ROSEBORO v. LINCOLN UNIVERSITY
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE PETRESE B. TUCKER ON 9/6/17. 9/7/17 ENTERED AND COPIES EMAILED TO COUNSEL.(jaa, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CLEVELL S. ROSEBORO, II,
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, et al.,
September 6, 2017
Presently before the Court are Defendants Lincoln University, Robert Jennings, and
Valerie Harrison’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint or to Strike Improper Allegations
(Doc. 9), Defendant Denise Wilbur’s Motion to Join Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s
Complaint or to Strike Improper Allegations (Doc. 20), Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition to
Defendants’ Motion (Doc. 21), Defendants’ Reply in Support of their Motion (Doc. 24), and
Plaintiff’s Sur-Reply (Doc. 27). Upon careful consideration of the Parties’ submissions and
exhibits, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND
DENIED IN PART.
Clevell S. Roseboro, II (“Plaintiff”) was an Associate Professor and Director of Libraries
on tenure track at Lincoln University. (Compl. ¶ 18, Doc. 1.) Lincoln University (“University”)
is a state-related institution of higher education and an instrumentality of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Dr. Robert R. Jennings was President of the University during the
events that led to the current action, and through November 2014. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Dr. Valerie
Harrison is General Counsel of the University. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Ms. Kimberly Lloyd is Chair of
the Board of Trustees of the University. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Ms. Dana Flint is Chair of the Faculty
Judicial Committee of the University. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Ms. Denise Gaither-Hardy and Mr. Safro
Kwame are members of the Faculty Judicial Committee. (Compl. ¶¶ 15–16.) Ms. Denise Wilbur
is Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University. (Compl. ¶ 17.) 1
Plaintiff’s Employment with the University
On July 1, 2013, Plaintiff accepted an offer from and entered into an employment
contract with the University to become an Associate Professor and Director of Libraries. (Compl.
¶ 9.) Plaintiff was not tenured, but his position was tenure-track. (Compl ¶ 1.) Plaintiff’s term of
employment was from August 2013 to August 2014. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff’s contract was
subject to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the University
and the Lincoln University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors
Under the CBA, only adequate cause justifies the dismissal of an untenured faculty
member before the expiration of his employment term. (Compl. ¶ 20.) An adequate cause finding
is proper when a faculty member’s conduct is prejudicial to the University. (Id.) Neither the
CBA nor University policy requires the University to conduct a hearing before a faculty member
is terminated. (Compl. ¶ 22.)
The CBA permits faculty members to appeal termination decisions to the Faculty Judicial
Committee. (Id.) However, the University’s Board of Trustees may reverse the Faculty Judicial
It appearing that the individual defendants no longer have the positions alleged, for the
purposes of this motion, the Court will accept all of Plaintiff’s factual allegations as true and note
that each individual held the respective position at all times relevant to the complaint.
Committee’s decisions. (Id.) The Board of Trustees is not required to provide an explanation for
its rulings, and its decisions are final. (Id.)
The CBA does not permit faculty members to challenge termination decisions through
the Union. (Id.)
Events Leading up to Plaintiff’s Termination
On July 12, 2014, Plaintiff and his then fiancé, Thea Flores, became involved in a verbal
altercation when Ms. Flores accused Plaintiff of infidelity. (Compl. ¶ 23.) Ms. Flores assaulted
Plaintiff, who then fled to his office to spend the night. (Compl. ¶ 24.) The next day, Ms. Flores
ransacked Plaintiff’s office. (Id.) Ms. Flores returned home and told Plaintiff’s daughter, that
Plaintiff had inappropriate pictures of his daughter and other women on his computer. (Compl.
¶ 25.) Ms. Flores also told Plaintiff’s daughter that University Police had charged Plaintiff with
abuse against Ms. Flores. (Id.) Plaintiff denies both allegations. (Id.)
On July 13, 2014, Plaintiff’s daughter made a voluntary statement to University Police.
