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Bridges v. Astrue

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 28, 2014

CHARLES BRIDGES, Plaintiff
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner, Social Security Administration; JASPER J. BEDE; JANET LANDESBURG; and REANA SWEENEY, Defendants

ALPHONSO ARNOLD, JR., Esquire, On Behalf of Plaintiff.

ZANE DAVID MEMEGER, United States Attorney, MARGARET L. HUTCHINSON, Assistant United States Attorney, SUSAN DEIN BRICKLIN, Assistant United States Attorney, On Behalf of Defendants

OPINION

JAMES KNOLL GARDNER, District Judge.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint ("Motion to Dismiss").[1] For the reasons expressed below, I grant in part and deny in part the Motion to Dismiss.

Specifically, I grant defendants' Motion to Dismiss to the extent that it seeks to dismiss any claims asserted in the Amended Complaint against the individual federal-employee defendants Jasper J. Bede, Janet Landesburg, and Reana Sweeney which allege racial discrimination in violation of the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981a, 1983, or any other federal statute. I grant defendants' within motion in that respect because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) to 2000(e)-17 ("Title VII") provides plaintiff's exclusive remedy for such claims, and because the individual employee defendants are not proper defendants for such a Title VII claim.

Additionally, I grant defendants' Motion to Dismiss as uncontested to the extent that it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's Pennsylvania pendent state-law claims asserted in Counts IV through VIII of the Amended Complaint because plaintiff did not respond to defendants' argument that such claims were required to be asserted against the United States under (and in compliance with the administrative exhaustion requirements of) the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671 to 2680 ("FTCA"). Accordingly, Counts IV through VIII of the Amended Complaint are dismissed.

Furthermore, I grant defendants' Motion to Dismiss as uncontested to the extent that it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's hostile-work-environment and retaliation claims under Title VII because plaintiff did not respond to defendants' arguments that he failed to plead sufficient facts to establish plausible claims that he was subject to (1) a racially-hostile work environment, or (2) retaliation in response to Title VII-protected activity.

However, I deny defendants' Motion to Dismiss to the extent that it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's claim that he was removed from the position of Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge ("HOCALJ") in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania because his removal from the HOCALJ position was not an adverse employment action. Nevertheless, I grant defendant's motion to the extent that it seeks to dismiss that claim as time-barred because plaintiff did not pursue equal employment opportunity counseling within 45 days of his removal as required by Title VII and because the facts averred by plaintiff do not support equitable tolling or delay of the limitations period under the discovery rule.

Finally, I deny defendants' motion to dismiss Count II of the Amended Complaint. Defendants seek the dismissal of Count II on the ground that Count II is precluded by Title VII. However, Count II does not allege illegal discrimination and is, thus, not precluded by Title VII. Count II actually alleges, and seeks a declaratory ruling, that plaintiff was removed from the HOCALJ position in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in violation of his right to procedural due process.

Accordingly, because plaintiff's claims in Count I and Counts III through VIII are dismissed, the sole count remaining for disposition in the Amended Complaint is plaintiff's claim in Count II.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This court has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over plaintiff's pendent state-law claims.

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to both 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), [2] and 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1)(C).[3]

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Initial Complaint and Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing his Complaint on April 30, 2012.[4]

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint on September 24, 2012.[5] Plaintiff's response in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint also contained a request for leave to file an amended complaint.

By Order dated February 12, 2013 and filed February 13, 2013, I granted plaintiff's request for leave to file an amended complaint and dismissed defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's original Complaint as moot.[6]

Amended Complaint and Pending Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint together with supporting exhibits on March 15, 2013.[7]

Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss and supporting materials on March 28, 2013.[8] Plaintiff filed his answer, brief in opposition, and attachments on April 12, 2013.[9] Defendants' Reply Brief[10] was filed with leave of court on August 21, 2013.[11]

Supplemental Pleadings

On November 15, 2013 plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a supplemental pleading pursuant to Rule 15(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[12]

By Order dated January 7, 2014 and filed January 8, 2014, [13] I granted the motion for leave to file a supplemental pleading as uncontested when defendants did not file a response in opposition to that motion for leave, and gave defendants until January 24, 2014 to answer or otherwise respond to plaintiff's supplemental pleading. Plaintiff's supplemental pleading and attached documents were filed January 8, 2013.[14]

On January 22, 2014 - two days before the deadline for defendants to respond to plaintiff's first supplemental pleading - plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a second supplemental pleading.[15]

On January 24, 2014 defendants filed a motion[16] requesting the court to dismiss plaintiff's first supplemental pleading filed January 8, 2014 and to deny plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second supplemental pleading.

Plaintiff did not file a brief or memorandum of law in opposition to defendants' January 24, 2014 motion to dismiss the first supplemental pleading and to deny the request for second supplemental pleading.[17] Rather, on February 10, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion requesting permission to add additional documents to the appendix submitted on January 22, 2014 together with his proposed second supplemental pleading.

