United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, CHIEF JUDGE
commenced this action against the Chambersburg Area School
District (“school district”), as well as
individual defendants Dana Baker, William Lennartz, Carl
Barton, Edward Norcross, Joan Smith, Robert Floyd, Mark
Schur, Kevin Mintz, Alexander Sharpe, and Dr. Joseph Padasak
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. (See Doc.
1). Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss
(Doc. 5) filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). The court will grant in part and deny in part
Factual Background & Procedural History
Black & Davison (“Black & Davison” or
“the firm”) is a law firm located in
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 ¶ 7). It consists of
five equity partners-plaintiffs Jan G. Sulcove, Esq., Robert
C. Schollaert, Esq. (“Attorney Schollaert”),
Elliott B. Sulcove, Esq., Jerrold A. Sulcove, Esq., and Mark
T. Orndorf, Esq. (Id.) Black & Davison served as
the school district's solicitor from approximately 1968
through 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 49). All of the
firm's partners performed “solicitor duties”
for the school district except for Attorney Schollaert.
(Id. ¶ 19). Until 2015, the school district
retained Black & Davison as solicitor “via
resolution of the [school board].” (Id. ¶
about May 27, 2015, Black & Davison and the school
district entered into a “Solicitor Engagement
Agreement” (“Agreement”), wherein the
school district agreed, inter alia, to employ Black
& Davison for the purpose of providing “legal
expertise as [s]olicitor” from July 1, 2015 through
June 30, 2018. (See Doc. 5-1 at 1; see also Doc. 1 ¶
23). The parties agreed that the school district could
terminate the Agreement for cause. (Doc. 5-1 ¶¶
3.1, 5.1). Specifically, the school district could terminate
the Agreement if Black & Davison: (1) failed to
“maintain an accepted quality of legal services as
determined by [the school district]”; (2) failed to
“maintain a current unrestricted license to practice
law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;” (3) failed to
“conduct itself with professional decorum;” or
(4) received “any sanction imposed . . . as a result of
the commission of any felony or misdemeanor involving moral
turpitude.” (Id. ¶ 5.1). The parties also
agreed that the Agreement would be governed by Pennsylvania
law. (Id. ¶ 10.5). Approximately 25% to 33% of
Black & Davison's annual revenue resulted from its
solicitor duties for the school district. (Doc. 1 ¶ 58).
school board is comprised of nine elected voting members that
serve four-year terms. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 28).
The Superintendent of the school district serves as an
additional, non-voting member. (Id.) Dr. Joseph
Padasak is the current Superintendent. (Id.
¶¶ 11, 15). The school board approves “every
personnel decision” for school district employees,
including “hiring, firing, transfer, promotion, [and]
demotion” decisions. (Id. ¶ 12).
2015, five school board seats were up for election. (See
Id. ¶¶ 27, 35). School board elections are
“technically non-partisan” but “candidates
may be endorsed by different political groups.”
(Id. ¶ 29). During the 2015 election,
candidates were endorsed by one of two political faction
groups: (1) Citizens for Value and Excellence in Education
(“Citizens for Education”), a group made up
mostly “moderate republicans, ” and (2) Common
Sense. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32). Prior to the
election, five of the school board's members were members
of the Citizens for Education faction; the other four school
board members were members of the Common Sense faction.
(Id. ¶ 33).
individual plaintiffs “engaged in campaign
activities” to support the Citizens for Education
candidates. (Id. ¶¶ 37-42). These
activities included, among other things, “handing out
campaign literature, taking constituents to the polls, [and]
hanging [or] posting political signs.” (Id.
¶ 37; see also Id. ¶¶ 38-42). The
Common Sense candidates took all five board seats at the
election. (Id. ¶ 43). This resulted in a school
board composed of eight Common Sense members and one Citizens
for Education member. (Id.) On or about December 3,
2015, the new school board members were sworn into office.
(Id. ¶ 45).
thereafter, the school board “purged” the school
district of employees-including plaintiffs-who “openly
supported” Citizens for Education even though
“political affiliation was not an appropriate
requirement” or “necessary” to the
“efficient operation of their position[s].”
(Id. ¶¶ 46-47). On March 23, 2016, the
school board unanimously voted to terminate the Agreement
with Black & Davison and informed plaintiffs by letter.
(Id. ¶¶ 49-50). The board claimed their
decision was economically motivated but thereafter retained
another law firm as temporary solicitor that charged more
than Black & Davison. (Id. ¶¶ 51,
53-54). Plaintiffs contend that the school board's
decision was “based solely on [plaintiffs'] support
of the [Citizens for Education] ticket.” (Id.
commenced the instant action on April 17, 2017.
(Id.) Plaintiffs assert a First Amendment claim
against all individual defendants (Count I) and the school
district (Count II), a procedural due process claim against
all defendants (Count IV), and a state law claim for breach
of contract against the school district (Count III).
(Id.) Defendants move to dismiss all claims for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The motion is fully briefed and
ripe for disposition.
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, âthe 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 679 (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.