(Compl. ¶ 26.) Her statement was incorporated into the University’s Police Incident Report
(“Incident Report”). (Id.) The Incident Report stated that Plaintiff accidently touched his
daughter’s breast with his forearm. (Compl. ¶ 34.) However, she understood that the touch was
inadvertent. (Id.) The Incident Report also stated that Plaintiff had asked his daughter whether
she was a virgin and if she had engaged in oral sex. (Id.) The Incident Report further provided
that Plaintiff’s daughter was never sexually abused or mistreated. (Id.)
The Statement of Charges
On July 14, 2014, Ms. Wilbur informed Plaintiff that he was being placed on
administrative leave without providing a reason. (Compl. ¶ 27.) On July 22, 2014, Plaintiff
received a letter from Dr. Jennings, titled “Statement of Charges-Adequate Cause Dismissal,”
(“Statement of Charges”) informing Plaintiff of his dismissal, effective immediately, and before
the expiration of his employment term. (Compl. ¶ 28.) The Statement of Charges accused
Plaintiff of being “involved in acts of violence that departed from accepted standards of
professional ethics, neglect of duty, and illegal conduct prejudicial to the University.” (Compl.
¶ 29.) Further, Plaintiff was accused of giving a non-University employee access to a University
computer and “engaging in inappropriate or offensive words and conduct that created a sexually
hostile environment.” (Id.) The letter instructed Plaintiff to remove all of his possessions and
vacate University housing.
Plaintiff alleges that the University did not investigate any of the allegations and the
Statement of Charges relied “exclusively” on the Incident Report. (Compl. ¶¶ 29, 31.)
The Faculty Judicial Committee Hearing
On July 27, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing before the Faculty Judicial Committee to
appeal his termination pursuant to the CBA. (Compl. ¶ 36.) On September 10, 2014, the Faculty
Judicial Committee convened a hearing. (Compl. ¶ 37.) At the hearing, Dr. Harrison, Dr.
Jennings, Ms. Wilbur, and Plaintiff testified.
Dr. Harrison testified that Ms. Flores’ attorney told him that the attorney had information
that Plaintiff molested his daughter. (Compl. ¶ 40.) Dr. Harrison also testified that Plaintiff was
under a criminal investigation for the molestation allegation, but the investigation had stalled
because Plaintiff’s daughter was uncooperative. (Compl. ¶ 44.)
Dr. Jennings and Ms. Wilbur repeated the molestation allegation during the hearing, and
Dr. Jennings also testified that the University had no evidence that Plaintiff “was violent in any
way.” (Compl. ¶¶ 38, 41.)
Defendants did not interview Plaintiff’s daughter. (Compl. ¶ 49.) Neither Plaintiff’s
daughter nor Ms. Flores testified during the Faculty Judicial Committee hearing to substantiate
the allegations against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 51g.)
Plaintiff testified that he did not ask his daughter whether anyone had performed oral sex
on her. (Compl. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff alleges that his daughter likely falsified the claim because she
was angry with him. (Compl. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff claims that his daughter apologized to him for the
false allegation. (Compl. ¶ 49.)
Plaintiff further alleges that the molestation allegation was not listed in the Statement of
Charges, and no one notified Plaintiff about the allegation before the hearing. (Compl. ¶ 41.)
Plaintiff claims that the Incident Report did not support the allegations contained in the
Statement of Charges or the molestation allegation. (Compl. ¶ 43.) Defendants did not further
investigate the allegations. (Compl. ¶ 39.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that the District
Attorney interviewed Plaintiff’s daughter before the hearing and determined that there was no
probable cause to file charges against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 44.) Therefore, according to Plaintiff,
Dr. Harrison falsely testified that Plaintiff was under investigation at the time of the hearing. (Id.)
After concluding that Defendants failed to present the requisite evidence to support their
adequate cause allegations, the Faculty Judicial Committee reinstated Plaintiff’s employment.
