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Williams v. Pennsylvania State Education Association

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 25, 2017



          John E. Jones III United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 7). For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the motion. The Court shall stay adjudication on the remainder of the proceedings pending the outcome of Ladley et al. v. Pennsylvania State Education Association, No. CI-14-08552 (Jun. 30, 2015), which is being litigated in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County.


         Plaintiff James R. Williams (“Plaintiff” or “Williams”) is a public school teacher at West Middlesex School District. (Doc. 1, ¶ 7). Defendant Pennsylvania State Education Association (“Defendant” or “PSEA”) is a non-profit corporation made up of professional and support professional employees of school and health entities. (Doc. 1, p. 1). PSEA is an “employee organization” as defined by 71 P.S. § 575. (Doc. 8, p. 1). Plaintiff is not a part of the PSEA, but is required to pay a compulsory union fee known as a “fair share fee” by the collective bargaining agreement governing his employment. (Doc. 9, p. 1).

         In December 2015, Plaintiff filed an objection to the payment of the fair share fee based on bona fide religious grounds pursuant to 71 P.S. § 575(e)(2). (Doc. 1, ¶ 13). Subsection (h) of that same provision requires bona fide religious objectors to pay the equivalent of a fair share fee to a “nonreligious charity agreed upon by the nonmember and the exclusive representative.” 71 P.S. § 575(h). Plaintiff indicated that he wanted his funds to go to Pennsylvania Foundation for Life. (Doc. 1, ¶ 14). In February 2016, Defendant accepted Plaintiff's religious objection as bona fide, but rejected his selection of the Pennsylvania Foundation for Life. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). Defendant suggested other possible charities for Plaintiff and asked Plaintiff to select one. (Doc. 8, p. 3). Plaintiff asked for clarification as to why Defendant would not accept his selected charity. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17). Defendant replied that it would not donate Plaintiff's payment to the Pennsylvania Foundation for Life because this charity would further his religious beliefs. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). Defendant again included a list of charities for Plaintiff to choose from, but communications between the parties ceased after that. (Doc. 8, p. 3). In July 2016, Defendant adopted additional procedures to resolve disputes regarding the selection of a charity. (Doc. 8, p. 3-4). These procedures include binding arbitration. (Id.).


         Plaintiff filed this action on December 22, 2016. (Doc. 1). The claim is based on the application of the Pennsylvania Fair Share Fee Law, 71 P.S. § 575 (“§575”). Plaintiff claims that § 575 violates his rights under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution, and brings his constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1, p. 1-2). Plaintiff also claims that the binding arbitration agreement in § 575 violates his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and finally, that Defendant has violated his rights under § 575 itself. (Id.). Defendant filed the instant Motion to Abstain, Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to Stay the proceedings on January 27, 2017. (Doc. 7). Plaintiff filed his brief in opposition to the Defendant's motion on February, 10, 2017. (Doc. 9). The time for filing a reply has long passed. See Local Rule 7.7. The Motion is therefore ripe for our review.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) contends that the complaint fails to assert a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering the motion, courts “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. Cnty. Of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). To resolve the motion, a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, as well as “any matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In general, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, “in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (alteration omitted)). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To survive a motion to dismiss, “a civil plaintiff must allege facts that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .'” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Accordingly, to satisfy the plausibility standard, the complaint must indicate that the defendant's liability is more than “a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Under the two-pronged approach articulated in Twombly and later formalized in Iqbal, a district court must first identify all factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertion[s].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564, 557. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded for purposes of resolving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Next, the district court must identify “the ‘nub' of the . . . complaint - the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s].” Id. at 680. Taking these allegations as true, the district judge must then determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. See id.

         However, “a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57). Rule 8 “‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element.” Id. at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         Defendant argues it is not a state actor for purposes of § 1983, and therefore Plaintiff's claims cannot be sustained. (Doc. 8, p. 6). Defendant also argues that this court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in this case pursuant to the Pullman doctrine because this case presents issues of state law that may be soon resolved in state court. See Ladley et al. v. Pennsylvania State Education Association, No. CI-14-08552 (Jun. 30, 2015). Plaintiff responds by arguing that Defendant PSEA is a state actor for purposes of ยง 1983 and that this court should ...

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