United States District Court, D. Delaware
Jeffery K. Martin, Esquire of Martin & Associates, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for Plaintiff.
Roopa Sabesan, Esquire and Joseph C. Handlon, Esquire, Deputy Attorneys General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for Defendants.
SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.
On August 15, 2014, Isabel Cristina Companiony ("plaintiff') filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Mark Murphy,  Mary L. Cooke,  Maureen Whelan,  Mike DeLoy,  Wendi Caple,  and Janet Durkee (collectively, "defendants"), alleging procedural due process violations in relation to the termination of her employment at Baylor Women's Correctional Institution ("BWCI"). (D.I. 1) On September 19, 2014, defendants filed the present motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (D.I. 6) The court has jurisdiction pursuant 29 U.S.C. § 1132 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff worked jointly for the DOE and the DOC as a teacher/supervisor at BWCI. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 2, 11, 12) On February 28, 2012, plaintiff met with DOC officials regarding certain violations that a teacher committed under her supervision. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 19) At the end of this meeting, plaintiff was advised that her security clearance at BWCI was being "temporarily revoked" pending the conclusion of the investigation. Id. On March 20, 2012, plaintiff attended a DOC internal affairs meeting where investigators discussed her practices with regard to inmate worker payment and inmate worker vacation. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 20) On May 15, 2012, plaintiff received the DOC internal affairs report ("IA report"), which outlined the investigation. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 25) On May 21, 2012, plaintiff attended the internal affairs meeting with her attorney and denied each of the allegations pending against her. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 27, 28) All of the defendants were either present or represented at this meeting. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 27) Following the internal affairs meeting, the decision was made to permanently bar plaintiff from BWCI. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 30)
After plaintiff's barring from BWCI, the parties engaged in discussions regarding the transfer of plaintiff to another correctional institution but only if she were placed on a "performance improvement plan." (D.I. 1 at ¶ 35) Plaintiff objected to being placed on such a plan. Id. On July 12, 2012, however, the DOE gave a letter of reprimand and an improvement plan to plaintiff. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 36) Plaintiff filed an appeal on the letter of reprimand and was granted an appeal date. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 36, 37) Prior to the letter of reprimand appeal date, on August 17, 2012, plaintiff received a "notice of intent to terminate employment letter." (D.I. 1 at ¶ 41) The letter explained that there was "just cause" for plaintiff's termination in the form of the DOC's decision to bar plaintiff from working at any DOC facility. Id. The letter also identified the date of plaintiff's "pre-termination hearing" as August 27, 2012. Id.
On August 24, 2012, plaintiff attended the letter of reprimand meeting and presented evidence on her behalf. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 43) On August 27, 2012, plaintiff and her counsel attended the "pre-termination hearing" where she once again presented evidence on her behalf. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 41, 44) On September 4, 2012, plaintiff received a letter upholding the letter of reprimand against her and a termination of employment letter. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 45) The termination of employment letter stated that her permanent barring from any DOC facility effectively made it impossible for her to fulfill her responsibilities as a teacher/supervisor. Id. The letter also outlined the process for a post-termination hearing pursuant to 14 Del. C. § 121(a)(5). Id. Plaintiff requested and attended, with her counsel, a post-termination hearing on October 2, 2012, but withdrew her request for a further hearing "because DOC was not made a party to the hearing process." (D.I. 1 at ¶ 49)
A motion filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (internal quotation marks omitted) (interpreting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Consistent with the Supreme Court's rulings in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Third Circuit requires a two-part analysis when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. A.H. Cornell & Son, Inc., 610 F.3d 217, 219 (3d Cir. 2010); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, a court should separate the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting the facts and disregarding the legal conclusions. Fowler, 578 F.3d. at 210-11. Second, a court should determine whether the remaining well-pled facts sufficiently show that the plaintiff "has a plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). As part of the analysis, a court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002); Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). In this regard, a court may consider the pleadings, public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint, and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384-85 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994).
The court's determination is not whether the non-moving party "will ultimately prevail" but whether that party is "entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." United States ex rel. Wilkins v. United Health Grp., Inc., 659 F.3d 295, 302 (3d Cir. 2011). This "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, " but instead "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the necessary element]." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The court's analysis is a context-specific task requiring the court "to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64.
A. Procedural Due ...