(Compl. ¶ 51.) The Faculty Judicial Committee stated that Plaintiff’s failure to prevent Ms.
Flores from ransacking his office did not justify his dismissal. (Compl. ¶ 51e.) The Faculty
Judicial Committee further concluded that there was reason to believe that Plaintiff made
inappropriate statements of a sexual nature to his daughter; however, the statements were not an
adequate basis for termination. (Compl. ¶ 51f.) The Faculty Judicial Committee faulted the
University for failing to call Plaintiff’s accusers as witnesses and give Plaintiff the opportunity to
cross-examine his accusers. (Compl. ¶ 51g.)
The Board of Trustees’ Appeal
On September 24, 2014, Dr. Jennings appealed the Faculty Judicial Committee’s
reinstatement decision to the Board of Trustees and requested that the Board reverse the Faculty
Judicial Committee’s ruling. (Compl. ¶ 55.) Dr. Jennings argued that even though Plaintiff did
not commit an act of violence, he should bear responsibility for Ms. Flores’ outburst. (Compl.
¶ 58.) He also argued that Plaintiff should be dismissed for having non-work related pictures on
his computer. (Compl. ¶ 56.) Finally, Dr. Jennings argued that the Faculty Judicial Committee
erred by concluding that there was no evidence that Plaintiff molested his daughter. (Id.)
Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Jennings failed to note in the Notice of Appeal that Ms. Flores
initiated the molestation charge, Plaintiff’s daughter explicitly denied the charge, and Dr.
Jennings and Dr. Harrison were aware that the District Attorney declined to bring charges
against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 57.)
On October 17, 2014, the Board of Trustees reversed the Faculty Judicial Committee’s
reinstatement decision without providing a reason for its reversal. (Compl. ¶ 61.) The Board of
Trustees denied Plaintiff’s request to release the meeting minutes that documented the matters
discussed during the appeal. (Compl. ¶ 62.)
Events After Plaintiff’s Termination Grievances
On December 9, 2014, a detective from the Chester County Police Department informed
Plaintiff that there was no ongoing investigation involving Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 63.) On January
7, 2015, Plaintiff signed an affidavit regarding his conversation with the detective. (Compl.
¶ 64.) On January 8, 2015, Plaintiff sent the affidavit and a letter requesting reinstatement to all
Defendants. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, in a response letter, the University’s attorney restated the
Faculty Judicial Committee’s mischaracterization that Plaintiff made a comment about
performing oral sex on his daughter. (Compl. ¶ 65.) The letter was approved by Dr. Harrison,
Ms. Lloyd, and Ms. Wilbur. (Id.)
Plaintiff later applied for a job at Florida Memorial University. He claims he was rejected
because Defendants informed Florida Memorial University that Plaintiff was terminated for
sexually abusing his daughter. (Compl. ¶ 66.)
In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges four counts against Defendants. In Count One, Plaintiff
asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the University, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Harrison, Ms.
Lloyd, and Ms. Wilbur. Plaintiff claims that he was denied adequate pre- and post-termination
procedures, in violation of his procedural due process rights. In Count Two, Plaintiff asserts a
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the University, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Harrison, Ms. Lloyd, and
Ms. Wilbur for substantive due process violations. In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges a stigma-plus
claim against the University, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Harrison, Ms. Lloyd, Ms. Flint, Ms. GaitherHardy, Mr. Kwame, and Ms. Wilbur. Plaintiff claims Defendants repeated false claims that
Plaintiff molested his daughter, used the false claims to terminate Plaintiff, and then
disseminated the false claims publicly. In Count Four, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants breached
his employment contract because he was terminated without adequate cause. 2
Plaintiff has withdrawn Counts Two and Four. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss 1 n.1.)
As such, the Court need not address Plaintiff’s substantive due process and breach of contract
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In the alternative, Defendants move to strike the allegations in
paragraphs 64 and 65 of Plaintiff’s Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f).
