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Moffitt v. Tunkhannock Area School District

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 31, 2013

JOSEPH P. MOFFITT, Plaintiff
v.
TUNKHANNOCK AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT and the TUNKHANNOCK AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS, Defendants

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

Presently before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 8).

I. BACKGROUND

This case arose when the defendants, Tunkhannock Area School District and the Tunkhannock Area School District Board of School Directors (the school board), temporarily suspended the plaintiff, Joseph P. Moffitt, from his job as principal of two area schools. (Doc. No. 1). The plaintiff has been employed as both a principal and vice-principal of various schools over the past seven years. ( Id., ¶ 3). During his time as principal, he raised concerns about mold in one of the schools. (Id. ¶ 47). The complaint does not specify when, how, or to whom these concerns were raised. The plaintiff also encouraged people who were concerned about the direction of the school district to run for positions on the school board. ( Id., ¶ 60). The plaintiff allegedly opposed the election of one member of the school board in the past. That school board member later made allegedly false statements about the plaintiff, resulting in him receiving a three day suspension. ( Id., ¶ 61). This same member was on the school board through 2012. ( Id., ¶ 61-62).

On the morning of June 7, 2012, the plaintiff learned he had a 2:30 PM meeting with the Tunkhannock Area School District Superintendent. ( Id., ¶ 8). The plaintiff was not made aware of the purpose of this meeting. (Id.). In attendance at the meeting were the plaintiff, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, and an attorney. ( Id., ¶ 9). The school's attorney questioned the plaintiff for approximately 2.5 hours, but did not tell the plaintiff the purpose of the meeting. (Id.). The plaintiff asked for his attorney three times, but was told he did not have the right to an attorney. (Id.). When the questioning concluded, the plaintiff was suspended for one day and was told to meet with the superintendent on June 8, at 10:30 AM. ( Id., ¶ 12).

The next day, the superintendent told the plaintiff he was suspended indefinitely without pay. ( Id., ¶ 14). The superintendent also informed the teachers at two schools that the plaintiff would not be returning to his position. ( Id., ¶ 13). On June 14, 2012, the plaintiff received a letter from the superintendent notifying him in writing that effective June 8, 2012, he was suspended without pay until the school board could hold a formal termination hearing. ( Id., ¶ 15). The letter did not include a list of witnesses, evidence, or reasons for the suspension. ( Id., Att. 1). The plaintiff was not permitted on school property or allowed to attend any school sporting events during his suspension. ( Id., ¶ 16).

On July 25, 2012, the president of the school board sent the plaintiff a letter detailing the allegations against him and notifying him that the school administration recommended dismissal. ( Id., Att. 2). The letter included six charges as the basis for the suspension, two of which were withdrawn prior to his formal termination hearing. (Id.). The four surviving charges related to the plaintiff's administration of the "4Sight Benchmarks" examination given in the Tunkhannock Area schools. ( Id., ¶ 19). The hearing was initially scheduled for August 6, 2012, but was rescheduled until September 19, 2012. ( Id., ¶ 20). It is unclear from the complaint and attached exhibits why the hearing was rescheduled. The letter also informed the plaintiff the hearing would be open to the public unless the plaintiff or counsel requested a private hearing. ( Id., Att. 3). The plaintiff could also seek a continuance of the hearing if necessary. (Id.).

On August 29, 2012, the school board met and, when asked by a member of the public about the plaintiff's job, the superintendent said he would let the school board members know how he planned on filling the position. ( Id., Att. 3). On September 19, 2012, just prior to the termination hearing, the plaintiff became aware of the evidence that would be presented at the hearing. ( Id., ¶ 19). The plaintiff also learned that the June 7, 2012, meeting was purported to be his Laudermill hearing. ( Id., ¶ 20). The termination hearing occurred on September 19, October 24, and November 8, 2012, and was open to the public. ( Id., ¶ 22). On November 16, 2012, the school board rendered its decision, rejecting the school administration's recommendation of dismissal and suspending the plaintiff, without pay, until the beginning of the next grading period. ( Id., Att. 4). This suit followed.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case was commenced on June 6, 2013, when the plaintiff filed his complaint. (Doc. No. 1). The complaint alleges eight causes of action: Counts I and II are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of due process rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, Count III is for First Amendment retaliation, Count IV for violation of the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy, Count V for violation of First Amendment associational rights, Count VI for breach of contract, Count VII for wrongful suspension in violation of public policy, and Count VIII for intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Id.). The plaintiff seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. (Id.). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on August 19, 2013, (Doc. No. 8), and a brief in support on September 3, 2013. (Doc. No. 12). The plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on September 16, 2013. (Doc. No. 15). The motion is now ripe for the court's decision.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The defendant's motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating "no set of facts" language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This requirement "calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [necessary elements]" of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, " which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n. 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of ...


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