Plaintiff's February 10, 2014 motion to supplement was accompanied by a brief in support of his request to supply additional documents, but that brief did not in any way respond to defendants' January 24, 2014 motion to dismiss the first supplemental pleading and to deny the request for second supplemental pleading.

Accordingly, by Order dated and filed February 24, 2014, [18] I granted defendants' January 24, 2014 motion to dismiss the first supplemental pleading and to deny the request for second supplemental pleading. Because plaintiff's first supplemental pleading was dismissed and his request to file a second supplemental pleading was denied, neither supplemental pleading is presently before the court, nor are they considered with respect to the Motion to Dismiss now before the court.

Plaintiff's Request for Injunctive Relief

On Friday, February 21, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.[19] I entered an Order[20] that day scheduling a hearing on that motion for Monday, February 24, 2014.

Plaintiff and his counsel did not appear at the February 24, 2014 hearing. Upon oral motion made at the February 24, 2014 hearing by Assistant United States Attorney Susan Dein Bricklin, counsel for defendants, I dictated an Order[21] dismissing plaintiff's motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The next day, February 25, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration[22] of my February 24, 2014 Order granting defendants' oral motion and dismissing plaintiff's February 21, 2014 motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. On February 26, 2014, plaintiff filed supplemental papers[23] in further support of his motion for reconsideration.

On March 4, 2014 plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw[24] his motion for reconsideration.

On March 6, 2014 plaintiff filed in this court a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[25] The Notice of Appeal included both the February 24, 2014 Order concerning his supplemental pleadings (which Order was not the subject of plaintiff's February 25, 2014 motion for reconsideration) and the February 24, 2014 Order granting defendants' oral motion to dismiss plaintiff's motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (which Order was the subject of plaintiff's February 25, 2014 motion for reconsideration).

By Order dated March 20, 2014 and filed March 21, 2014, [26] I granted plaintiff's motion to withdraw and ordered his motion for reconsideration withdrawn.

Hence this Opinion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." A Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including other judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick , 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2008).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief". Rule 8(a)(2) does not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d at 949.[27]

In determining whether a complaint is sufficient, the court must accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).

Although "conclusory" or "bare-bones allegations" will not survive a motion to dismiss, Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210, a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Phillips , 515 F.3d at 231. Nonetheless, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Id . at 234 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940) (internal quotations omitted).

The court is required to conduct a two-part analysis when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the factual matters averred in the complaint, and any attached exhibits, should be separated from legal conclusions asserted. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210. Any facts pled must be taken as true, and any legal conclusions asserted may be disregarded. Id . at 210-211.

Second, the court must determine whether those factual matters averred are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id . at 211 (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884).

Ultimately, this two-part analysis is "context-specific" and requires the court to draw on "its judicial experience and common sense" to determine if the facts pled in the complaint have "nudged [plaintiff's] claims" over the line from "[merely] conceivable [or possible] to plausible." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679-680, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-1951, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884-885.

A well-pled complaint may not be dismissed simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940-941 (internal quotations omitted).

FACTS

Taking all of the well-pled facts contained in the Amended Complaint and exhibits attached thereto as true, as I am required to do under the standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss, discussed above, the facts of this case are as follows.

Parties

Plaintiff Charles Bridges is African-American.[28] Plaintiff is employed by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") as an Administrative Law Judge (AL-3)("ALJ").[29]

Plaintiff was the Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge ("HOCALJ") in the Office of Disability and Review ("ODAR"), Social Security Administration in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania from June 2004 until he was removed from that position on June 4, 2010.[30]

The Social Security Administration is an independent administrative agency of the United States government. Michael J. Astrue was the Commission of the administration at all times material to plaintiff's claims. Carolyn W. Colvin became Acting Commission of the Social Security Administration on February 14, 2013.[31]

Defendant Jasper Bede was Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge (AL-2) for ODAR Region 3 at all times relevant to plaintiff's claims. Defendant Bede's office is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Defendant Bede is a white male.[32] Defendant Bede's first-line supervisor at all times relevant to plaintiff's claims was Debora Bice, Chief Administrative Law Judge of the ODAR. Defendant Bede's second-line supervisor at all times relevant to plaintiff's claims was Glen Sklar, Deputy Commissioner of the ODAR. Chief ALJ Bice and Deputy Commissioner Sklar each have their office in Falls Church Virginia.[33]

Defendant Janet Landesburg and defendant Reana Sweeney are, and were at all times relevant to plaintiff's claims, ALJs in the Harrisburg ODAR. Defendants Landesburg and Sweeney reported to plaintiff during the time he was the HOCALJ in Harrisburg.[34] Defendants Landesburg and Sweeney are both white females.[35] Defendant ...


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