When considering a 12(b)(6) Motion, the Court must “accept all factual allegations as
true . . . [and] construe the Complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Argueta v. U.S.
Immigration & Customs Enf’t, 643 F.3d 60, 74 (3d Cir. 2011). However, the Court is “not bound
to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion under 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. A
claim is plausible if the complaint presents facts that allow the Court reasonably to infer
wrongdoing by the defendant. Id. The plausibility requirement does not require that a complaint
demonstrate that defendant’s wrongdoing was probable. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 556 (2007). However, the pleaded facts must allow the Court “to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct.” Ashcroft, 550 U.S. at 679. Determining whether a complaint has
raised a plausible claim for relief is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) permits a court to “strike from a pleading an
insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(f). “The purpose of a motion to strike is to clean up the pleadings, streamline
litigation, and avoid unnecessary forays into immaterial matters.” McInerney v. Moyer Lumber &
Hardware, 244 F. Supp. 2d 393, 402 (E.D. Pa. 2002). However, Rule 12(f) Motions “are not
favored and usually will be denied unless the allegations have no possible relation to the
controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations confuse the
issues.” Dann v. Lincoln Nat. Corp., 274 F.R.D. 139, 142–43 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Wilson v.
King, No. 06–2608, 2010 WL 678102, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2010)).
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint asserting that: (1) Plaintiff’s pre-
termination procedural due process claim is time-barred, (2) Defendant’s post-termination
procedures did not violate Plaintiff’s procedural due process rights, and (3) Plaintiff fails to
establish a stigma-plus claim. In the alternative, Defendants move to strike the allegations in
paragraphs 64 and 65 of Plaintiff’s Complaint. The Court finds that Plaintiff’s pre-termination
procedural due process claim is time-barred, grants leave for Plaintiff to supplement his posttermination procedural due process claim, and concludes that Plaintiff states a plausible claim for
stigma-plus. Lastly, the Court denies Defendants’ alternative motion to strike.
Plaintiff’s Procedural Due Process Claims (Count One)
Plaintiff is suing the University, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Harrison, and Ms. Wilbur under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for their purported failure to provide procedural due process. To establish a
§ 1983 claim, a plaintiff “must establish that [he] was deprived of a federal constitutional or
statutory right by a state actor.” Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 646 (3d Cir. 2009).
A state actor may not deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of
law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Lincoln University, a state-related institution of higher
education and an instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state actor. In
assessing a procedural due process claim, the Court must determine: (1) whether “the asserted
individual interests are encompassed within the [F]ourteenth [A]mendment’s protection of ‘life,
liberty, or property’”; and (2) whether “the procedures available provided the plaintiff with ‘due
process of law.’” Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000).
For purposes of this analysis, the Court will assume that Plaintiff has pled sufficient facts
to establish that he had an employment relationship with Lincoln University that created a
property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924,
928–29 (1997) (“[P]ublic employees who can be discharged only for cause have a
constitutionally protected property interest in their [employment] and cannot be fired without due
process.”) The Court also assumes that Plaintiff was deprived of that property interest when he
Typically, the Court would continue its analysis and address whether “the procedures
available provided the plaintiff with due process of law.” 227 F.3d at 116. However, the Court
need not address the merits of Plaintiff’s procedural due process claims at this time because
(1) Plaintiff’s pre-termination claim is time-barred, and (2) the Court will grant Plaintiff leave to
supplement his post-termination claim. Each claim will be addressed separately below.
Plaintiff’s Pre-Termination Procedural Due Process Claim is TimeBarred
Plaintiff’s pre-termination procedural due process claim is barred by Pennsylvania’s
statute of limitations. For actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “federal courts apply the
state’s statute of limitations for personal injury.” Sameric Corp. of Del. v. City of Phila., 142
F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). The statute of limitations for personal injury in Pennsylvania is two
years. 42 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524 (West 2017). The statute of limitations begins
when “the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which its action is based.”
