United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, CHIEF JUDGE
Fawn Walker Montgomery (“Montgomery”) advances
two claims for wrongful termination against her former
employer and supervisor. (Doc. 1-2). Defendants move to
dismiss Montgomery's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 4). We will grant
defendants' motion and dismiss Montgomery's complaint
Factual Background and Procedural History
was employed by defendant Macedonia Family & Community
Enrichment Center, Inc. (“Macedonia”) for
“several years in various capacities.” (Doc. 1-2
¶ 4). Defendant Trisha Gadson (“Gadson”) was
Montgomery's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶
2). Montgomery avers that she received several
“excelent [sic]” evaluations during her tenure, each
indicating that Macedonia and Gadson believed Montgomery
“was . . . performing her job well.”
(Id. ¶ 4).
in 2016, Montgomery announced her intent to run for the
Republican nomination for Pennsylvania legislature,
challenging the Democratic incumbent. (Id. ¶
5). Montgomery avers that, “[a]lmost immediately,
” she began to experience “problems at her
job.” (Id. ¶ 6). She alleges that
defendants claimed in error that she was “not
communicatin[g] with” them and baselessly criticized
her for “causing complications with files and
relationship issues.” (Id. ¶¶ 6-7).
According to Montgomery, Gadson wove this criticism from
whole cloth as a pretextual basis for Montgomery's
termination. (See Id. ¶¶ 10-11).
Montgomery further asserts that Macedonia was aware of,
participated in, and conspired in Gadson's efforts.
(Id. ¶ 19). Montgomery was eventually
terminated from her employment with Macedonia. (See
Id. ¶ 12).
commenced this action by filing a two-count complaint in the
Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
(Doc. 1-2). Therein, she asserts one count each against
Gadson (Count 1) and Macedonia (Count 2) for wrongful
termination in violation of Pennsylvania public policy. (See
Id. at 4-7). Defendants now move to dismiss
Montgomery's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 4). The motion is fully briefed and
ripe for disposition. (Docs. 5, 9, 10, 13, 15).
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for
the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When
ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the 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)). In addition to
reviewing the facts contained in the complaint, the court may
also consider “matters of public record, orders,
exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the
record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein,
Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir.
1994); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol.
Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).
notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide
“the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is
and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (alteration in original)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the
court conducts a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In
the first step, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of
the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a
claim.'” Id. at 130 (alteration in
original) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim
must be separated; well-pleaded facts are accepted as true,
while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.
at 131-32; see Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the
well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether
they are sufficient to show a “plausible claim for
relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff
pleads facts “that allow the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable
pleading in civil rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee
Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247,
251 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp.,
293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002). Courts need not grant leave
to amend sua sponte in dismissing non-civil rights
claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fletcher-Harlee
Corp., 482 F.3d at 252-53, but leave is broadly
encouraged “when justice so requires.”
law provides that employers may terminate employees
“for any or no reason” unless the employee is
subject to an employment agreement. Shick v. Shirey,
716 A.2d 1231, 1233 (Pa. 1998) (quoting Geary v. U.S.
Steel Corp., 319 A.2d 174, 176 (Pa. 1974)). The
Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, has carved an exception
to the at-will employment doctrine: employees may bring a
wrongful termination claim when their termination violates
“a ‘clear mandate of public policy.'”
McLaughlin v. Gastrointestinal Specialists, Inc.,
750 A.2d 283, 313 (Pa. 2000) (quoting Geary, 319 A.2d at
180). The exception applies only when the state legislature
formulates a public policy or “a given policy is so
obviously for or against public health, safety, morals, or
welfare that there is a virtual unanimity of opinion in
regard to it.” Weaver v. Harpster, 975 A.2d
555, 563 (Pa. 2009) (quoting Mamlin v. Genoe, 17
A.2d 407, 409 (Pa. 1941)).
remonstrates that defendants impermissibly terminated her
employment based on political motives, viz. her
decision to run for a Republican nomination against a
Democratic incumbent. (Doc. 1-2 ¶¶ 11, 18). She
contends that such actions contravene the First and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and,
by extension, the public policy of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. (See Id. ¶¶ 15, 22).
Defendants rejoin that Macedonia is a private employer not
subject to the First Amendment's proscriptions on
governmental conduct and that Montgomery fails to identify a
“clear mandate” of public policy encompassing her
claim. (See Doc. 5 at 4-8, 9-11).
threshold matter, Montgomery fails to oppose the central
argument raised in defendants' motion to dismiss. (See
Id. at 4-8; Doc. 13). Defendants note appropriately
that Macedonia is a private employer. (Doc. 5 at 4-8).
Montgomery offers neither argument nor legal authority in
answer to defendants' assertion that the First Amendment
applies only to governmental actors. (See Doc. 13). We deem
Montgomery's failure to respond to this dispositive legal
argument an abandonment of her claim. See Brice v. City
of York,528 F.Supp.2d 504, 516 n.19 (M.D. Pa. 2007)
(citing D'Angio ...