United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge.
Margaret Foster has been the Principal of Fairview Elementary
School, which is part of the Crestwood School District
("CSD"), since 2012. In May 2015, the
Superintendent of Schools for CSD announced that he was
retiring effective January 2016. Plaintiff then applied for
the Superintendent position. At a November 19, 2015 meeting,
the CSD Board of Directors ("CSD Board") accepted
the Human Resources Committee's recommendation that the
Board enter into an agreement with plaintiff to serve as the
Superintendent of Schools for CSD effective January 8, 2016
through June 30, 2019, at an initial salary of $115, 000 per
year, contingent upon receipt of necessary Superintendent
qualification documentation/clearances and subject to review
of the final contract terms by the CSD Solicitor. On November
27, 2015, the President of the CSD Board and plaintiff signed
a Contract for Employment of the Superintendent of CSD (the
"Contract") after it was approved by the District
Solicitor. The Contract provided that the CSD would function
in accordance with the provisions of the Public School Code.
Subsequently, plaintiff completed all of the requirements to
be Superintendent and advised CSD.
December 10, 2015 CSD Board meeting, three newly-elected CSD
Board Directors, including defendants Ron Sturgeon and Joseph
Kaminski, became part of the Board. At this meeting, the new
CSD Board held an executive session and passed a verbal
motion which was added to the agenda to rescind the
Board's action of November 19th which had
approved entering into the agreement with plaintiff to serve
as the new CSD Superintendent. Six Board Directors voted in
favor of the rescission, including defendants Kaminski,
Sturgeon and Maureen McGovem. Plaintiff alleges that when the
CSD Board and the three individual defendants voted to
rescind the Board's prior action, they knew that their
rescission was unlawful.
to the next CSD Board meeting, the directors and the
solicitor were advised that plaintiff had completed the
course work, testing and certification process and currently
held a valid Superintendent Letter of Eligibility.
Nonetheless, at the January 7, 2016 CSD Board meeting, the
CSD Board passed a motion that appointed Brian Waite as
Acting CSD Superintendent for up to one year.
Board then held a special meeting on April 11, 2016 and
approved the appointment of Joseph Gorham as the CSD
Superintendent. Gorham started his new position as
Superintendent on April 13, 2016.
alleges that "[t]he action of the Defendants rescinding
the CSD Board's prior appointment of [her] and prior
approval of [her] Contract was without legal basis or
authority, either in the Public School Code or
otherwise." Plaintiff alleges that the appointments of
Waite and Gorham were invalid. She also alleges defendants
CSD and the CSD Board failed to provide her with the rights
provided in the Contract and required by law, including
"the right to proper notice and a fair and impartial
hearing prior to terminating her Contract." As a result
of defendants' alleged unlawful conduct, "plaintiff
has suffered and incurred damages, including lost wages and
benefits, humiliation, embarrassment, injury to her
reputation and emotional distress." (Doc. 1 at
8, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action
pursuant to 42U.S.C.§1983 against defendants CSD, CSD
Board of Directors, Sturgeon, Kaminski and McGovem. (Doc.
V). Plaintiff sues Sturgeon, Kaminski and McGovern
only in their individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges that
her 14thAmendment procedural due process rights
were violated with respect to her termination as CSD
in Count I, plaintiff alleges that she had a protected
property interest in public employment as Superintendent of
CSD under the Contract and under the Pennsylvania Public
School Code (the "Code"), 24 Pa.C.S. §1-101,
et seq. Plaintiff alleges that she was not afforded
pre-deprivation due process by all defendants seemingly under
the requirements of Cleveland Bd. of Education v.
Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985). She alleges that both
the Contract and the Code require that she be given due
process before termination of the Contract. In particular,
plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to give her notice
of the reasons for the rescission of her appointment as
Superintendent and her employment agreement, and that
defendants failed to hold a hearing regarding their decision
to rescind her appointment. As such, plaintiff avers that all
of the defendants violated her procedural due process rights
under the 14th Amendment.
also alleges that the three individual defendants improperly
interfered with her appointment and the Contract in
retaliation for actions she took regarding certain CSD
employees when she was Principal of the elementary school.
states that post-deprivation remedies are inadequate since
defendants already hired Gorham as Superintendent on April
11, 2016, and that he has held the position with the approval
and at the direction of the defendants. She also alleges that
"defendants' actions were done with a reckless,
callous and/or deliberate indifference to [her] federally
protected rights." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 52).
relief in Count I, plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and
punitive damages as well as attorneys' fees pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §1988 and costs.
Count II, plaintiff raises a state law breach of contract
claim against defendants CSD and CSD Board. Plaintiff alleges
that she satisfied all conditions of the Contract to hire her
as Superintendent and she met all legal requirements
necessary for her to serve in this position effective January
8, 2016. Plaintiff alleges that defendants CSD and CSD Board
breached her Contract "by attempting to rescind it
without proper cause and without notice or a hearing"
and, "by appointing an Acting Superintendent on January
7, 2016 and failing to allow [her] to take office as the
Superintendent of CSD on January 8, 2016." Plaintiff
states that due to defendants' breach, she suffered harm
"in the form of lost wages and benefits that were and
are due to her under the Contract." (Doc. 1 at
Count III, plaintiff alleges that defendants CSD and CSD
Board violated the School Code since it requires that there
be one of several specified causes for terminating a
Superintendent's contract and that termination of such a
contract can only occur "following statutorily specified
notice of a hearing followed by a hearing conducted in
accordance with the Local Agency Law." Specifically,
plaintiff alleges that defendants violated the Code by
attempting to rescind her appointment as Superintendent and
her Contract without proper cause and, without proper notice
and an opportunity to be heard. She states that "there
is no authority in the Code allowing for a newly elected
school board to rescind a Superintendent's employment
contract that has been approved by and Dated: behalf of a
prior school board." Thus, plaintiff alleges that
defendants "violated the Code by improperly rescinding
[her] appointment by the prior CSD Board, by appointing an
Acting Superintendent on January 7, 2016, by failing to allow
[her] to take her position as Superintendent of CSD effective
January 8, 2016 and by appointing Joseph Gorham as
Superintendent on April 11, 2016." (Doc. 1 at
relief in Counts II and III, plaintiff seeks compensatory
damages as well as attorneys' fees and costs.
is the motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, (Doc.
V), for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) filed jointly by all
defendants, (Doc. 11), on August 29, 2016.
Defendants filed their brief in support on September 12,
2016, (Doc. 17), along with an appendix of five
exhibits, (Doc. 16). After being granted an extension of
time, plaintiff filed her brief in opposition to
defendants' motion on October 6, 2016 with seven attached
exhibits, including plaintiff's Declaration. (Doc. 24).
On October 20, 2016, defendants filed a reply brief. (Doc.
28). Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion is ripe for
also filed a motion to strike plaintiff's Declaration,
(Doc. 24-2), on October 19, 2016, (Doc. 26), with a brief in
support, (Doc. 27). Plaintiff filed her brief in opposition
to defendants' motion to strike on November 2, 2016.
(Doc. 30). On November 15, 2016, defendants filed a reply
brief. (Doc. 31). Defendants' motion to strike
is also 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 her due process rights under the
14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court
can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs state
law claims 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 plaintiffs 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." Pryor 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 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. 2006).
state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must meet two
threshold requirements. She must allege: 1) that the alleged
misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of
state law; and 2) that as a result, she 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
Cnty. 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
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); Bakery. Monroe Twp.,
50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995). As explained in
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