United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM H. YELLAND, Plaintiff
ABINGTON HEIGHTS SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants
MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge.
William H. Yelland was a science teacher at the Abington
Heights Middle School ("AHMS") in the Abington
Heights School District ("AHSD") from 2013 until
May 7, 2015. On April 8, 2015, allegations of assault were
made by the parents of one of plaintiff's eighth grade
students, ("Student A"), to AHMS Principal Michael
Elia and AHMS Vice Principal Eduardo Antonetti. After the
meeting, the principal and vice principal at AHMS assured the
parents of Student A that plaintiff would not return to the
classroom and they contacted the Department of Human Services
Office of Children, Youth and Families ("CYF") as
well as the South Abington Police Department to commence
criminal proceedings against plaintiff. The next day, AHSD
officials, including defendants AHSD Superintendent Michael
Mahon, Eliaand Antonetti, initiated an investigation into the
assault allegations and discussed the allegations with
plaintiff during a meeting. The teacher's union counsel
was also present. Plaintiff was asked to describe the April
8th incident with Student A and he was asked
questions about some other alleged incidents. After the
meeting, plaintiff was suspended indefinitely without pay.
AHSD officials then interviewed several students and
eventually forwarded the results of their investigation to
the Lackawanna County District Attorney's
("DA") Office. Plaintiff alleges that defendants
intentionally withheld exculpatory information when they
provided information to the county prosecutor and that they
failed to disclose the accounts of several eyewitnesses.
11, 2015, the DA filed criminal charges of simple assault and
endangering the welfare of children against plaintiff based
solely on the allegations of assault made by Student A
arising out of the April 8, 2015 incident. A jury trial was
subsequently commenced in November 2015 against plaintiff
regarding the criminal charges. Plaintiff was found not
guilty by a jury on all of the charges. See Lackawanna County
Court criminal docket in Com. of PA v. Yelland,
Docket No. CP-35-CR-1178-2015.
October 14, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant civil rights
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against defendants
AHSD, AHSD Board of Directors, Mahon, Elia and Antonetti.
(Doc. 1). Plaintiff sues Mahon, Elia and Antonetti in both
their official and individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges
that his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights
were violated with respect to his suspension and termination.
in Count I, plaintiff alleges that he was not afforded
pre-deprivation due process by all defendants and that the
April 9, 2015, meeting did not satisfy the requirements
of Cleveland Bd. of Education v. Loudermill, 470
U.S. 532 (1985). Plaintiff alleges that after his indefinite
suspension without pay, defendants conducted a "sham
investigation" culminating in his May 7, 2015,
termination based on his alleged April 8th
"physical attack" on Student A as well as alleged
physical attacks against other students.
Count II, plaintiff alleges that all defendants denied him
post-termination process by refusing to participate in his
request for arbitration regarding his grievance claim that he
was wrongfully terminated without just cause which he made
pursuant to the Abington Heights Education Association's
Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). As Exhibit
A attached to his complaint, (Doc. 1-1), plaintiff submitted
a copy of the decision and order issued by the Pennsylvania
Labor Relation Board ("PLRB") regarding an unfair
practices charge filed by the Abington Heights Education
Association ("Union") on September 25, 2015
alleging that AHSD violated the Public Employee Relations Act
("PERA") by refusing to arbitrate Yelland's
grievance. Further, plaintiff alleges that AHSD was
deliberately indifferent to his rights by failing to properly
supervise and train defendants Mahon, Elia and Antonetti.
Count III, plaintiff asserts a state law claim of malicious
prosecution against the defendants Mahon, Elia and Antonetti.
relief in his complaint, plaintiff seeks an injunction from
the court to order the defendants to reinstate his
employment, compensatory damages, including front pay and
back pay, punitive damages, nominal damages as well as
attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988 and
is the motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, (Doc. 1),
forfailure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)
filed jointly by all defendants, (Doc. 6), on November 3,
2016. Defendants filed their brief in support on November 17,
2016. (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed his brief in opposition to
defendants' motion on December 7, 2016. (Doc. 14). On
December 21, 2016, defendants filed a reply brief. (Doc. 16).
Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion is ripe for disposition.
court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§1331 and 28 U.S.C. §1343(a) because plaintiff
avers violations of his due process rights under the
Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court can
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs state law
malicious prosecution claim under 28 U.S.C. §1367. Venue
is appropriate in this court since the alleged constitutional
violations occurred in this district and all parties are
located here. See 28 U.S.C. §1391.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Motion to Dismiss
defendants' 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).
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." Prvor 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).
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.
Mavview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002);
Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir.
2000). "Dismissal 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).
school district, the school board and the school officials
are state actors for purpose of §1983. See Kline ex
rel. Arndt v. Mansfield, 454 F.Supp.2d 258, 262 (E.D.Pa.
state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must meet two
threshold requirements. He must allege: 1) that the alleged
misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of
state law; and 2) that as a result, he was deprived of
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535
(1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v.
Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). If a defendant
fails to act under color of state law when engaged in the
alleged misconduct, a civil rights claim under section 1983
fails as a matter of jurisdiction, Polk Cntv. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315 (1981), and there is no need
to determine whether a federal right has been violated.
Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982).
defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be
predicated solely on the operation of respondeat
superior." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d
1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). See also Sutton v.
Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003)(citing Rode).
"Personal involvement can be shown through allegations
of personal direction or of actual knowledge and
acquiescence." Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.
Accord Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d
1286, 1293-96 (3d Cir. 1997); Baker v. Monroe Twp.,
50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995). As explained in Rode:
A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal
involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . [P]ersonal
involvement can be shown through allegations of personal
direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.
Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and
acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate
respect to punitive damages for a §1983 violation, this
remedy is only available "when the defendant's
conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or
when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the
federally protected rights of others." Smith v.
Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983). Regarding federal civil rights
claims, "reckless indifference" refers to the
defendant's knowledge of the illegality of his actions,
not the egregiousness of his actions. Alexander v.
Riga, 208 F.3d 419, 431 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing
Kolstad v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 527 U.S. 526, 536
Punitive Damages Claim
well settled that the Supreme Court has held punitive damages
may not be awarded against municipalities under §1983.
See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S.
247, 271 (1981). In fact, as defendants note, (Doc. 1(5 at 2,
n. 1), plaintiff concedes that punitive damages are not
permissible against AHSD and against Mahon, Elia and
Antonetti in their official capacities. (Doc. 14 at 23-24).
Thus, any claim for punitive damages against defendants AHSD
and its Board of Directors as well as against Mahon, Elia and
Antonetti in their official capacities is subject to
dismissal. However, plaintiff has ...