Boone v. Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehab.

Decision Date06 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. CIV. 1:CV040588.,CIV. 1:CV040588.
Citation373 F.Supp.2d 484
PartiesChristine BOONE, Plaintiff v. PENNSYLVANIA OFFICE OF VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION, an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Stephen Nasuti, an individual; Stephen Schmerin, Secretary of Labor and Industry; Stephen Schmerin, an individual; and Unnamed Coconspirators, Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

Anne-Marie Mizel, Pittsburgh, PA, Arch Y. Stoke, Atlanta, GA, John O'Donnell, Coraopolis, PA, for Plaintiff.

Gwendolyn T. Mosley, Susan J. Forney, Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RAMBO, District Judge.

Before the court is Defendants' partial motion to dismiss. (Doc. 56.) Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants on eight counts. In their motion to dismiss, Defendants assert that all or part of seven of the counts should be dismissed on immunity grounds or for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant Defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Background
A. Factual Background

The following facts are based on the allegations in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and the exhibits attached thereto. In or around June 2000, Plaintiff, who is blind, was hired to be the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness & Visual Services, which is a division of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation ("OVR"). (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) The OVR is a component of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry ("the Department"), which is headed by Defendant Stephen Schmerin. (Id. ¶ 19.)

In her position as Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness & Visual Services, Plaintiff often interacted with Defendant Stephen Nasuti, who as of June 2001 was the Executive Director of the OVR. (Id. ¶ 25.) Mr. Nasuti allegedly acted wrongfully toward Plaintiff in many ways. For example, he did not take measures, such as providing Plaintiff with enough of an opportunity to print out meeting agendas in braille prior to the meeting, to compensate for Plaintiff's blindness. (Id. ¶¶ 26-32.) Additionally, Mr. Nasuti undermined Plaintiff's ability to perform her job functions. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 35-36.) Ultimately, Mr. Nasuti fired Plaintiff on August 14 2003. (Id. ¶ 51.) Her termination letter stated that such employment action was taken for "insubordination" and "lack of cooperation," among other things. (Second Am. Compl., Ex. 6 at 1.) Plaintiff did not receive a hearing before her termination. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 84.)

Plaintiff's termination caused "an uproar ... in which numerous advocates of the blind and disabled protested her termination." (Id. ¶ 56.) In response, the Department along with the OVR issued a statement saying that Plaintiff's termination was made "with the best interests of the blind and visually impaired community in mind." (Id.) In addition, the Department corresponded with various individuals and organizations regarding the reasons for the termination. (Id.) In one such correspondence, Secretary Schmerin explained that Plaintiff's firing was based on "compelling, performance-based reasons involving behavior unacceptable from an employee — especially from an employee in a policy-making position as the one [Plaintiff] held." (Id.; Second Am. Compl., Ex. 7 at 2.)

Following Plaintiff's termination, she continually sought other employment. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 66.) In April 2004, Plaintiff found a part-time position as Director of Legal Affairs and Training for the Blind Industries & Services of Maryland. (Id.) In this position, Plaintiff earns less money and pays more for health insurance coverage. (Id.) Plaintiff also has to commute four hours to and from her place of employment. (Id.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff originally filed suit in state court, alleging state-law claims as well as a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants then removed the case to this court. The parties stipulated to a stay of the proceedings while Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies on related disability discrimination claims. After the stay was lifted, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which added claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").

The court later granted Plaintiff leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff's claims in this complaint are (1) Count I: Defamation against the Department; (2) Count II: Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy against the OVR and the Department; (3) Count III: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Mr. Nasuti; (4) Count IV: Breach of Implied Contract against the OVR and the Department; (5) Count V: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the OVR, the Department, and Mr. Nasuti and Secretary Schmerin in their individual capacities; (6) Count VI: PHRA and ADA claims against the OVR and the Department;1 (7) Count VII: PHRA claims against Mr. Nasuti and Secretary Schmerin; and (8) Count VIII: Conspiracy to Violate 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the defendants.

Defendants filed a motion for partial dismissal of Plaintiff's claims. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard: Motion to Dismiss

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the face of the complaint. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir.2003). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant[s] on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996). The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey v. Arcadian Corp., 189 F.3d 305, 311 (3d Cir.1999).

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.1993) (citations omitted). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Id. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir.2002); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir.2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (internal quotation omitted). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir.1994).

Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir.2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir.2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir.2004).

III. Discussion

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint should be dismissed in part on sovereign or Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds and in part for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The court will address Defendants' arguments as they pertain to each of Plaintiff's claims below. As an initial matter, however, the court will address an argument asserted by Plaintiff that has a significant impact on the resolution of the immunity issues raised by Defendants. Plaintiff contends that Defendants waived their right to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity when they removed the captioned matter to federal court.

A. Waiver By Removal

The Eleventh Amendment provides: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI. At a minimum, the Eleventh Amendment stands for two propositions: "[F]irst, that each State is a sovereign entity in our federal system; and second, that it is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent." Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (internal quotations omitted); see also Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 713, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999) (noting that the phrase "Eleventh Amendment immunity" is "something of a misnomer, for the sovereign immunity of the States neither derives from, nor is limited by, the terms of the Eleventh Amendment"). In short, the Eleventh Amendment "prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies." Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 791, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978). This bar applies regardless of whether the plaintiff seeks monetary damages or injunctive relief against a state. Seminole Tribe, 517...

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