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Thompson v. State of Delaware Department of Services for Children

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 5, 2019


          Victor F. Battaglia, Sr., Biggs and Battaglia, Wilmington, DE - Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          Joseph C. Handlon, Adria B. Martinelli, Deputy Attorneys General, State of Delaware, Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE - Attorneys for Defendants.



         There are two motions before the Court. The first, a “Combined Motion for Summary Judgment and for Dismissal” (D.I. 13) (“Defendants' Motion”), was submitted by Defendants Alison McGonigal (“McGonigal”), Karryl McManus (“McManus”), Angela Porter (“Porter”), Josette DelleDonne Manning (“Manning”) (collectively “Individual Defendants”), and the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families (“DSCYF” or “Department” and collectively with the Individual Defendants “Defendants”) seeking dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), in part, and summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, in part. The second is the motion of Plaintiff Debra Thompson (“Thompson”) for partial summary judgment (D.I. 21) with respect to her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendants' Motion and DENY Plaintiff Debra Thompson's motion for partial summary judgment[1].

         I. BACKGROUND

         On or about July 11, 2016, Thompson left her job as a Development Coach for the Professional Development Center for Educators/Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware to take a job as an Education Supervisor with DSCYF. (D.I. 1 ¶¶ 9, 12). The Education Supervisor position had previously been held by Defendant Porter, who had been allegedly “terminated for personal reasons.” (Id. ¶ 10). Thompson alleges that she was not informed that Porter had filed a grievance with respect to the termination and that an appeal process was ongoing. (Id.). The Complaint states that “the DSCYF administrators had concerns that the education side of the Department was weak and not up to date on current rules, laws and process” and after Thompson started in the new role she “began to revamp and upgrade the system” and uncovered “misuse of funds, lack of accountability and oversight, and favoritism.” (Id. ¶¶ 14-16). Thompson alleges that, despite these issues, “in the short time she was Education Supervisor, [she] brought the Education Unit into compliance, provided more support to the administrators, and handled the budget funding more efficiently.” (Id. ¶ 17). The Complaint contends that Thompson's performance was praised by her associates and co-workers and garnered a written performance evaluation of “Meets Expectations.” (Id. ¶¶ 18-19).

         In early October 2016, Thompson learned that Porter had filed a grievance and successfully contested her termination, and that the Merit Employee Relations Board (“MERB”) ordered Porter be reinstated. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 24). The Complaint alleges that Thompson was then informed in writing that, upon her return, Porter would be filling a newly created position at DSCYF titled Transition Coordinator. (Id. ¶ 22). On February 17, 2017, Defendant McGonigal then verbally informed Thompson that Porter would be reinstated as Education Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 25). Thompson alleges that she was told she would become the Transition Coordinator. (Id. ¶30). She further alleges that “her attempts to fulfill assignments were thwarted by Porter and the other Defendants.” (Id.). The Complaint alleges that Thompson was denied the right to a grievance and both pre-termination and post termination processes. (Id. ¶ 28).

         Thompson claims that “[u]pon information and belief Defendants disseminated false and misleading information concerning Plaintiff's[2] professional reputation and abilities because within days of February 17, 2017 Plaintiff began hearing from coworkers and associates that the perception within and without DSCYF was that Plaintiff was being demoted for poor performance.” (Id. ¶ 26).

         On May 19, 2017, Thompson was hospitalized for an emergency surgery and could not work until October 2017. (Id. ¶ 33). The Complaint alleges that during this time, “Defendants[] unilaterally reduced her to a teaching position for which she did not yet have the required special education certification” and “gave Porter supervisory authority over her.” (Id. ¶¶ 32, 34). Thompson claims that she returned to work in October 2017 to a teaching position at Terry Psychiatric Children's Center but was then hospitalized again in January 2018. (Id. ¶ 36). She further claims that during her time as a teacher, Defendants asserted that she needed appropriate special education certifications. (Id. ¶ 35). The Complaint claims that in April 2018, Porter recommended that Thompson be terminated for failure to obtain required certification. (Id. ¶ 39). Thompson filed a grievance and attended a hearing on April 24, 2018, where it was determined that she would have until June 30, 2018 to obtain the necessary credentials. (Id. ¶ 40). The Complaint asserts that “Plaintiff was unable to acquire the purported certification and her employment was terminated through a Notice from Defendant [] Manning dated July 2, 2018.” (Id. ¶ 42). Thompson contends that she applied to over 60 teaching and administrative positions but did not gain employment until August 8, 2018. (Id. ¶ 44).

         On August 13, 2018, Thompson filed this employment action against DSCYF, McGonigal, McManus, Porter, and Manning claiming that her demotion and termination violate both federal and state law. (D.I. 1). Defendants' Motion seeks dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) in part and summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 in part. (D.I. 13). Plaintiffs oppose. (D.I. 16).


         When presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), district courts conduct a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court separates the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting “all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [disregarding] any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11. Second, the Court determines “whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show . . . a ‘plausible claim for relief.'” Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).

         “To 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)). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if a complaint does not contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court is not obligated to accept as true “bald assertions” or “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Schuylkill Energy Res., Inc. v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 113 F.3d 405, 417 (3d Cir. 1997). Instead, “[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, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).


         A. Count I: Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment

         Count I alleges violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by DSCYF and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities. The Complaint alleges that the Defendants “deprived Plaintiff of property and liberty rights without substantive and procedural due process of law in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, entitling Plaintiff to reinstatement ...

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