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Scrip v. Seneca

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 6, 2015

DAVID SCRIP, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBBIE O'DELL SENECA in her individual capacity as President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County; THOMAS JESS in his official and individual capacity as both Director of Probation Services and Deputy Court Administrator of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County; DANIEL CLEMENTS in his official and individual capacity as Director of the Washington County Juvenile Probation Office/Chief Probation Officer; and COUNTY OF WASHINGTON, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION Re: ECF Nos. 5 and 7

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff David Scrip ("Plaintiff") has brought this lawsuit against Defendants Debbie O'Dell Seneca ("O'Dell Seneca"), in her individual capacity as President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County; Thomas Jess ("Jess"), in his official and individual capacity as both Director of Probation Services and Deputy Court Administrator of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County; Daniel Clements ("Clements"), in his official and individual capacity as Director of the Washington County Juvenile Probation Office/Chief Probation Officer; and the County of Washington ("the County") (collectively, "Defendants"), following the termination of his employment as a Juvenile Probation Officer in the Washington County Juvenile Probation Department ("the Department") in February of 2014.

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Jess, Clements and the County, and a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint and to Strike Impertinent and Scandalous Allegations filed on behalf of Defendant O'Dell Seneca. ECF Nos. 5, 7. For the following reasons, it is respectfully recommended that both Motions to Dismiss be granted with respect to Plaintiff's federal law claims and the state law claims that Plaintiff has conceded should be dismissed. It is also recommended that Plaintiff's remaining state law claims, as well as the issue of whether certain portions of Plaintiff's Complaint should be stricken, be remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County.

II. REPORT

A. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

According to the Complaint, Plaintiff began working as a probation officer for the Department in 1988. ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims that sometime in 2011, his supervisor, Defendant Clements, was having as intimate relationship with Beth Cecchini Stutzman ("Stutzman"), an employee within the Department. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Stutzman subsequently began working as a liaison/recruiter for Abraxas, which is a placement facility for juvenile offenders, and began soliciting juvenile probation departments from the surrounding counties to recommend the placement of juvenile offenders into Abraxas. Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Plaintiff contends that the relationship between Clements and Stutzman not only presented a conflict of interest but that Clements began pressuring probation officers to recommend the placement of juvenile offenders into Abraxas in order to benefit Stutzman and thus Clements' relationship with her. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 21-23. Plaintiff alleges that the probation officers recommended placements into Abraxas, even when it was inappropriate and not in the best interests of the children, out of fear of retaliation by Defendants Clement and Jess. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.

Troubled by the practice, Plaintiff alleges that he mailed an anonymous letter ("the first Letter") to, inter alia, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ronald Castille, James Anderson, the Executive Director of the Juvenile Court Judges Commission and Defendant O'Dell Seneca, "revealing and protesting this unethical practice." Id. at ¶ 30. Sometime thereafter, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts assigned James Rieland to investigate the matter and, on July 30, 2012, Plaintiff sent Mr. Rieland a letter ("the second Letter") providing him with "recent developments" relative to the investigation. Id. at ¶¶ 32-34. Those developments revolved around two recommendations that were made by probation officers on July 27, 2012, regarding the placement of juveniles at Abraxas and the events at a Department staff meeting that was convened the next day to discuss such placements and the probation officers' discretion to choose an appropriate placement facility for juvenile offenders. Id. at pp. 31-32. Plaintiff contends that Mr. Rieland's investigation was nevertheless a sham because it was manipulated by Defendants Jess and O'Dell Seneca. Id. at ¶¶ 34-35. Amongst Plaintiff's complaints is that Mr. Rieland never interviewed Stutzman or asked any of the probation officers whether or not a relationship between Defendant Clements and Stutzman existed and that Rieland never made a finding that the relationship existed. Id. at ¶ 34

Plaintiff claims that thereafter he was disciplined for "pretextual reasons." Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that "disparate treatment was doled out for... Plaintiff missing one telephone call while he was serving as an on-call worker, " and that he was disciplined on two occasions for allegedly committing perjury during juvenile hearings. Id. at ¶¶ 38-40.[1] Plaintiff also alleges that the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board conducted an investigation into Defendant O'Dell Seneca as a the result of Plaintiff's allegations in the Letters. Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff's employment was subsequently terminated on February 18, 2014, for allegedly having violated O'Dell Seneca's directive disseminated at a meeting in August of 2012, that "she would not tolerate any criticism of Director Dan Clements nor anyone undermining his authority." Id. at ¶¶ 36, 39, 42.

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, on August 18, 2014, bringing claims against Defendants for violations of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 1421, et seq. (Count I); the public policy exception to the Pennsylvania at-will employment doctrine (Count II); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Count III); Section 955(d) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("the PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 951, et seq. (Count IV); Section 955(e) of the PHRA (Count V); and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count VI). Defendant O'Dell Seneca removed the case to this Court on September 18, 2014, and Defendants filed their respective Motions to Dismiss on October 10, 2014. ECF Nos. 5, 7. Plaintiff did not amend the Complaint but filed a Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Rule 12 Motions on February 4, 2015, in which he responded to both the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Jess, Clements and the County and the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant O'Dell Seneca. ECF No. 16. Defendants Jess, Clements and the County filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition on February 16, 2015, and Defendant O'Dell Seneca filed a Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss the Complaint on February 18, 2015. ECF Nos. 19, 20. On April 20, 2015, having requested and been granted leave of Court, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Brief in Opposition to the Defendants' Rule 12 Motions. ECF No. 23. Defendants Jess, Clements and the County subsequently sought and were granted leave to file a Reply Brief to Plaintiff's Supplemental Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Rule 12 Motions which was filed on April 28, 2015. ECF No. 26. As such, both Motions are ripe for review.

B. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id., citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " id. at 570, or where the factual content does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under Twombly, "labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not suffice but, rather, the complaint "must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct" and that are sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of his claim").

C. DISCUSSION

As previously discussed, all four Defendants have been named in all six Counts of the Complaint. In their respective Motions to Dismiss, Defendants have asked that all six Counts be dismissed. In response, Plaintiff concedes that his claims brought pursuant to Title VII and the PHRA at Counts III, IV and V of the Complaint are properly dismissed as to all Defendants. Accordingly, Defendants' Motions will be granted as to those claims. Thus, only Plaintiff's claims for violations of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, the public policy exception to the ...


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