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Sandusky v. County of Adams

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

February 19, 2014

WILLIAM SCOTT SANDUSKY, Plaintiff
v.
COUNTY OF ADAMS, et al., Defendants

Conner Chief Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This is an employment discrimination action brought by a former Adams County Assistant Public Defender, William Sandusky, against his prior employer, the County of Adams, and four individual defendants, individual defendants who include three county commissioners[1] along with the Adams County Public Defender, Kristin Rice. (Doc. 1) In his complaint Sandusky alleges that the defendants engaged in acts of age discrimination against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §621, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S. §951. (Id.) With respect to these claims the well-pleaded facts set forth in Sandusky’s complaint recite as follows:

The plaintiff, William Sandusky, is an attorney who was born in 1956, and was in his 50's at the time of the events set forth in this complaint. (Id., ¶22.) In June of 2011, Sandusky and defendant Rice, an Assistant Public Defender, both applied for the position of Public Defender for Adams County. (Id., ¶16.) After an in depth interview process, defendant Rice was selected by the county commissioners to serve as Public Defender, but Sandusky was offered the position of Assistant Public Defender that had become vacant with Rice’s promotion to the post of Public Defender. (Id., ¶¶16-18.) Sandusky accepted this job offer and commenced employment as an Assistant Public Defender on June 28, 2011. (Id., ¶18.) At the time Sandusky began his employment with the Public Defender’s office, a recent law school graduate, Sean Mott, who was 26 years old in January 2012, was also working as an intern in the office. (Id., ¶¶ 19-21.)

Following his appointment as an assistant Public Defender Sandusky and Rice had a series of discussions and disputes relating to a capital murder case which had previously been assigned to Rice for trial. (Id., ¶¶24-34.) These discussions culminated with Rice notifying Sandusky on December 29, 2011, that she was reassigning the case to him, over his objections. (Id., ¶¶ 32-34.)

In January, 2012, three newly elected county commissioners, defendants Phiel, Martin and Karsteter Qually, commenced their terms of office. (Id., ¶36.) According to Sandusky, on January 12, 2012, in one of their first acts these newly elected commissioners appointed Mott, the youthful Public Defender Office intern, to a one year term position as an Assistant Public Defender. (Id.) The following day, January 13, 2012, Sandusky alleges that he was summoned to a meeting with defendant Rice and the Adams County Human Resources Director to conduct a six month employment evaluation of the plaintiff. (Id., ¶37.) Sandusky further avers that “[a]lthough plaintiff did not use profanity, did not make any threats, was not violent, did not display wanton conduct, did not shout, did not make any inappropriate sexual or other comments, and was invited to ask questions and make comments, plaintiff was terminated from employment on January 17, 2012, . . . allegedly due to plaintiff’s statements made at the January 13th evaluation.” (Id., ¶ 38.) Sandusky then alleges that at the very next Adam County Commissioners meeting following his termination, Mott, who was 20 years Sandusky’s junior, was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Sandusky’s termination. (Id., ¶39.) Contending that this case reassignment, unfavorable evaluation, and termination decision were all pretextual, and were designed to disguise a plan to terminate Sandusky due to his age and replace him with Mott, who was 20 years younger than the plaintiff, Sandusky’s complaint brings claims against his former employer, Adams County, and these four individual defendants under both the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §621, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S. §951. (Id., ¶¶40-44.)

The defendants have now moved to dismiss this complaint. (Doc. 3) In their motion, the defendants advance two claims. First, the defendants assert that the only proper defendant in an ADEA action is Sandusky’s former employer, Adams County. Therefore, the defendants seek the dismissal of the individuals named in this complaint from this lawsuit. In addition, the defendants advance a fact-bound rebuttal to Sandusky’s complaint, arguing that since Sandusky is incorrect as a matter of fact regarding the chronology of events set forth in his complaint, his complaint fails as a matter of law to state an ADEA claim. This motion has been fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 4, 5 and 7), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss be granted, in part, and denied, in part, as follows: The motion should be granted with respect to the individual defendants named in the complaint, who are not proper party-defendants in an ADEA action, but the motion should be denied in all other respects.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss–Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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, 570 (2007). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555. 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. at 556. 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 quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

In practice, consideration of the legal sufficiency of a complaint entails a three-step analysis: “First, the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’ Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947. Second, the court should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’ Id. at 1950. Finally, ‘where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.’ Id.” Santiago v. Warminster Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

As the court of appeals has observed: “The Supreme Court in Twombly set forth the ‘plausibility’ standard for overcoming a motion to dismiss and refined this approach in Iqbal. The plausibility standard requires the complaint to allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings ‘allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This standard requires showing ‘more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.’ Id. A complaint which pleads facts ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant's liability, [ ] ‘stops short of the ...


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