Sameric Corp., 142 F.3d at 599. In employment cases, the limitation period begins when the
employer’s adverse decision is made. See Del. State Coll. v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 261 (1980).
The existence of grievance procedures to contest termination or adverse employment decisions
does not toll the statute of limitations. Ricks, 449 U.S. at 261.
In Ricks, the United States Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations governing
the plaintiff’s claims began when he received notice that his tenure was denied, despite the
existence of grievance procedures. 449 U.S. 250. In Ricks, the plaintiff’s application for tenure
was denied. Id. at 252. The plaintiff appealed the decision to the college’s grievance committee.
Id. A few months later, the grievance committee upheld the plaintiff’s tenure denial. Id. at 254.
The plaintiff filed a suit in the District Court of Delaware claiming national origin
discrimination. Id. The court ruled that plaintiff’s claims were barred by Delaware’s three-year
statute of limitations. Id. at 252–55. The court ruled that the statute of limitations expired three
years from the date plaintiff received his tenure denial notice. Id. The Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari. Id.
The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff’s tenure denial was a final decision, despite
the availability of grievance procedures. 449 U.S. at 259–60. The Court stated that grievance
procedures are a process to provide remedies for a final decision that may have been made in
error; they are “not an opportunity to influence that decision before [the decision was] made.” Id.
at 261. The Supreme Court held that grievance procedures do not toll the statute of limitations
and the statute of limitations begins once an employee is notified about an adverse employment
decision. Id. Thus, the Delaware statute of limitations began to run when the plaintiff was
notified of his tenure denial. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Third
Circuit to reinstate the lower court’s order to dismiss the complaint as time-barred. Id. at 262.
In the matter before this Court, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s pre-termination due
process claim is time-barred. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. 7–8.) Defendants argue that the statute of
limitations began on July 22, 2014, the day Plaintiff received his termination notice. Id. Plaintiff
argues that his claim is timely because the statute of limitations began on October 17, 2014, the
day the Board of Trustees reversed the Faculty Judicial Committee’s reinstatement decision.
(Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss 6.)
The Court agrees with Defendants. In his Complaint, Plaintiff recalls that he received the
Statement of Charges on July 22, 2014, which informed him that his termination was “effective
immediately.” (Compl. ¶ 28.) The Statement of Charges also instructed Plaintiff to vacate his
University housing and remove all of his possessions by July 23, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 28.) These
facts demonstrate that the decision to terminate Plaintiff was final as of July 22, 2014.
Similar to Ricks, the grievance procedures available to Plaintiff were simply a remedy,
rather than an opportunity to influence the termination decision. Upon receipt of the Statement of
Charges, Plaintiff should have known that Defendants potentially violated his procedural due
process rights as they applied to pre-termination procedures. Since, as held in Ricks, grievance
procedures do not toll the statute of limitations, Plaintiff’s pre-termination procedural due
process claim expired on July 22, 2016, two years from the date that he received his termination
notice. Thus, Plaintiff’s claim is barred by Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
Plaintiff further asserts that his claim is timely because the decision to terminate Plaintiff
“was but the first in an ongoing series of actions that defamed Plaintiff and made his termination
an inevitability.” (Pl.’s Opp’n to Mot. to Dismiss 7–8.) Ostensibly, Plaintiff argues that the
continuing violation doctrine applies to his pre-termination claim and tolls the two-year
limitations period. The continuing violation doctrine tolls the statute of limitations “when a
defendant’s conduct is part of a continuing practice . . . [and] the last act evidencing the
continuing practice falls within the limitations period.” Brenner v. Local 514, United Bhd. of
Carpenters & Joiners of Am., 927 F.2d 1283, 1295 (3d Cir. 1991). However, “discrete
discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in
timely filed charges. Each discrete discriminatory act [i.e., termination] starts a new clock for
filing charges alleging that act.” Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113–14
(2002). Discrete discriminatory acts must be raised within the statute of limitations governing
each act. O’Connor v. City of Newark, 440 F.3d 125, 127 (3d Cir. 2006) (applying the continuing
violation doctrine to § 1983 claims, finding that termination is a discrete act, and holding that the
statute of limitations begins when the discrete act occurs).
