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Hause v. City of Sunbury

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 11, 2019

SCOTT A. HAUSE, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF SUNBURY and DAVID PERSING, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          Yvette Kane, District Judge

         Before the Court are Defendants City of Sunbury, Pennsylvania (“Defendant Sunbury”) and David Persing (“Defendant Persing”)'s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Scott A. Hause (“Plaintiff”)'s first amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 15), or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration (Doc. No. 16), and Defendants' motion to take judicial notice (Doc. No. 17).[1] For the reasons provided herein, the Court will deny Defendants' motion to take judicial notice and grant Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On December 5, 2017, Plaintiff initiated the above-captioned action by filing a complaint with this Court, alleging one count of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (“Count I”), and a violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment right to freedom of association (“Count II”). (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 13, 29.) On May 31, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 8), and a brief in support thereof (Doc. No. 10). Defendants also filed a motion to take judicial notice on May 31, 2018 (Doc. No. 7), and a brief in support thereof (Doc. No. 9). The Court issued a Memorandum (Doc. No. 13) and Order (Doc. No. 14) on March 31, 2019 denying Defendants' motion to take judicial notice and granting Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint on April 30, 2019. (Doc. No. 15.) Defendants subsequently filed the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 16) and a renewed motion to take judicial notice (Doc. No. 17). Having been fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 16, 17, 19, 20), the motions are ripe for disposition.

         B. Factual Background [2]

         Plaintiff is a former law enforcement officer with Defendant Sunbury's police department. (Doc. No. 15 ¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that his employment with Defendant Sunbury was terminated on September 1, 2016 because of his age.[3] (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Sunbury “engaged in a course of conduct designed to intimidate all of its law enforcement officers over the age of 40” for the purpose of “effect[ing] the severance of all law enforcement officers from employment” with Defendant Sunbury. (Id. ¶ 9-10.) According to Plaintiff, he was replaced by part-time personnel under the age of forty (40), “namely, Keifer Bathgate, a person in his 20s, and Officer (first name unknown) Vognetz, a person in his 30s.” (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Plaintiff avers that in January 2014, he was elected president of the SPOA, a collective bargaining unit that represents law enforcement officers employed by Defendant Sunbury, and served as its president until he was terminated in 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 18-20.) In his role as president of the SPOA, Plaintiff was responsible for negotiating a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Defendant Sunbury. (Id. ¶ 21.) In 2013, the SPOA and Defendant Sunbury agreed to a CBA under which officers with service of twenty (20) or more years would receive certain longevity bonuses and other benefits. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         In 2015, the SPOA and Defendant Sunbury began negotiating a new CBA. (Id. ¶ 24.) Defendant Persing, as mayor of Sunbury, negotiated the new CBA on behalf of Defendant Sunbury. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff alleges that, during the negotiations for the new CBA, Defendant Persing “and other representatives of [Defendant] Sunbury” expressed a desire to eliminate the longevity bonuses and other benefits that had been included in the previous CBA. (Id. ¶ 26.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Persing complained publicly that the benefits at issue were too costly and were putting Defendant Sunbury in financial jeopardy. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff states that the SPOA opposed the elimination of the longevity bonuses and other benefits. (Id. ¶ 28.) The SPOA and Defendant Sunbury proceeded to binding arbitration to resolve their impasse as to the longevity bonuses and other benefits, and an arbitration hearing took place before a private arbitrator on June 1, 2016. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiff avers that, subsequent to the June 1, 2016 arbitration hearing, Defendants “embarked on a policy and course of conduct to terminate, harass and intimidate every bargaining unit member over the age of 40.” (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff was terminated on September 1, 2016. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for his association with the SPOA and that Defendants interfered with his exercise of his First Amendment right to freedom of association as a member of the SPOA. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff avers that as a result of Defendants' acts, he has suffered lost earnings and benefits, humiliation, and emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 33.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). However, the Court need not accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, a civil complaint must “set out ‘sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         Consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling in Twombly and Ibqal, the Third Circuit has identified three steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted). A complaint is properly dismissed where the factual content in the complaint does not allow a court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Additionally, a court may not assume that a plaintiff can prove facts that the plaintiff has not alleged. See Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As noted, supra, Defendants have filed both a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 16) and a motion to take judicial notice of an arbitration opinion and award (Doc. No. 17). The Court will first address Defendants' motion to take judicial notice.

