United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
ISAAC W. SANDERS, Plaintiff,
PENNSYLVANIA'S STATE SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION and EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY, Defendants.
Richard Caputo, United States District Judge
before me is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants
Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education
(“PASSHE”) and East Stroudsburg University
(“ESU”). (Doc. 37). Plaintiff Isaac W. Sanders
alleges in his Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 35) that
Defendants violated federal and state law when they fired and
defamed him over ten years ago. (See generally Doc.
35). Defendants contend that Sanders's suit is barred by
the applicable two-year statute of limitations. (See
Doc. 39 at 8-9). Sanders, for his part, argues
Defendants' continued conduct from 2008 until 2018 kept
his claims alive. (See Doc. 41 at 10). Because
Sanders concedes his federal claims accrued in 2008, however,
those claims are untimely. And because Sanders does not
allege an independent jurisdictional basis for his state law
claims, they will be dismissed without prejudice.
Defendants' Motion will therefore be granted.
to the complaint, ESU hired Sanders in 2000 as Vice President
for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the
East Stroudsburg University Foundation (the
“Foundation”). (Doc. 35 at ¶ 27). In August
2007, a student filed a complaint with the Office of
Diversity and Equal Opportunity (“ODEO”),
alleging sexual harassment by Sanders. (See Id.
¶¶ 45-46). Also during this time, ESU received
several anonymous letters alleging improprieties by Sanders
from August through October 2007. (Id. ¶¶
47-48). One letter suggested Sanders, as chair of the
Foundation, mismanaged funds. (See Id. ¶ 51).
The remaining letters made “various accusations”
about Sanders, but “lacked specific details.”
(See Id. ¶¶ 50-52, 56-57).
light of the allegations of financial impropriety, ESU hired
an accounting firm to perform a forensic audit on the
Foundation's finances. (Id. ¶¶ 89-91).
The results of the audit produced no evidence of alleged
wrongdoing by Sanders. (See id.). Per ESU policy,
the ODEO conducted an investigation into the sexual
harassment allegations against Sanders. (See Id.
¶¶ 63-64). A final written report on their
investigation was submitted to University President Robert J.
Dillman on December 10, 2007. (Id. ¶ 72). In
correspondence to the complaining student on January 7, 2008,
Dillman stated the ODEO investigation found insufficient
evidence to support the allegations against Sanders and the
case would be closed. (See Id. ¶¶ 73-74).
No. student thereafter filed any complaint against Sanders.
(Id. ¶ 75).
months later, in June 2008, a local newspaper published a
story about allegations that Sanders had sexually harassed
students at ESU. (See Id. ¶ 124). In response
to the story, Dillman placed Sanders on administrative leave
(see Id. ¶ 126), and PASSHE hired Black &
Gerngross, a Philadelphia law firm, to conduct an internal
investigation into the allegations. (Id. ¶
128-129). Throughout the summer of 2008, more allegations of
sexual harassment by Sanders surfaced. (See Id.
¶¶ 144-148). At the completion of the second
investigation, Black & Gerngross reported that it had
failed to find credible evidence that Sanders sexually
harassed anyone. (See Id. ¶ 151). Because
Defendants were not satisfied with the outcome of the second
report, another outside firm was hired to perform a third
investigation into these same allegations. (Id.
¶¶ 156-158). In September 2008, Dillman
received the third investigation report performed by
PASSHE's outside counsel. (Id. ¶ 175).
Sanders does not allege what the third investigation found,
but after receiving the report, Dillman held a conference
with Sanders on October 3, 2008. (Id. ¶ 176).
The conference was a pretext “designed to mask the true
intent of Dillman and PAS SHE to terminate Sanders” for
unfounded allegations of sexual harassment. (Id.
¶ 177). Accordingly, on October 22, 2008, Sanders was
terminated from ESU effective December 21, 2008.
(Id. ¶ 180).
February 2009, six former ESU students filed a civil rights
action alleging Sanders sexually harassed them while he was
employed at ESU. (Id. ¶¶ 199-200). The
case was removed to the Middle District of Pennsylvania in
March 2009. (Id.). At all stages of the litigation
the Commonwealth did not defend or indemnify him.
(Id. ¶ 201). He should have been defended by
the Commonwealth as other ESU employees in the case had.
(Id. ¶ 210). Moreover, because of Sanders's
unemployment and mounting debt from defending these
allegations, he was forced to file for bankruptcy on August
20, 2009. (Id. ¶ 241).
jury found in Sanders's favor on October 31, 2014.
(Id. ¶ 201). Despite this, from his termination
in 2008 through 2018, newspapers published articles falsely
accusing him of imp roprieties-none of which were denied or
corrected by Defendants. (See Id. ¶¶ 214,
216, 218, 221, 229, 230, 245, 250, 252, 255, 256, 260, 261,
264, 285, 296). Additionally, at the conclusion of the civil
rights case in July 2018, the Commonwealth, having been
awarded costs, filed a motion to vacate the award of costs.
(Id. ¶ 286). (Sanders did not move for costs
himself or join in the Commonwealth's motion for costs,
see Bernard v. East Stroudsburg Univ., No.
3:09-cv-00525, Doc. 228 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2014).) Sanders
suggests this was the latest “governmental action
designed solely to convey that Isaac Sanders was guilty of
student sexual assault.” (Id.). Sanders argues
the Commonwealth treated the case as if he were found guilty
and Defendants never corrected this error. (Id.
commenced this action on July 17, 2018. (See
generally Doc. 1). He alleges two federal causes of
action (“stigma plus” and a violation of the
“Civil Rights Act”) and two state causes of
action (intentional infliction of emotional distress and
defamation). (See Doc. 35 at ¶¶ 304-343).
Defendants responded with the instant Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
37), which has been fully briefed and is now ripe for review.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, my
role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to
offer evidence in support of his or her claims. See
Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir.
2000). A court does not consider whether a plaintiff will
ultimately prevail. Id. A defendant bears the burden
of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to
state a claim. See Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United
States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts
alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough
factual allegations “‘to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence
of'” each necessary element. Phillips v. Cty.
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility
standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
argue all of Sanders's claims are barred by
Pennsylvania's statute of limitations. (See Doc.
39 at 6-12). A statute of limitations defense is technically
an affirmative defense meant to be raised in an answer, not a
motion to dismiss. See Robinson v. Johnson, 313 F.3d
128, 135 (3d Cir. 2002). A limitations defense may be raised
in a pre-answer motion, however, “if the time alleged
in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action
has not been [timely] brought.” Id. (quotation
and footnote omitted). “If the bar is not apparent on
the face of the complaint, ...