "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen ... or any other person ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured." Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 749 n. 9, 119 S.Ct. 1624, 143 L.Ed.2d 882 (1999) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979)). To prevail in an action under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir.2000); Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir.1993).

To establish liability for deprivation of a constitutional right under § 1983, a party must show personal involvement by each defendant. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. at 1948, 173 L.Ed.2d 868; Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir.2010). "It is uncontested that a government official is liable only for his or her own conduct and accordingly must have had some sort of personal involvement in the alleged unconstitutional conduct ." Argueta v. U.S. I.C.E., 643 F.3d 60, 71--72 (3d Cir.2011). Personal involvement in the alleged wrongs may be shown through allegations of actual involvement in, personal direction of, or knowledge of and acquiescence to the asserted civil rights violations. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988) (citations omitted). "In order to satisfy the 'personal involvement' requirement, a complaint need only allege the conduct, time, place and person responsible." Solan v. Ranck, 326 F. App'x 97, 101 (3d Cir.2009) (per curiam).

Here, Plaintiff bases his § 1983 claims on his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Complaint, ¶ 7.)*fn1 These ...

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