The Court finds that the continuing violation doctrine is inapplicable to Plaintiff’s pretermination procedural due process claim, and therefore, does not toll the two-year limitations
period. Plaintiff received notice of his termination on July 22, 2014, and under Ricks, the statute
of limitations for wrongful termination began once he was notified of an official termination
decision. Plaintiff failed to file his Complaint within the applicable limitations period, and since
his pre-termination procedural due process claim arises from his termination, which is a discrete
act, Plaintiff’s claim is not part of a continuing violation. Thus, Plaintiff’s claim is time-barred.
Therefore, the Court grants Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss as it relates to Plaintiff’s procedural
due process claim for lack of pre-termination procedures in Count One.
Plaintiff may Amend Complaint for Post-Termination Due Process
Plaintiff argues that after filing his Complaint, he received additional facts that support
his post-termination due process claim. (Pl.’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss 3 n.2.) Plaintiff
requests permission to amend his Complaint. The Court grants Plaintiff’s request to amend his
Complaint as it relates to Plaintiff’s post-termination due process claim.
Plaintiff States a Plausible Claim for Stigma-Plus (Count Three)
Plaintiff asserts a stigma-plus claim against the University, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Harrison,
Ms. Lloyd, Ms. Flint, Ms. Gaither-Hardy, Mr. Kwame, and Ms. Wilbur. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants knowingly repeated false claims that Plaintiff molested his daughter, used the false
claims to terminate Plaintiff from employment, and then disseminated the false claims to
potential employers, thereby, depriving him of a liberty interest in his reputation. A stigma-plus
claim is a “due process claim for deprivation of a liberty interest in reputation . . . [and the]
plaintiff must show a stigma to his reputation plus deprivation of some additional [constitutional]
right or interest.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 236 (3d Cir. 2006). “In the public
employment context, the ‘stigma-plus’ test has been applied to mean that when an employer
‘creates and disseminates a false and defamatory impression about the employee in connection
with his termination,’ it deprives the employee of a protected liberty interest.” Id. (quoting Codd
v. Velger, 429 U.S. 624, 628, (1977)). If a plaintiff plausibly asserts a stigma-plus claim, a
plaintiff is entitled to a hearing to clear his name. Ersek v. Twp. of Springfield, 102 F.3d 79, 84
(3d Cir. 1996).
There are two prongs to the stigma-plus test: (1) “stigma,” and (2) “plus.” “The creation
and dissemination of a false and defamatory impression is the ‘stigma,’ and the termination [or
the deprivation of an additional constitutional right] is the ‘plus.’” Hill, 455 F.3d at 236. Each
prong will be discussed separately below.
Plaintiff Satisfies the Stigma Prong
Accepting all of Plaintiff’s allegations as true, Plaintiff pleads facts sufficient to establish
the stigma prong of the stigma-plus test. To satisfy the stigma prong, a plaintiff must allege that:
(1) the defendant made stigmatizing statements, (2) the statements were false, and (3) the
defendant disseminated the stigmatizing statements publicly. Hill, 455 F.3d at 236.
First, Defendants’ repeated accusations that Plaintiff molested his daughter were
stigmatizing statements. (Compl. ¶¶ 40, 41, 57.)
