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Trusz v. Easton Area School District

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 5, 2013

JOHN TRUSZ, Plaintiff
v.
EASTON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

MEMORANDUM

LAWRENCE STENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Trusz is suing the Easton Area School District pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the termination of his employment from the District violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), to which the plaintiff responded.

Initially, I note that in deciding a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). A court may consider, however, an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on that document. Id . If a court considers matters outside the pleadings, our rules require that a motion to dismiss be converted to one for summary judgment. See FED.R.CIV.P. 12(d).[1] Although extraneous to the pleadings, however, some exhibits attached to a motion to dismiss may properly be considered under Rule 12(b)(6) without converting the motion into one for summary judgment because they are integral or explicitly relied upon in the complaint. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig. , 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). The rationale for the conversion is to afford the plaintiff an opportunity to respond. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. , 998 F.2d at 1196. When a complaint relies on a document, the plaintiff obviously is on notice of the contents of the document, and the need for a chance to refute that evidence is greatly diminished. Id. at 1196-1197.

Here, it is not necessary to convert this motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. The amended complaint contains gaps in the information provided along with unclear assertions which render it difficult to discern. The documents submitted by the defendant in its motion to dismiss are undisputedly authentic and provide a basis for the plaintiff's claims in the amended complaint. For example, the defendant attached the sworn affidavit of John Castrovinci, its Director of Human Resources. Attached to the affidavit were relevant portions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the defendant and Mr. Trusz's union, which explain when an employee would be subject to immediate discharge, and which outline the union's grievance procedures. Also attached were various memos, including the memo to Mr. Trusz informing him of his suspension with pay; the memo to Mr. Trusz memorializing the meeting held with him on December 6, 2011, after which his employment status was changed to suspended without pay; and the letter to Mr. Trusz scheduling a termination hearing, and notifying him that the District was recommending that he be terminated. The defendant also attached a transcript of Mr. Trusz's termination hearing held on August 20, 2012. Finally, the defendant attached the Adjudication of the Board of Directors of the District dated September 18, 2012, which contained findings of fact and the conclusion that Mr. Trusz had committed the offense of "improper conduct, " and that his employment with the District was terminated effective immediately. These attachments are undisputedly authentic, provide a basis for the plaintiff's claims, and fill in the obvious gaps which were certainly inadvertently left open in the amended complaint. I also note that in his response to the motion to dismiss, Mr. Trusz did not object to any of this evidence being considered here. Accordingly, for the following reasons, I will grant the motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND[2]

Mr. Trusz began working for the District as a school bus driver on June 25, 1997. During his seventeen years with the District, he received satisfactory job performance reviews.

The amended complaint indicates that on November 26, 2011, Mr. Trusz drank a glass of wine at dinner with some friends. Eight hours later, at 1:50 a.m., Mr. Trusz was pulled over by a State Trooper. Mr. Trusz told the trooper that he had had a glass of wine at dinner, and that he had been treating a cold with cough syrup. He also mentioned the prescribed pain medication he was still taking for a previous neck injury. The trooper then took the plaintiff to the hospital for a blood alcohol test.[3] His blood alcohol level was.11, well over the legal limit.

When Mr. Trusz returned to work after the Thanksgiving holiday, he informed his employer that he had received a DUI arrest on November 26, 2011. The District suspended him with pay on November 30, 2011, pending an investigation. His required commercial driver's license ("CDL") was also pulled.[4] Days later, Mr. Trusz admitted at a pre-termination hearing that he was driving while over the legal limit. That admission prompted the District to change his status from suspended with pay to suspended without pay. In August 2012, a termination hearing was held.[5] A month later, the School Board decided to terminate Mr. Trusz's employment with the District.

In June 2012, Mr. Trusz entered into the Monroe County Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program for first time DUI offenders. He completed the program.

II. STANDARD FOR A MOTION TO DISMISS

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all plausible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id .; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll. , 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

It remains true that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Rather, the Rules require "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). In recent rulings, however, the Supreme Court has rejected language in Conley which stated that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 561. Rather, a "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct, " Twombly , 550 U.S. at 564, and it must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

In assessing the merits of a motion to dismiss, courts must be careful to recognize that, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679 (emphasis added). In recognition of these principles, courts must first identify those allegations in a complaint that are mere conclusions and are therefore not entitled to the assumption of truth, and next, consider whether the ...


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