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Yelland v. Abington Heights School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 8, 2017




         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On October 27, 2017, plaintiff William H. Yelland filed a motion for leave of court to amend his complaint, (Doc. 64), with respect to his 14thAmendment post-termination due process claim, under 42 U.S.C. §1983, which was contained in Count II of his original complaint, (Doc. 1). This claim was previously dismissed by the court in its February 9, 2017 Memorandum and Order. (Doc. 18, Doc. 19). Plaintiff submitted his proposed amended complaint as an exhibit. (Doc. 63-56). Plaintiff simultaneously filed a motion for partial summary judgment, (Doc. 65), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. Plaintiff seeks summary judgment on his post-termination due process claim as contained in his proposed amended complaint. (Doc. 65-1). Plaintiff also contends that even if the court denies his motion to amend his complaint to add his proposed 14th Amendment post-deprivation due process claim, he should be found to be excused from pursuing any further remedies provided by the State, including the recently scheduled school board hearing. Both of plaintiff's motions have been briefed by the parties, a statement of material facts and response have been filed, and exhibits have been submitted. On November 28, 2017, plaintiff's reply brief regarding both of his pending motions was filed with an attached exhibit. (Doc. 73).

         Based on the foregoing, the court will DENY plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint regarding his 14th Amendment post deprivation procedural due process claim because he still has available remedies through the State to challenge the recommendation for his dismissal through the school board hearing and appellate avenues, despite the delay.

         The court will also DENY IN ITS ENTIRETY plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment since it finds that plaintiff must proceed with the school board hearing and then pursue his appellate remedies provided by the State. Further, the court will not excuse plaintiff from participating in the school board hearing and from pursuing his State appellate remedies.


         A. Motion to Amend Complaint

         The plaintiff's moves for leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), since the time for amending the complaint as of right has expired. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Rule 15(a)(2) states: “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” The Third Circuit has adopted a liberal approach to the amendment of pleadings in order to ensure that “a particular claim will be decided on the merits rather than on technicalities.” Dole v. Arco Chem. Co., 921 F.2d 484, 486-87 (3d Cir. 1990). Amendment, however, is not automatic. See Dover Steel Co., Inc. v. Hartford Accident and Indent., 151 F.R.D. 570, 574 (E.D. Pa.1993). Leave to amend should be granted absent a showing of “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see also Oran v. Stafford, 226 F.3d 275, 291 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Futility of amendment occurs when the complaint, as amended, does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir.1997) (“In assessing ‘futility, ' the district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6).”). If the proposed amendment “is frivolous or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face, the court may deny leave to amend.” Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Importers, Inc., 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J.1990).

         B. Section 1983

         The 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. 2006).

         To 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).

         “A 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).


         In his proposed amended Count II, plaintiff alleges that all defendants denied him post-termination process by refusing to participate in arbitration after his April 23, 2015 and May 14, 2015 requests to refer the recommendation to dismiss him from his teaching position to an arbitrator, which he made pursuant to the Abington Heights Education Association's Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). He alleges that AHSD “arbitrarily decided” that he waived his right to arbitrate. He also alleges that AHSD then refused to submit the issue of arbitrability to an arbitrator. On December 20, 2016, the Pennsylvania Labor Relation Board (“PLRB”) issued a Final Order adopting the Hearing Examiner's (“HE”) August 25, 2016 Proposed Decision and Order recommending that AHSD must arbitrate the question of arbitrability and dismissing AHSD's exceptions to the HE's proposed decision.

         Plaintiff then alleges that AHSD did not pursue a further appeal of the PLRB decision. He avers that “[a]fter the School District delayed for nearly two years [from his initial request for arbitration], the parties finally submitted the question of arbitrability to the appointed arbitrator.” Plaintiff alleges that this delay is “incontrovertibly attributable to the School District.” Further, plaintiff alleges that the delay “was substantially in excess of the time frame set forth in Pennsylvania's School Code [24 P.S. §11-1127], which requires that a hearing take place not ‘sooner than ten (10) days nor later than fifteen (15) days after . . . [detailed] written notice [of the charges is provided].'” Plaintiff avers that “[t]he delay itself constitutes a post-deprivation due process violation” and, that this delay caused him to suffer harm entitling him to monetary damages as well as injunctive relief. (Doc. 63-56 at 28-29).

         As a backdrop, plaintiff explains, (Doc. 61 at 9), that he requested, through the union lawyer, a grievance arbitration to dispute his suspension and the recommendation that he be dismissed. However, he states that after he was arrested on the criminal charges, his defense counsel, on May 19, 2015, waived the grievance arbitration the union lawyer requested and instead requested a hearing before the school board. He states that since his defense counsel was not authorized to make the request, a legitimate dispute arose as to whether he was entitled to arbitration or a school board hearing. He states that even though there was a valid disagreement between the parties as to the remedy, “there was no reasonable dispute that an arbitrator, in the first instance, was obliged to determine the question of arbitrability.”

         Additionally, plaintiff states, (Doc. 61 at 9-10), that based on the PLRB's final decision dated December 20, 2016, the question of arbitrability was finally submitted to an arbitrator. On August 4, 2017, the arbitrator determined that the request by his criminal lawyer for a school board hearing regarding his termination superseded the initial request by the union lawyer for a grievance arbitration. Thus, AHSD scheduled a school board hearing which was to begin on October 30, 2017.

         Plaintiff now contends that it is AHSD's refusal to submit the initial question of arbitrability to arbitration, and the ensuing 20-month delay until the refusal was found by the PLRB to be an unfair labor practice, which gives rise to his proposed amended post-deprivation due process claim. As such, plaintiff asserts that the 20-month delay caused by AHSD constitutes a denial of due process, and that he should be excused from ...

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