United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RONALD S. GRUPP, Plaintiff,
BANK OF NEW YORK MELLON CORP., Defendant.
DAVID STEWART CERCONE, District Judge.
Ronald S. Grupp ("Plaintiff"), commenced this action pro se on February 21, 2014, against Bank of New York Mellon Corp. ("Defendant"), purporting to assert numerous federal and state law causes of action. (ECF No. 1). Presently pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement and General Release. (ECF No. 4). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.
According to the allegations in the Complaint, this lawsuit centers on events that transpired during Plaintiff's employment with Defendant from 2006 through July 9, 2013. Plaintiff was employed by Defendant beginning in February 2006. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 21). He avers that he had extensive experience in handling securities and was Defendant's "Fiduciary Agent" with respect thereto. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21, 24). Plaintiff states that he alerted management with respect to "major fraudulent activity", "unethical risky practice", and "breach of fiduciary duties" from 2006 until January 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff further states that "with years of experience" and during his employment, he repeatedly reported "public policy breach[es]." ( Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff alleges that on December 20, 2012, Defendant forced him to "take asset valuation classes or be terminated." ( Id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff further alleges that from January 2012 until July 2013, he received "countless e-mail threats, intimidation, and corrective actions warnings documenting these written threats of termination." ( Id. at ¶ 28).
Plaintiff's Complaint goes on to allege that in January 2013, he alerted Defendant's legal counsel regarding the "unethical risky practice" and an investigation ensued. ( Id. at ¶¶ 36-40). Plaintiff claims that he cooperated with the internal investigation from January 24, 2013 until he was "forced to resign" on July 9, 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 48). Plaintiff contends that he suffered retaliation, intimidation, threats, and defamation of character from 2012 through July 2013 regarding his "due diligence and fiduciary duty for his customers." ( Id. at ¶ 49). Although the significance is unclear, Plaintiff appears to allege that Defendant filed misleading documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, sold certain stock, and amended "various corporate bylaws." ( Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19, 41-47). Plaintiff alleges that on July 9, 2013, he entered into a "prospectus contract" drafted by Defendant in violation of the Security Exchange Act of 1933. ( Id. at 16).
Based on these allegations, Plaintiff cites a slew of federal and state statutory provisions, some of which are jurisdictional or venue-related and some of which are substantive in nature. (ECF No. 1 at p. 2). He summarizes his lawsuit as follows:
This is an action brought on by Mr. Ronald S. Grupp (fiduciary agent) for violations of the above named acts in connection with purported untrue misleading statements appearing on Plaintiff's reports, the defendants' tactics in attempts to cover up the fraudulent activity, misrepresentation and the defendants' refusal to acknowledge the unlawful acts regarding it.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10). He seeks damages and injunctive relief. ( Id. at pp. 7-8). Defendant has moved for dismissal, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and, alternatively, that all of his claims are barred by the Settlement Agreement and Release Plaintiff executed at the time of his termination. (ECF No. 5 at pp. 5-21).
III. Standard of Review
It is well-settled that in reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "[t]he applicable standard of review requires the court to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). Under the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper only where the averments of the complaint plausibly fail to raise directly or inferentially the material elements necessary to obtain relief under a viable legal theory of recovery. Id. at 544. In other words, the allegations of the complaint must be grounded in enough of a factual basis to move the claim from the realm of mere possibility to one that shows entitlement by presenting "a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. In contrast, pleading facts that only offer "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[, ]" nor will advancing only factual allegations that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability. Id. Similarly, tendering only "naked assertions" that are devoid of "further factual enhancement" falls short of presenting sufficient factual content to permit an inference that what has been presented is more than a mere possibility of misconduct. Id. at 678-79; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8 (a complaint states a claim where its factual averments sufficiently raise a "reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence' to support the claim.") (quoting Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347, 125 S.Ct. 1627, 161 L.Ed.2d 577 (2005) & Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 741, 95 S.Ct. 1917, 44 L.Ed.2d 539 (1975)); accord Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (a court need not credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in assessing a motion to dismiss) (citing with approval Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1357 (2d ed. 1997) ("courts, when examining 12(b)(6) motions, have rejected legal conclusions, ' unsupported conclusions, ' unwarranted inferences, ' unwarranted deductions, ' footless conclusions of law, ' or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.'").
This is not to be understood as imposing a probability standard at the pleading stage. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (same). Instead, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element... [and provides] enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235; see also Wilkerson v. New Media Technology Charter School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) ("The complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'") (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235) (citations omitted). "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.
Pro se plaintiffs are held to a less stringent standard than individuals represented by counsel. Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402, 128 S.Ct. 1147, 170 L.Ed.2d 10 (2008). ("Pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties."). A pro se plaintiff, however, is still required to adhere to standard rules of civil procedure. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). While the court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, it "need not credit a complaint's... legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). Even though plaintiff is pro se, he or she must "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of [his or her] claim." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing 5A C. WRIGHT & A. MILLER, FEDERAL ...