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Lavender v. Koenig

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 19, 2015

DEWEY RAY LAVENDER and STEVEN WARREN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SCOTT KOENIG, individually and in his official capacity as City Manager; KIM HAWKINS, individually and in her official capacity as Director of Human Resources; the CITY OF DOVER COUNCIL and the CITY OF DOVER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

Having reviewed the parties' briefing (D.I. 4, 5, 6) and heard oral argument on July 22, 2014 ("Tr."), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants' motion to dismiss (D.I. 3) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to renew after Plaintiffs file a second amended complaint as permitted by this Memorandum Order.

1. Dewey Ray Lavender and Steven Warren ("Plaintiffs") worked for the city of Dover, Delaware ("the City"), at the City's power generating plant. In February 1996, when the Plaintiffs each had about 15 years of service with the City, the City negotiated a contract with an operating services company ("Duke") to operate the plant going forward. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 7) In lieu of becoming unemployed, Plaintiffs were offered the opportunity to become employees of Duke. They chose to work for Duke, and elected a 50% cash-out option for their accumulated sick leave benefits while remaining vested in the City's pension plan. (Id.) In July 2012, the Plaintiffs applied for pension benefits and were denied. ( Id. at 5)

2. Plaintiffs appealed the denial to the Dover City Council ("the Council") on September 19, 2012. ( Id. at 5) Plaintiffs' counsel, in preparation for a hearing on the Plaintiffs' appeal at the November 26, 2012 meeting of the Council, submitted a letter brief via electronic mail to the City's solicitor on November 20, 2012. (D.I. 4 Ex. F) Attached to that letter were exhibits, including, among other things, copies of letters from Duke offering employment to the Plaintiffs in February 1996 (D.I. 4 Ex. B). An agenda produced for the November 26, 2012 Council meeting contained, as attachments, copies of these letters, as well as copies of a spreadsheet summarizing personnel decisions for the Duke hires (D.I. 4 Ex. C), copies of summarized sick leave accumulations with the City for both Plaintiffs (D.I. 4 Ex. D), and copies of Statement of Intent forms filed by the Plaintiffs with the City (D.I. 4 Ex. E). These exhibits disclose in various places financial information specific to Plaintiffs, particularly salaries and sick leave accumulations, as well as their home addresses. Publication of the exhibits was not expected by Plaintiffs and resulted in the delay and rescheduling of their appeal. (Tr. at 19-20) The Council met in executive session on May 6, 2013 and affirmed the denial of Plaintiffs' claim for pension benefits. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 6)

3. Plaintiffs filed this action against the City, Council, Scott Koenig (individually and in his capacity as City Manager), and Kim Hawkins (individually and in her capacity as Director of Human Resources). (D.I. 4 Ex. A, at 1) Plaintiffs first filed their complaint in the Superior Court of Delaware in and for Kent County on August 21, 2013. Before service was effected, an amended complaint was filed and served on December 6, 2013. Defendants removed the action to the District of Delaware on December 19, 2013.

4. Plaintiffs press six counts:

a. Declaratory Judgement. Plaintiffs request to be declared "eligible employees" under the City of Dover Code, and thereby entitled to pension benefits. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 3)
b. Breach of Contract. Plaintiffs claim a contractual right to pension benefits from the City and assert that these benefits were improperly denied. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 4-10)
c. Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants acted in bad faith by misrepresenting the options available to Plaintiffs during the transition of control of the City power plant in 1996. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 10-11)
d. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Koenig and Hawkins). Plaintiffs assert a "right of informational privacy" grounded in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which Defendants Koenig and Hawkins allegedly violated by publishing documents containing Plaintiffs' personal information. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 11-12)
e. Violation of Delaware Const. Art. 1, §9 (Koenig and Hawkins). Plaintiffs assert a violation of their rights under the Delaware Constitution. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 12-14)
f. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (City and Council). As in the fourth count, above, Plaintiffs assert that the City and Council violated their right to privacy by publication of their personal information. Plaintiffs further allege in this count that the City and Council acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs' rights, specifically by failing to supervise or train City and Council employees or personnel. (D.I. 4 Ex. A at 14-15)

5. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief as well as compensatory and actual damages, consequential damages, costs and attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, and punitive damages. (D.I. 1 Ex. A at 12-13)

6. On January 29, 2014, Defendants filed a motion for partial dismissal of the § 1983 claims and the Delaware Constitution claim, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. (D.I. 3)[1] Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all well-pled factual allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief" Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481-82 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). At bottom, "[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] necessary element" of a plaintiff's claim. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, ...


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