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Viviano v. Hazleton Area School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 17, 2014



A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Hazleton Area School District and Dr. Francis Antonelli (Doc. 8). Because Plaintiff fails to assert sufficient factual allegations in his Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) to plausibly state a claim that the Defendants violated his rights to procedural due process and liberty as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

I. Background

The facts as set forth in the Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) are as follows:

Plaintiff Dr. Thomas Viviano was hired by Defendant Hazleton Area School District ("the District") to serve as the Director of the District's Career Center, pursuant to a three-year contract dated September 4, 2013. (Doc. 6, ¶¶ 5-7.) Defendant Dr. Francis Antonelli is the Superintendent of the District. (Id. at ¶ 4.) The District is a municipal corporation or government entity within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Id.)

Viviano asserts that he was a diligent employee. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Viviano's salary and benefits were withheld beginning in mid-March, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

On March 31, 2013, Defendant Antonelli sent a letter to Viviano, which the Complaint characterizes as "mendacious, " stating that Plaintiff had resigned his employment. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that Antonelli was doing "everything in his power to force Plaintiff out of his position." (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that Antonelli knew that Plaintiff was not resigning, but was instead being forced out of his job. (Id.) The School Board of the Hazleton Area School District was aware that Antonelli wanted the plaintiff to resign his position. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

A member of the school board, Dr. Robert Childs, sent an undated letter to other board members criticizing them for their conduct toward Viviano. (Id. at ¶ 12; Doc. 6-1, Ex A. ) In this letter, attached to the Complaint as Exhibit A, Dr. Childs wrote that Viviano was "being subjected to a campaign of character assassination that was utterly unfounded, " and that Viviano was an "exemplary educator." (Id. at ¶ 24.) Dr. Childs wrote of his "alarm" at watching the District "force out" Viviano over the course of eight (8) months because some members and Defendant Antonelli were upset that another candidate was not chosen for his job. (Doc. 6-1.) According to the letter, these Board members were "determined" to replace Viviano with their chosen candidate. (Id.) Dr. Childs also mentions "the warehousing class' mess" and a "dust-up last fall" because Dr. Viviano did not live in the school district. (Id.)

Plaintiff's attorney also sent the District a letter on April 4, 2014, writing that his client "has been subjected to a series of untoward, adverse and inappropriate actions directed against him." (Id. at ¶ 13.) The District took no actions in response. (Id. at ¶ 16.)

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff Viviano commenced the instant action on May 27, 2014. (Doc. 1.) On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 6). The Amended Complaint asserts Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983-Count I for violations of the right to procedural due process and Count II for violations of the Plaintiff's liberty interest. (Doc. 6, ¶¶ 26-47.)

Defendants filed this Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on August 19, 2014 (Doc. 8), and a Brief in Support on August 29 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to the motion on September 16, 2014 (Doc. 10). Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering such a motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) ( per curiam ) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they ...

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