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Mary Ann O'leary v. Todd Eachus

November 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


In this § 1983 civil rights action filed by a former employee of the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, each of whom were employees or otherwise affiliated with the Democratic Caucus, retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern. Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss (Doc. 21), wherein Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to state a valid First Amendment retaliation claim. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

In accordance with the standard of review for a motion to dismiss, the court will present the facts as alleged in the complaint. The statements contained herein reflect neither the findings of fact nor the opinion of the court as to the veracity of Plaintiff's allegations.

A. Facts

Plaintiff, Mary Ann O'Leary, is a former employee of the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives ("Democratic Caucus"), which consists of members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives of Democrat registration. (Doc. 19, Am. Compl., ¶ 12.) Plaintiff, who began her employment as Controller with the Democratic Caucus on September 27, 1999, alleged that her employment was terminated on March 24, 2010, in retaliation for her exercising her First Amendment rights. The basis of Plaintiff's claim arises out of her testifying or otherwise cooperating with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's criminal investigation into a "legislative scandal" (Id., ¶¶ 12, 14) involving improper expenditures by the Democratic Caucus to legislative staff for work on incumbent members' campaigns (Id., ¶ 16).

In the course of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's investigation, Plaintiff was represented by an attorney provided to her and paid for by the Democratic Caucus. (Id., ¶ 20.) As a result of the investigation, during which Plaintiff was interviewed by investigators and testified before the Grand Jury fourteen times (Id., ¶ 19), several "high-profile elected officials" were prosecuted for, and subsequently convicted of, their involvement in the improper allocation of public money (Id., ¶¶ 15-17). Plaintiff's cooperation with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office in the course of the investigation was known by the members of the Democratic Caucus and Caucus leaders, including Defendants Eachus, Schwab, Lees, and Reaves. (See id., ¶¶ 20-22.)

At all times relevant to foregoing facts, each Defendant was an employee or member of the Democratic Caucus. (Id., ¶¶ 2-5.) Defendant Todd Eachus was the chief administrative officer of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and held the title of Majority Leader. (Id., ¶ 2.) Defendant Susan Schwab was the deputy chief of staff to Defendant Eachus. (Id., ¶ 3; see also Doc. 22, Defs.' Mem. in Supp. Mot. To Dismiss, at 5 n. 1 (clarifying that, despite Plaintiff's inaccurate identification of Defendant Schwab in her amended complaint, Defendant Schwab was Deputy Chief of Staff to Defendant Eachus, rather than to Representative Frank Dermody).) Defendant Patti Lees was an administrative officer to the Democratic Caucus, and was Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. (Doc. 19, ¶ 4.) Defendant Louise Reaves was the director of Human Resources for the Democratic Caucus. (Id., ¶ 5.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Eachus personally authorized the termination of her employment, but "[t]he decision . . . was made collectively by Defendants Schwab, Lees[,] and Reaves, each of whom personally participated in the decision." (Id., ¶¶ 24, 25.)

During the nearly ten-and-a-half years Plaintiff was employed by the Democratic Caucus, she received salary raises totaling over $23,000.00. (Id., ¶¶ 12-13.) Despite her presumably positive performance, Plaintiff's employment was terminated following the disposition of several "high-profile" prosecutions brought as a result of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's investigation. (See id., ¶ 23.) Specifically, on March 23, 2010, a jury found the former Democratic Whip, Michael Veon, who was a major target of the Grand Jury investigation, guilty of fourteen counts arising out of his role in the legislative scandal. (Commonwealth v. Veon, CP-22-CR-4656-2008 (Dauphin Cnty. Ct. Com. Pl. March 23, 2010); see also Doc. 19, ¶ 17; Doc. 25, Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n, at 2; Doc. 22, Ex. 1, at 3.)*fn1 Plaintiff's employment with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was terminated on March 24, 2010. (Doc. 19, ¶ 23.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she was "terminated from her position in retaliation for [her] exercis[ing] . . . her rights to spe[ak] and petition under the First Amendment" (Id., ¶ 26), inasmuch as her statements to the Attorney General and testimony to the investigating Grand Jury were "substantial factor[s] that led to her retaliatory firing" (Id., ¶¶ 29, 31). As a result, Plaintiff alleges that she has suffered various damages. (See id., ¶ 32.)

B. Procedural History

On March 8, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant action, initially naming nine defendants and asserting two counts.*fn2 (Doc. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a one-count amended complaint on May 29, 2012, which named the four aforementioned Defendants, and asserted a First Amendment retaliation claim as her sole cause of action. (Doc. 19.) On June 27, 2012, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 21) and brief in support (Doc. 22), to which Defendants attached*fn3 the Grand Jury Presentment resulting from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's investigation (Doc. 22, at Ex. 1). On July 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed her response in opposition (Doc. 25), in which she requested the court to take judicial notice of the date of Michael Veon's criminal conviction (Id., at 8 n.1). Defendants filed a reply on August 14, 2012. (Doc. 26.) Thus, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Defendants' motion challenges Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) due to Plaintiff's alleged "fail[ure] to comply with the pleading standards of [Rule 8]," and failure to state a First Amendment claim upon which relief can be granted. (Id., ¶¶ 6, 7.) Relying on Rule 8, Defendants argue that the amended complaint contains "nothing more than boilerplate legal conclusions" and completely lacks "properly pled allegations of Defendants' personal involvement in the alleged retaliation against [Plaintiff]." (Doc. 22, at 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiff's "conclusory allegations of causation" fail to establish that her involvement in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's investigation was a "substantial factor" in Defendants' decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment, and thus Plaintiff's amended complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Id., at 9, 12.)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of claims that fail to assert a basis upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When adjudicating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must view all the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and it must grant the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from those facts. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). However, the court need not accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Reuben v. U.S. Airways, Inc., No. 12-2842, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 20598, *3-4 (3d Cir. Oct. 3, 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) ("A complaint offering labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action does not suffice") (internal quotations omitted); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (stating that district courts "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions"). The court may only consider the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached as exhibits, matters of public record, and matters about which the court may take judicial notice. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) ("To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matter of public record"); Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (stating that, in addition to facts contained in the complaint, the court "may also consider ...

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