Second, Plaintiff alleges enough facts to support his contention that the molestation
accusation was false. Before the Faculty Judicial Committee hearing, the District Attorney, who
previously interviewed Plaintiff’s daughter, determined that there was no probable cause to file
sexual assault charges against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶¶ 42, 44.) In addition, Plaintiff’s daughter
apologized to Plaintiff for leveling the false allegation. (Compl. ¶ 49.) The Faculty Judicial
Committee concluded that there was no evidence that Plaintiff molested his daughter. (Compl.
¶ 51.) On January 7, 2015, Plaintiff sent an affidavit to Defendants confirming his conversation
with the police, wherein the police disclosed that there was no ongoing investigation involving
Plaintiff for molestation. (Compl. ¶ 64.) These facts, collectively, adequately support Plaintiff’s
claim that the molestation accusation was false.
Third, the stigmatizing statements were made public when Defendants disseminated the
accusation to Florida Memorial University. Povish v. Pa. Dep’t of Corrs., No. 13–0197, 2014
WL 1281226, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 28, 2014) (collecting cases and stating that “[d]epending on
the facts, quite limited dissemination may be sufficient”).
Thus, Plaintiff alleges enough facts to demonstrate a “stigma.”
Plaintiff Satisfies the Plus Prong
Accepting all of Plaintiff’s allegations as true, the Court finds that, at this stage, Plaintiff
alleges facts sufficient to satisfy the plus prong of the stigma-plus test. To satisfy the plus prong,
a plaintiff must show the deprivation of a protected constitutional right. Hill, 455 F.3d at 236.
The Supreme Court has recognized that a constitutionally protected liberty interest includes “the
protection against interference in the absence of due process with an individual’s ‘later
opportunities for . . . employment.’” McKnight v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 583 F.2d 1229, 1236 (3d
Cir. 1978) (quoting Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 575 (1975)). Thus, “allegations of harm to
future employment possibilities are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss in the stigma-plus
context.” Fouse v. Beaver Cty., 2:14-CV-00810, 2015 WL 1967242, at *6 (W.D. Pa. May 1,
2015) (citing Ersek, 102 F.3d at 84–85; McKnight, 583 F.2d at 1236.)).
Therefore, the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendants’ stigmatizing
statements, particularly their statements related to the molestation accusations to Florida
Memorial University, undermined Plaintiff’s ability to find employment and is sufficient to
satisfy the plus prong.
Defendants argue that their dissemination of the stigmatizing statements to Florida
Memorial University was made after Plaintiff was terminated and not in connection with his
termination. As such, Defendants’ contend, Plaintiff cannot use his termination of employment
to show a deprivation of a constitutionally protected right.
At this time, the Court disagrees with Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff’s termination
and the public dissemination of the stigmatizing statements were not connected. Defendants used
the stigmatizing statements to terminate Plaintiff from employment. When Florida Memorial
University called Defendants to inquire about Plaintiff’s work history, Defendants restated the
stigmatizing statements as the reason for Plaintiff’s termination from employment. There is a
sufficient nexus between Plaintiff’s termination, the dissemination of the stigmatizing
statements, and Plaintiff’s inability to gain employment with Florida Memorial University. For
this reason, Plaintiff satisfies the plus prong of the stigma-plus test.
Defendants further argue that, even if Plaintiff satisfies the stigma-plus test, Plaintiff’s
claim must be dismissed because Plaintiff was granted a name clearing hearing. The Court
agrees that Plaintiff had an opportunity to clear his name at the Faculty Judicial Committee
hearing. However, Defendants continued to repeat the accusations to Florida Memorial
University, even after the Faculty Judicial Committee determined that the accusations lacked
support, and undermined the name clearing hearing. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to dismiss
Plaintiff’s stigma-plus claim is denied.
Defendants’ Motion to Strike is Denied
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s allegations in paragraphs 64 and 65 should be stricken
because they are inadmissible. Defendants’ argument is insufficient to meet their burden of
demonstrating that the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy, may cause
prejudice to one of the parties, or will confuse the issues. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to
strike is denied.
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART
Defendants’ Motion. An appropriate order follows.
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