United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
SUSAN E. EVANS, Plaintiff,
CITY OF BUTLER, et al ., Defendants. ECF No. 15
Pupo Lenihan, United States Magistrate Judge
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. Upon consideration of
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court afforded the
parties the opportunity to engage in a period of limited
discovery directed towards the timeliness of Plaintiff's
suit, while the remainder of the Motion was held in abeyance.
The parties were also given a reasonable opportunity to
submit all material pertinent to the statute of limitations,
and have filed such materials along with supplemental briefs.
The issue is now ripe for review. For the following reasons,
Defendants' Motion will be granted, and Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint dismissed.
initiated this action by Complaint, filed on March 9, 2016.
Plaintiff's now-operative 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. Amended Complaint,
¶¶10-12. Between 1994 and 1998, Plaintiff alleges
that she worked as many or more hours as those designated as
full-time employees. Id. at ¶11. At all
pertinent times, Defendants maintained a pension plan, the
Officers and Employees Pension Plan of the City of Butler
(the “Plan”). Id. at ¶¶13-14.
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. Id. at
¶16. Plaintiff avers that employees who are designated
part time but work full-time hours, yet are deprived of full
pension benefits due to their part-time designation, are
predominantly female. Id. at ¶30.
about January 17, 1998, when Plaintiff became a full-time
employee, she became a participant of the Plan, and began
contributing five percent of her wages to the Plan.
Id. at ¶20. She retired effective July 21,
2015, at the age of sixty, believing that she had twenty
years of credited service. Id. at ¶21. She
acknowledges that she understood, in 1998, that money was
being withheld for pension payments, but was not withheld
previously. Supplemental Brief in Support of Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint,
Ex. A (“Deft. Ex. A”), pp. 28-29. Moreover, prior
to 2014, she knew that part-time employees did not receive a
retirement pension, and full-time employees did receive a
retirement pension. Id. at p. 54.
terms of Plaintiff's conduct, she testified that she
generally did not open the paystubs, which reflected
deductions, that she received in the mail; and that she
received pension statements reflecting her participation in
1999 and later years, but chose not to read them because she
“wasn't thinking about retiring, ” and
“[i]t wasn't important” to her at the time.
Id. at pp. 73, 84-85, 87-88. As Plaintiff
acknowledges, “[i]t is unconstested that [her pay stubs
and pension statements] contain information concerning
pension plan deductions and Evans' initial participation
date.” Plaintiff's Supplemental Brief in Opposition
to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, p. 8.
of 1998, Plaintiff was advised that social security had been
withheld in error, because she was a member of the Plan, and
that she would be reimbursed. Id. at pp. 28-29.
Prior to 2014, she did not understand the relation between
pay deductions related to pension and social security, and
made no inquiry regarding the deductions or reimbursement.
Id. at pp. 29-30. At pertinent times, Plaintiff had
the opportunity to ask supervisors about the deductions, but
did not ask any questions. Id. at p. 74. She first
learned of the injury and its cause on July 21, 2014, when
she spoke with a representative of the company that handles
the City's pension fund. Id. at pp. 91, 93, 95.
At that time, Plaintiff was beginning to think about
retiring, and spoke to the representative concerning her
interest. Id. at p. 91.
addition to the facts and averments of record, those that are
not of record bear mention. Plaintiff does not suggest that
Defendant engaged in any conduct, misleading or otherwise,
that precluded her from learning or inquiring about her
participation in the Plan; nor does she identify any facts to
the effect that information regarding her Plan eligibility or
participation were in any way self-concealing or difficult to
obtain at any time prior to 2014. Indeed, the record is
devoid of evidence that Plaintiff undertook any inquiry,
exploration, or investigation at all regarding her retirement
benefits or status prior to July 21, 2014. Further, she
neither avers nor suggests that she did not know prior to
2015 that part-time workers, precluded from Plan
participation, were predominantly female.
Standard of Review
matter was presented to the Court pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6),
and in the supplemental briefs filed following the limited
period of discovery, the parties continue to point to Rule 12
standards. 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
(20120). 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. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), to the extent that
Defendants' Motion relies on matters outside the
pleadings, it must be considered under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Rule
56(c)(2) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if
the "pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials
on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party has
the initial burden of proving to the district court the
absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's
claims. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d
Cir. 2007). The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come
forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for
trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The non-movant "must present
more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or
suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue."
Garcia v. Kimmell, 381 F. App'x 211 (3d Cir.
2010) (quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409
F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005)). The court must consider the
evidence, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn
from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).
threshold matter, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim
is time-barred. They argue that she knew or should have known
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 that she had been working full-time hours for
more than twenty years, even though she was not designated as
a full-time employee for all of those years. In essence, she
relies on evidence that she had no actual knowledge of the
pertinent facts prior to July 21, 2014, when she made
inquiries due to her interest in retiring, and urges that the
limitations period should be tolled as a result.
limitations period for civil actions brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 is determined by state law. Under Pennsylvania
law, the applicable limitations period for civil rights
actions asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is two years.
See 42 Pa. C.S. § 5524. In turn, the date when
a civil rights action accrues is a matter of federal law.
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 280 n.6, 114 S.Ct.
807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (J. Ginsburg, concurring). Under
federal law, "[a] section 1983 cause of action accrues
when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury
upon which its action is based." Peele v.
McLaughlin, 641 F. App'x 111, 112 (3d Cir. 2016)
(quoting Sameric Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 142
F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). Although the statute of
limitations is typically an affirmative defense, a plaintiff
bears the burden ...