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Cutler v. Bellefonte Area School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 16, 2015

ELAINE CUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
BELLEFONTE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT and JERRY STEINER, an individual, Defendants

For Elaine Cutler, Plaintiff: Amy H. Marshall, LEAD ATTORNEY, Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir, P.C., State College, PA.

For Bellefonte Area School District, Defendant: David P. Andrews, Andrews, Wagner & Beard, Altoona, PA; Elizabeth A. Benjamin, Andews & Beard Law Offices, Altoona, PA.

For Jeffrey Steiner, an individual, Defendant: Sharon M. O'Donnell, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman and Goggin, Camp Hill, PA.

MEMORANDUM

Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

Before the Court for disposition is Defendant Jeffrey Steiner's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 11). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is granted and the defamation claim within Plaintiff Elaine Cutler's Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

Page 587

I. BACKGROUND

On September 9, 2014, Plaintiff Elaine Cutler filed a Complaint with this Court alleging unlawful discrimination against Bellefonte Area School District and defamation against individual defendant, Jeffrey Steiner. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff specifically alleges that, by terminating her as principal of Bellefonte Elementary School, Defendant Bellefonte Area School District violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Against individual Defendant Jeffrey Steiner, Plaintiff alleges a state law claim of defamation. This claim of defamation arises from statements made by Defendant in his capacity as a school board member for the Bellefonte Area School District. Specifically, at a September 10, 2013 public hearing before the school board, Defendant Steiner stated that he needed to " quantify for people to understand" the decision to terminate Plaintiff. He then described the cause for termination of Plaintiff as including her perpetration of " three (3) Class A Felonies and misdemeanors."

On November 12, 2014, Defendant Jeffrey Steiner filed a Motion to Dismiss and an accompanying Memorandum of Law arguing that he was entitled to absolute immunity as a " high public official" and that Plaintiff's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (ECF No. 12). On November 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion arguing that Defendant Steiner was ineligible for absolute immunity because his statements went beyond his official authority as a member of the Bellefonte Area school board. (ECF No. 14). Defendant subsequently filed a Reply Brief on December 3, 2014, (ECF No. 15), bringing the case to its present posture.

II. DISCUSSION

A. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, " the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the amended complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 561, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). " Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-664. " In ...


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