706 F.3d 209 (3rd Cir. 2013), 11-4206, Connelly v. Steel Valley School Dist.

Docket Nº:11-4206.
Citation:706 F.3d 209
Opinion Judge:HARDIMAN, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Patrick S. CONNELLY, Appellant, v. The STEEL VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT.
Attorney:Samuel J. Cordes, [Argued], Christine T. Elzer, Samuel J. Cordes & Associates, Pittsburgh, PA, Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant. William C. Andrews, Anthony G. Sanchez, [Argued], Amie A. Thompson, Andrews & Price, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: HARDIMAN, GREENAWAY, JR., and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 24, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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706 F.3d 209 (3rd Cir. 2013)

Patrick S. CONNELLY, Appellant,



No. 11-4206.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

January 24, 2013

Argued Oct. 24, 2012.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Samuel J. Cordes, [Argued], Christine T. Elzer, Samuel J. Cordes & Associates, Pittsburgh, PA, Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant.

William C. Andrews, Anthony G. Sanchez, [Argued], Amie A. Thompson, Andrews & Price, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: HARDIMAN, GREENAWAY, JR., and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.


HARDIMAN, Circuit Judge.

The question presented by this appeal is whether a Pennsylvania public school district violates the Constitution when it sets teacher salaries based, in part, on prior in-state teaching experience. We hold it does not.


In September 2006, the Steel Valley School District hired Patrick Connelly as a sixth grade teacher. Steel Valley pays its teachers pursuant to a salary scale based on their education and years of experience. At the time he was hired, Connelly had nine years of teaching experience— all in Maryland. Because Connelly acquired his teaching experience outside Pennsylvania, however, Steel Valley credited him with

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only one year. Other new teachers with like experience acquired within Pennsylvania (but not at Steel Valley) received at least partial credit for each year they had taught.

Because Steel Valley gave Connelly only one year of credit, his initial annual salary was $38,023, which was substantially less than the $49,476 Connelly alleged he would have received had Steel Valley given him full credit for his experience. As time passed, Connelly's initial salary determination continued to adversely affect his pay. During the 2010-11 academic year, Connelly's salary was approximately $22,000 less than it would have been had he received full credit in 2006.

In June 2011, Connelly filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania asserting two Fourteenth Amendment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Connelly argued that Steel Valley's failure to fully credit his out-of-state teaching experience violated his right to interstate travel under the Privileges and Immunities Clause and denied him equal protection of the law. The District Court granted Steel Valley's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that Connelly " does not state a cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claim because the classification alleged is based on location of teaching experience, not residency." Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., No. 11-851, 2011 WL 5024415, at *2 (W.D.Pa. Oct. 20, 2011). The Court dismissed Connelly's complaint with prejudice, holding that any amendment would be futile. Id. at *8. This appeal followed.


The District Court had subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. We have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

We exercise plenary review over the grant of a motion to dismiss. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 206 (3d Cir.2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must provide " more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). The plaintiff must allege " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. This standard requires the plaintiff to show " more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

Twombly and Iqbal require us to take the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir.2011)(quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir.2010))(alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).


Connelly claims Steel Valley's salary scale impaired his right to travel interstate in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV (as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment) and

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the Equal Protection Clause. We review both of Connelly's claims under the same standard because " the right to interstate travel finds its ‘ most forceful expression in the context of equal protection analysis.’ " Schumacher v. Nix, 965 F.2d 1262, 1266 (3d Cir.1992) (quoting Zobel v. Williams, 457 U.S. 55, 67, 102 S.Ct. 2309, 72 L.Ed.2d 672 (1982)(Brennan, J., concurring)).


We begin by considering which equal protection standard governs our review of Steel Valley's pay scale. The parties vigorously dispute this point because the standard of review ( i.e., rational basis review or strict scrutiny) is often outcome determinative. See Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 16-30, at 1089 (1st ed.1978) (noting strict scrutiny is a " virtual death-blow" ); Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 16-2, at 1442-43 (2d ed. 1988) (" The traditional deference both to legislative purpose and to legislative selections among means continues ... to make the rationality requirement largely equivalent to a strong presumption of constitutionality." ). As Connelly correctly notes, Steel Valley set his salary based on a classification that...

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