United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JASON J. REED, Plaintiff
CHAMBERSBURG AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants
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For Jason J.A. Reed, Plaintiff: Mary H. Powell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Powell Law PC, Harrisburg, PA; Michael A. Hynum, LEAD ATTORNEY, Harrisburg, PA.
For Chambersburg Area School District, Joseph Padasak, Jill McCollum, Defendants: Aimee L. Willett, Andrews & Beard Law Offices, Altoona, PA.
For Chambersburg Area School District Foundation, Defendant: Kathryn E. Peters, Michael J. Crocenzi, Steven E. Grubb, Goldberg Katzman, P.C., Harrisburg, PA.
Yvette Kane, Chief United States District Judge.
On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff Jason Reed initiated this action by filing a complaint against Defendants Chambersburg Area School District, Chambersburg Area School District Foundation, Joseph Padasak, and Jill McCollum, asserting a number of claims arising out of the deterioration of the relationship between Plaintiff, his after-school dance program, and the school district. (Doc. No. 1.) On April 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. No. 10.) Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint: one by Defendants Chambersburg Area School District, Jill McCollum, and Joseph Padasak (Doc. No. 25); and one by Defendant Chambersburg Area School District Foundation (Doc. No. 27). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motions.
According to his 297-paragraph amended complaint, in 2005, Plaintiff established an after-school dance program to provide young people in his home town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania with mentorship and dance instruction.  (Id. ¶ 11.) In 2006, upon learning of Plaintiff's successful after-school dance program, Defendant Jill McCollum - a teacher at the Chambersburg Area School District - contacted Plaintiff to recruit him to establish a chapter of the " REACH! Program" in association with the school district. (Id. ¶ 34.) Defendant Joseph Padasak is the Superintendent of the school district. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff and the school district formalized their relationship when the board of the school district approved an after-school REACH! Program in 2006 or 2007. (Id. ¶ 36.) The school district agreed to make Plaintiff the director of the after-school program, and to allow him to retain ownership of all intellectual property associated with the program. (Id. ¶ ¶ 38-39.) Defendant Chambersburg Area School District
Foundation served as the grant recipient for money granted to the school district for the program, including money granted from the Summit Health Endowment. (Id. ¶ 41.)
Plaintiff is African American, and despite the fact that the school district never complained about his performance, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants began treating him " in a very racial stereo-typical and dismissive manner," including making comments bearing " strong racial overtones" and tasking Plaintiff with disciplining the African-American and Hispanic students. (Id. ¶ ¶ 53, 63, 77.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that he was not permitted to view, inter alia, his time-sheets, performance reports, budgets or expenditure reports, from 2007 through 2011, that he was not compensated in accordance with his contract with the school district, and that he was not trusted to handle cash. (Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that the school district did not accurately report Plaintiff's income to the Internal Revenue Service and left Plaintiff financially responsible for paying taxes on money he never received as income. (Id. ¶ ¶ 65-67.) Ultimately, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants " abruptly and unjustly terminated [him] and, seemingly, terminated the [REACH!] Program without explanation." (Id. ¶ 79.)
Plaintiff alleges that in February 2013, the school district reinstated the REACH! Program under a different name, with Plaintiff's former responsibilities being assigned to two individuals with a higher combined hourly rate than Plaintiff was paid. (Id. ¶ 80.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants continue to use his intellectual property without authorization, and interfered with his ability to obtain grants. (Id. ¶ ¶ 83-138.)
Plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary inunction on April 16, 2013. (Doc. No. 20.) Defendants filed their motions to dismiss on April 22, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 25, 27.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint.
Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court may " consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated.
Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to " set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, " need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss."
Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). While the 12(b)(6) standard does not require " detailed factual allegations," there must be a " 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion of entitlement to relief. . . . '[F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must " set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible."
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1955, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).
In his amended complaint, Plaintiff sets forth twelve separate causes of action against all Defendants: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim (Count One); (2) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim (Count Two); (3) a First Amendment free speech claim (Count Three); (4) a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Four); (5) a trademark infringement claim under the Lanham Act (Count Five); (6) a false designation of origin and unfair competition claim under the Lanham Act (Count Six); (7) an unfair competition claim brought pursuant to the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) (Count Seven); (8) a common law trademark infringement claim (Count Eight); (9) a common law contributory trademark infringement claim (Count Nine); (10) a breach of contract claim (Count Ten); (11) a claim for equitable relief (Count Eleven); and (12) a claim for tortious interference with contractual relations (Count Twelve). (Doc. No. 10.) The Court will discuss each count in Plaintiff's complaint separately.
A. Equal Protection (Count One)
In Count One of his amended complaint, Plaintiff avers that Defendants violated his right to equal protection of the law, pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. No. 10 ¶ ¶ 139-160.) Specifically, he asserts that he was subjected to disparate treatment because, unlike similarly situated individuals involved in the after-school program, he was not permitted to review time-sheets maintained by Defendants, review financial documents related to the after-school program, or handle cash. (Id. ¶ 142.) Also, unlike similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff asserts that he was expected to routinely address disciplinary matters involving minority students, and cash checks written to him in order to pay teachers and buy food and supplies. (Id. ¶ ¶ 142-143.) Plaintiff alleges that the practice of requiring him to pay teachers and buy food and supplies resulted in unfair tax burdens that were not imposed on other after-school program leaders. (Id. ¶ 153.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' violation of his civil rights has caused him to suffer irreparable harm, and will continue to cause him further irreparable injury. (Id. ¶ 158.)
