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Jennings-Fowler v. City of Scranton

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 29, 2014

PATRICIA JENNINGS-FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SCRANTON, MAYOR CHRISTOPHER DOHERTY, Individually, and unknown decision maker, Individually, Defendants

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by the defendants, the City of Scranton ("City") and Mayor Christopher Doherty. (Doc. 20). The plaintiff, Patricia Jennings-Fowler, brings a series of claims emanating from the termination of her employment with the City. For the reasons discussed herein, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART, and the plaintiff's request for leave to amend is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The instant dispute concerns the termination of the employment of the plaintiff, who was employed by the City for over fifteen years and was working as a Housing Inspector at the time of her termination. The plaintiff was the only female Housing Inspector employed by the City.

On September 25, 2013, the plaintiff was suspended without pay and on October 2, 2013, she was terminated. The plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that she was terminated as retaliation for supporting political candidates opposed to then-Mayor of Scranton Christopher Doherty. She claims to have been an outspoken supporter of at least two of Defendant Doherty's political rivals, namely then-candidate Gary DiBileo and current Mayor Courtright. (Doc. 17, ¶ 30-32). The plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Doherty was aware of her support for his rivals (Doc. 17, ¶ 34).

The plaintiff also claims that Defendant Doherty's administration performed "secret video surveillance" on her without her knowledge in violation of her equal protection rights. (Doc. 17, ¶ 39). She claims that this video surveillance was performed on only her because she had complained about gender discrimination and a hostile work environment in July of 2013 and because she had openly criticized Mayor Doherty.

The plaintiff claims that while serving as the only female Housing Inspector she was subjected to harassment from a male co-worker, Shelly Roberts, that she reported said harassment to the City, and that the City refused to remedy the alleged hostile work environment. (Doc. 17, ¶ 45-47). Mr. Roberts is not a party to this action. She claims that Mr. Roberts treated her like a subordinate even though he was not her superior, that he "ma[de] fun of her, harass[ed] her, and belittl[ed] her" frequently, and that she was the only employee subject to this type of treatment from Mr. Roberts. (Doc. 17, ¶ 47-50).

On May 20, 2014, the plaintiff filed her original complaint with the Court (Doc. 1) and on June 16, 2014, the defendants filed a corresponding motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 7). On June 24, 2014, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint (Doc. 9), and on July 2, 2014 the Court accordingly issued an order dismissing the original motion to dismiss as moot. (Doc. 10). On July 16, 2014, the plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint (Doc. 17), and the defendants filed a corresponding motion to dismiss on July 29, 2014, which is at issue here. (Doc. 20).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

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. See 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). However, "[d]ismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

Before an employer may suspend an employee without pay, the employer must provide: (1) notice of the charges against her; (2) explanation of the evidence against her; and (3) an opportunity to rebut such allegations. Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225 (3d Cir. 2008). Under Pennsylvania law, a brief and informal pre-termination or pre-suspension hearing is required, except under extraordinary circumstances. Schmidt v. Creedon, 639 F.3d 587, 589-90 (3d Cir. 2011). Post-suspension remedies do not excuse the failure to hold a pre-termination hearing. Stana v. School Dist., 775 F.2d 122, 129 (3d Cir. 1985).

With respect to actions against public officials acting in a supervisory capacity, the United States Supreme Court has held that claims must be differentiated based upon whether the defendant acted in his personal capacity or in his official capacity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 155-65 (1985). Personal capacity suits "seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law." Id . (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237-238 (1974)). Official capacity suits "generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity for which an officer is an agent." Id . (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep't Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). The theory of respondeat superior is inapplicable in personal capacity actions of this sort. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195 (3d Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court has also held that official capacity suits cannot succeed against officials acting in their official capacity on behalf of the state. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991). "The law is well established on this point, and courts ...


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