         A. Defendants' Motion to Take Judicial Notice

         1. Applicable Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b) permits a district court to take judicial notice of facts that are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court, ” or facts that “can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” See Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). The Third Circuit has held that judicial notice “should be done sparingly at the pleadings stage.” See Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 236 (3d Cir. 2007). In the context of an arbitration award, judicial notice is appropriate where a plaintiff includes references to the arbitration award in a complaint, even where the plaintiff has failed to attach the arbitration award to the complaint. See Brody v. Hankin, 145 Fed.Appx. 768, 772 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that the district court impermissibly noticed the existence of an arbitration award because the plaintiff did not rely on the award in the complaint). Further, at the motion to dismiss stage, when a court takes judicial notice of an arbitration award, it may do so only as to the existence of the arbitration award, and not with respect to the substance of the award. See Id. at 772-73.

         2. Arguments of the Parties

         In support of their motion to take judicial notice, Defendants argue that “[w]here the defenses of res judicata or collateral estoppel are raised for adjudication on a motion to dismiss, the Court can take notice of all facts necessary for the decision and adjudicate that defense.” (Doc. No. 17 at 4) (citing Toscano v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 288 Fed.Appx. 36, 38 (3d Cir. 2008)). Defendants acknowledge that even when a court can take judicial notice of the existence of an arbitration award, a court cannot typically take notice of the facts contained therein, but argue that the Court may do so in this case because “the arbitration award is integral to Plaintiff's FAC” and Plaintiff, therefore, “opened the door to consideration of the arbitration opinion and its factual content by referencing his ‘one instance of discipline,' his ‘satisfactory performance,' his ‘wrongful termination' and that his employment was terminated based on his age.” (Id. at 6.) In opposition, Plaintiff argues that taking judicial notice of the arbitration award is unwarranted because he has not referenced the arbitration award in his complaint. (Doc. No. 19 at 2.) Furthermore, Plaintiff maintains that none of the factual averments added to his amended complaint implicate the arbitration award and refers to the Court's prior ruling on the matter. (Id.) Plaintiff requests that the Court again decline to take judicial notice of the arbitration award at the pleading stage. (Id.)

         3. Whether Defendants' Motion to Take Judicial Notice Should Be Granted

         As a threshold matter, the Court notes that it thoroughly considered Defendants' arguments in support of their motion to take judicial notice in its prior ruling declining to take judicial notice of the arbitration award. (Doc. No. 13 at 6-9.) Defendants' most recent motion (Doc. No. 17), however, fails to address the Court's analysis of the matter and, instead, recites arguments nearly identical to those raised to the Court previously (Doc. No. 7). Indeed, Defendants' only new argument is that the arbitration award is “integral” to Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. No. 17 at 6.) This argument does not persuade the Court to alter its earlier analysis.[4]Plaintiff does not reference the arbitration decision at issue in his amended complaint, nor is there anything in the record to suggest that Plaintiff's claims under the ADEA and First Amendment would not exist but for the existence of the arbitration decision. See Dix v. Total Petrochemicals USA, Inc., No. 10-cv-3196, 2011 WL 2474215, at *1 (D.N.J. June 20, 2011) (“The rule [permitting judicial notice of integral documents] is applied when the claim would not exist but-for the existence of the document.”) (collecting cases). Therefore, the Court finds the arbitration decision does not rise to the level of an integral document and once more declines to take judicial notice of the award. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to take judicial notice (Doc. No. 17) is denied.[5] The Court will next consider Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         In light of the Court's determination that it will not undertake a collateral estoppel analysis at this stage because it will not take judicial notice of the arbitration award, the Court will proceed in evaluating the sufficiency of Count I of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         1.Count I - Age Discrimination in ...


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