Plaintiff appears to bring his equal protection claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a cause of action under Section 1983, a plaintiff must establish that a person acting under color of state law violated a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States.
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). One such right arises out of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that " no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1. " This is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike."
Shuman ex rel. Shertzer v. Penn Manor Sch. Dist., 422 F.3d 141, 151 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing
City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985)). In other words, " when those who appear similarly situated are nevertheless treated differently, the Equal Protection Clause requires at least a rational reason for the difference, to ensure that all persons subject to legislation or regulation are indeed being 'treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions.'"
Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agr., 553 U.S. 591, 602, 128 S.Ct. 2146, 170 L.Ed.2d 975 (2008) (quoting Hayes v. Missouri, 120 U.S. 68, 71-72, 7 S.Ct. 350, 30 L.Ed. 578 (1887)).
To state a claim under this " class of one" theory, a plaintiff must allege that: " (1) defendant treated him differently from others similarly situated, (2) the defendant did so intentionally, and (3) there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment."
Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 239 (3d Cir. 2006). There is no requirement " that the different treatment [be] based on [his or her] membership in any particular class." Engquist, 553 U.S. at 594. However, the Supreme Court has explained:
There are some forms of state action . . ., which by their nature involve discretionary decisionmaking based on a vast array of subjective, individualized assessments. In such cases the rule that people should be " treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions" is not violated when one person is treated differently from others, because treating like individuals differently is an accepted consequence of the discretion granted. In such situations, allowing a challenge based on the arbitrary singling out of a particular person would undermine the very discretion that such state officials are entrusted to exercise.
Id. at 603. The employment context is one such situation, where the government is not required to treat all individuals alike. Id. at 605. In so holding, the Supreme Court emphasized the " common-sense realization that government offices could not function if every employment decision became a constitutional matter." Id. at 607 (quoting Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 143, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 75 L.Ed.2d 708 (1983)).
While the Supreme Court does not recognize a class-of-one cause of action in the government employment context, a traditional equal protection claim is still available for plaintiffs alleging that they were discriminated against based on their status as a member of a protected class. To state an equal protection claim based on membership in a protected class, the plaintiff must allege: (1) that he or she is a member of a protected class; and (2) that the government treated similarly situated individuals outside of the protected class differently.
Terrell v. City of Harrisburg Police Dep't, 549 F.Supp.2d 671, 687 (M.D. Pa. 2008) (citing
Oliveira v. Twp. of Irvington, 41 F.Appx. 555, 559 (3d Cir. 2005); Keenan v. City of Phila.,
983 F.2d 459, 465 (3d Cir. 1992)). As the Third Circuit put it, " [t]o bring a successful claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a denial of equal protection, plaintiffs must prove the existence of purposeful discrimination." Keenan, 983 F.2d at 465 (citing
Andrews v. Phila., 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir.1990)). In alleging the existence of individuals outside the protected class, a plaintiff " cannot use allegations . . . that amount to nothing more than 'conclusory, boilerplate language' to show that he may be entitled to relief; " instead, the plaintiff must identify individuals outside of his or her protected class who received differential treatment.
Young v. New Sewickley Twp., 160 F.Appx. 263, 266 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 354-55 (3d Cir. 2005)).
While Plaintiff references his African-American race throughout his complaint, and generally references racially disparate treatment and " statements bear[ing] strong racial overtones," he never alleges that Defendants treated others outside of his protected class differently. Plaintiff never identifies individuals outside of his protected class who received
differential treatment, and his threadbare allegations are insufficient to state a race-based equal protection claim. Furthermore, throughout his complaint Plaintiff asserts that he was the only after-school program leader that was designated as a director, thereby contradicting any assertion that others were " similarly situated." See
Opsatnik v. Norfolk S. Corp., 335 F.Appx. 220, 222-23 (3d Cir. 2009) (" [W]hile 'similarly situated' does not mean identically situated, the plaintiff must nevertheless be similar in 'all relevant respects.'" ) (quoting Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997)). Plaintiff's allegations that he was treated differently than others are insufficient because he does not allege that any of the disparate treatment was due to his race. See
Machon v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 847 F.Supp.2d 734, 749 (E.D. Pa. 2012) (" At best, he offers only a 'thread-bare recitation of the elements' that cannot survive post-Iqbal." ).
In essence, Plaintiff's claim amounts to little more than a class-of-one claim under the Equal Protection Clause. As discussed above, such a claim is not available in the employment context, where public bodies are given discretion with respect to their treatment of employees. " The federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies."
Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 349, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976). Moreover, the Court notes that Plaintiff's equal protection claim appears to be time-barred, at least in part, under Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations.  Additionally, Plaintiff must allege personal involvement by each Defendant in order to ...