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Evans v. City of Butler

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 6, 2017

SUSAN E. EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BUTLER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          LISA PUPO LENIHAN U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         SYNOPSIS

         In this case, Plaintiff, a recently retired employee of the Defendant City of Butler (“City”), asserts that she was deprived of equal protection of the law when she was classified as a part-time employee, despite working full-time hours, and was denied credit for pension purposes as a result of that designation. She brings an equal protection claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [ECF No. 15]. Plaintiff has filed a response [ECF No. 17, 18], and Defendants replied thereto [ECF No. 19]. The Motion is now ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the parties will be afforded the opportunity to engage in a period of limited discovery directed towards the timeliness of Plaintiff's suit.[1]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that she was designated a part-time employee of the City from the time her employment commenced in 1994, until she was designated a full-time employee in 1998. During that time, Plaintiff alleges that she worked as many or more hours as those designated as full-time employees.

         At all pertinent times, Defendants maintained a pension plan (the “Plan”). Under the terms of the Plan, part-time employees could not participate in the Plan, regardless of the number of hours worked per year, or years of service. On or about January 17, 1998, when Plaintiff was designated a full-time employee, she became a participant of the Plan by contributing five percent of her wages to the Plan. She alleges that she retired effective July 21, 2015, at the age of sixty, believing that she had twenty years of credited service. Plaintiff further avers that designated part-time employees who work full-time hours, and are thus deprived of full pension benefits, are predominantly female.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants, by enforcing and interpreting arbitrary designations of full-time or part-time, regardless of number of hours worked, and thus denying Plan participation on that basis, denied Plaintiff equal protection of the law.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, which may be dismissed for the "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Upon review of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1861 (2012). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007).

         The Supreme Court later refined this approach, emphasizing the requirement that a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Nevertheless, "the plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, '" but requires a plaintiff to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must take a three step approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010). First, "the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Third, "'where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'" Id.

         Accordingly, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim and "accept the factual allegations contained in the Complaint as true, but [ ] disregard rote recitals of the elements of a cause of action, legal conclusions, and mere conclusory statements." James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 679 (3d Cir. 2012). The Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). The determination for "plausibility" will be "'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Rule 8 "does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Legal Analysis

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff knew that she was not contributing to the Plan until 1998, because she was ineligible due to her employment status, and that she began contributing a percentage of her wages upon attainment of eligibility on January 16 or 17, 1998. Accordingly, Defendants argue, her claims accrued no later than January 16, 1998, the date that she attained full-time status and became eligible to contribute to the Plan. In opposition, Plaintiff points to her allegations that she retired in 2015 based on the belief that she had twenty years of credited service, and ...


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