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Afrika v. Khepera Charter School

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 16, 2017

MUKASA AFRIKA, Plaintiff,
v.
KHEPERA CHARTER SCHOOL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Anita B. Brody, J.

         Plaintiff Mukasa Afrika brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Khepera Charter School, Khepera Charter School Board of Trustees, Darnell Sulaiman, Nigel Scott, Aegis Law, LLC, Ausphite Holding Company, Richard White, Randolph Gumby, Gaylia Brown, Aaron Anybwile Love, Barbara Guerrero, Nathaniel Haynesworth, James Spruill, Melissa Watts, Ronald McCoy, Sharon Whitney, Reginald Raghu, and Richard Isaac. Afrika alleges that Defendants violated his procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment. Additionally, Afrika brings state law claims against Defendants for violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations.[1] I exercise federal question jurisdiction over Afrika's § 1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Afrika's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Khepera Charter School, Khepera Charter School Board of Trustees, Richard White, Randolph Gumby, Gaylia Brown, Aaron Anybwile Love, Barbara Guerrero, Nathaniel Haynesworth, James Spruill, Melissa Watts, Ronald McCoy, Sharon Whitney, Reginald Raghu, and Richard Isaac (collectively, "Khepera Defendants") move to dismiss Afrika's procedural due process, substantive due process, and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations claims brought against all of them. Additionally, Khepera Defendants move to dismiss the First Amendment retaliation claims brought against White, Gumby, Brown, Love, Guerrero, Haynesworth, Spruill, Watts, McCoy, Whitney, Raghu, and Isaac (collectively, the "Trustees").[2]For the reasons discussed below, I will grant in part and deny in part the partial motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         For approximately ten years, Mukasa Afrika worked at Khepera Charter School ("KCS"), a Philadelphia charter school.[4] In July 2014, KCS promoted Afrika to the position of Chief Administrative Officer. Afrika was a contract employee, who was contracted to work for a one-year term that could be renewed annually by a board meeting and executive session.

         In July 2015, Afrika began contacting Lauren Iannuccilli at the Charter School Office for the School District of Philadelphia ("Charter School Office"). Afrika reported to Iannuccilli that numerous board meetings were being held out of compliance with the Sunshine Act and expressed concern that the Trustees were overreaching into the administration of the school and mismanaging the school's finances. Throughout the remainder of 2015, Afrika continued to report to Iannuccilli about financial and administrative improprieties occurring at KCS. For instance, on November 23, 2015, Afrika emailed Iannuccilli to report potential financial fraud based on the school's failure to produce the 2013-2014 audit. Afrika also sent this email to the Charter School Office, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Office of the District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia and the Auditor General's Office.

         Throughout 2015 and 2016, Afrika communicated with the Trustees, the attorney for KCS, and the Chief Financial Officer, regarding his concerns about the mishandling of administrative and financial matters. In discussions with the attorney for KCS, Afrika also asserted his protection under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law.

         On March 17, 2016, the Trustees sent a letter to Afrika in response to the numerous concerns he had raised about the mishandling and mismanagement of KCS. In the letter, the Trustees told Afrika that they found his "continuous reporting agitating." Am. Compl. ¶ 126. The "Trustees further reprimanded [Afrika] for not only reporting alleged financial deficiencies and calling for transparency for Defendant KCS's finances, but also for invoking his [w]histleblower protections." Id. The letter concluded: "Desist, and adhere to the duties and responsibilities as outlined in your contract, any other course of conduct will be considered insubordination, and dealt with accordingly going forward." Id. ¶ 127.

         After Afrika received this letter from the Trustees, he continued to voice his concerns to the them. Additionally, Afrika met with Iannuccilli and representatives of the Charter School Office regarding KCS's incorrect financial statements.

         On June 29, 2016, Afrika received a letter signed by Defendant Richard Isaac, the President of the Khepera Charter School Board of Trustees. The letter informed Afrika that the Khepera Charter School Board of Trustees (the "Board") had determined that it was not going to renew his contract as Chief Administrative Officer for the 2016-2017 school year, even though the Board had never met to discuss whether to renew Afrika's employment contract. Rather, Isaac "unilaterally made the decision to terminate [Afrika's] employment." Id. ¶ 148.

         In 2015, prior to Isaac making this decision, the Charter School Office had notified the Board that Isaac should step down because his term had expired. In response, the Board proposed an amendment to the bylaws to extend Isaac's term of service on the Board. Accordingly, "[a]t all times material, Defendant Richard Isaac ... [wa]s the President of the Board." Id. ¶ 10. However, when he made the decision not to renew Afrika's contract, he "act[ed] outside the scope of his authority, " and in his "individual capacity." Id. ¶¶ 148, 191. "Isaac was not privileged or justified, but rather, acted maliciously in retaliation for [Afrika's] ongoing reporting to appropriate government agencies." Id. ¶¶ 192.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

         To survive dismissal, a complaint must allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In order to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, a court must take the following three steps:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, 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.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013), as amended (May 10, 2013) (quoting Burtch v. MilbergFactors, Inc., 662 F.3d ...


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