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Orzech v. Muhlenberg Township

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 13, 2019

CHRISTOPHER A. ORZECH, Plaintiff,
v.
MUHLENBERG TOWNSHIP, Defendant.

          OPINION DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS, ECF NO. 8 - GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, a former employee of the Defendant township, brought this action against the township based on an employment dispute. Claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and Pennsylvania common law have been asserted. Defendant has moved to dismiss these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         Defendant Muhlenberg Township is a municipal township in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff Christopher Orzech worked for Defendant as a police officer since March 1989. In August 2015, Plaintiff suffered an injury to his left shoulder which caused an extended absence from his position as a police officer.

         Almost a year after Plaintiff's ongoing absence began, Defendant offered Plaintiff the opportunity to return to work as a temporary “Property Maintenance Officer and Park Attendant/Caretaker.” This position was with another department within the township. The position generally involved looking after Defendant's parks and comprised of tasks such as cleaning restrooms, emptying trashcans, sweeping walks and pavilions, and cleaning tables. These tasks necessarily involved the use of Plaintiff's injured left shoulder.

         Although the tasks associated with the position involved the use of Plaintiff's injured left shoulder, Defendant did not consult Plaintiff or Plaintiff's surgeon with respect to the position and its responsibilities. According to Plaintiff, the appointment to this position allegedly violated a recommendation made to Defendant. The recommendation came from an independent medical evaluation that Defendant required Plaintiff to undergo because of his ongoing absence from his position as a police officer.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant appointed Plaintiff to this position even though it knew the Plaintiff could not fulfill the essential functions of the position because of his injured left shoulder. Defendant allegedly knew that Plaintiff's shoulder injury prevented him from picking up litter, sweeping walks and pavilions, spot cleaning the restrooms, cleaning tables, or all of those tasks. Defendant also allegedly knew that Plaintiff could not clear snow and did not possess the necessary physical agility to ascend or descend steps of various heights because of Plaintiff's significant restrictions on his ability to lift.

         Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant knew that Plaintiff did not possess the proper qualifications for the position. Plaintiff had no experience maintaining property or inspecting new property. Plaintiff was also unfamiliar with the legal and weight-bearing requirements of new construction. Defendant also knew that Plaintiff did not possess familiarity with general park rules or regulations and was unqualified to interpret them.

         Even though Defendant knew that Plaintiff physically could not fulfill the essential functions of the position and that Plaintiff did not possess the proper understanding or qualifications for the position, Defendant still instructed Plaintiff to show up for work on July 25, 2016.

         In addition to those factors related to the position as a temporary “Property Maintenance Officer and Park Attendant/Caretaker, ” Defendant allegedly took actions to generally humiliate and embarrass Plaintiff. For example, Defendant required Plaintiff to wear a visitor's badge to enter a township building despite the fact that Plaintiff still had access to the building through his key fob. Defendant's employee in charge of payroll also wrote hostile emails to Plaintiff because he requested copies of his pay stubs from August 2016 to December 2016.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss a complaint for its “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Rules generally demand “only 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.” Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint 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). In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, this Court must “accept all factual allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d at 233 (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted)). Only if “the ‘[f]actual allegations . . . raise a right to relief above a speculative level'” has the plaintiff stated a plausible claim. Id. at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. (explaining that determining “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense”). The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hodges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Defendant generally argues for dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint on two grounds: (1) that certain legal doctrines bar the claims; and (2) that Plaintiff failed to properly plead the claims asserted. The Court considers these arguments below.

         A. The Rooker-Feldman, Younger abstention, and preclusion doctrines do not bar Plaintiff's claims.

         Defendant takes a “shotgun” approach to dismissal and argues that several legal doctrines (Rooker-Feldman, Younger abstention, and preclusion) prohibit the federal courts from presiding over this case. As discussed below, these legal doctrines to not prohibit the Court from presiding over this case.

         1. Rooker-Feldman[2]

         Defendant argues first that Plaintiff's entire complaint is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests the federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a complaint of injury caused by a state-court judgment. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 287-88 (2005) (holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is confined to “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments”); Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d Cir. 2010). The doctrine is a narrow one that “applies only in limited circumstances.” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 466 (2006) (internal quotation marks & citations omitted). Following Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that there are four requirements for the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to apply:

(1) the federal plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the plaintiff “complain[s] of injuries caused by [the] state-court judgments”; (3) those judgments were rendered before the federal suit was filed; and (4) the plaintiff is inviting the district court to review and reject the state judgments.

Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotation and alteration in original) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). A finding that Rooker-Feldman bars Plaintiff's federal claims would divest this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over those claims. See Desi's ...


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