EVANS v. OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES PENSION PLAN OF THE CITY OF BUTLER, BUTLER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER re 15 MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM filed by THOMAS DONALDSON, BILL MAY, CITY OF BUTLER, PENNSYLVANIA, RICHARD J. SCHONTZ, JR., CHERI READIE, KATHY KLINE. Defendants Motion, to the extent that it asserts a statute of limitations defense, shall be held in abeyance pending a thirty-day period of discovery limited to the timeliness of Plaintiffs suit. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that the parties may engage in a period of disco very limited to addressing the timeliness of Plaintiffs claim. Discovery shall be complete by February 6, 2017. Defendants may file a supplemental brief addressing the statute of limitations by February 13, 2017; Plaintiff may respond thereto by February 21, 2017. Signed by Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan on 1/6/17. (clh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SUSAN E. EVANS,
CITY OF BUTLER, et al.,
) No. 2:16-cv- 273
) Lisa Pupo Lenihan
) United States Magistrate Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
In this case, Plaintiff, a recently retired employee of the Defendant City of Butler
(“City”), asserts that she was deprived of equal protection of the law when she was classified as a
part-time employee, despite working full-time hours, and was denied credit for pension purposes
as a result of that designation. She brings an equal protection claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint pursuant to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) [ECF No. 15]. Plaintiff has filed a response [ECF No. 17, 18], and
Defendants replied thereto [ECF No. 19]. The Motion is now ripe for disposition. For the
following reasons, the parties will be afforded the opportunity to engage in a period of limited
discovery directed towards the timeliness of Plaintiff’s suit.1
Although they are not subject to either full consideration or resolution in today’s Opinion and Order, the Court
notes that Defendants assert fairly effective arguments regarding deficiencies in Plaintiff’s pleading of municipal
liability and equal protection. Any such defects, however, would be amenable to cure by amendment. As to
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges that she was designated a part-time employee of
the City from the time her employment commenced in 1994, until she was designated a full-time
employee in 1998. During that time, Plaintiff alleges that she worked as many or more hours as
those designated as full-time employees.
At all pertinent times, Defendants maintained a pension plan (the “Plan”). Under the
terms of the Plan, part-time employees could not participate in the Plan, regardless of the number
of hours worked per year, or years of service. On or about January 17, 1998, when Plaintiff was
designated a full-time employee, she became a participant of the Plan by contributing five
percent of her wages to the Plan. She alleges that she retired effective July 21, 2015, at the age
of sixty, believing that she had twenty years of credited service. Plaintiff further avers that
designated part-time employees who work full-time hours, and are thus deprived of full pension
benefits, are predominantly female.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants, by enforcing and interpreting arbitrary designations of
full-time or part-time, regardless of number of hours worked, and thus denying Plan participation
on that basis, denied Plaintiff equal protection of the law.
Standard of Review
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a
complaint, which may be dismissed for the "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Upon review of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all
well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of
the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132
Defendants’ exhaustion argument, a plaintiff suing under a Section 1983 action generally need not exhaust
administrative remedies prior to bringing a federal claim for denial of constitutional rights. See, e.g.,
Bowman v. Pennsauken, 709 F. Supp. 1329, 1337 (D.N.J. 1989).
S. Ct. 1861 (2012). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear, such
"[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007).
The Supreme Court later refined this approach, emphasizing the requirement that a
complaint must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Nevertheless, "the
plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,'" but requires a plaintiff to show
"more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.
To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must take a three step
approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010). First, "the court must "tak[e] note of the
elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675)
(alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, 'because they are no
more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679). Third, "'where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'" Id.
Accordingly, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim and
"accept the factual allegations contained in the Complaint as true, but [ ] disregard rote recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, legal conclusions, and mere conclusory statements." James v.
City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 679 (3d Cir. 2012). The Court "must then determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible
claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement
to relief. A complaint has to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). The determination for "plausibility" will be "'a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Rule 8 "does not unlock the doors
of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 67879.
III. Legal Analysis
Defendants argue that Plaintiff knew that she was not contributing to the Plan until 1998,
because she was ineligible due to her employment status, and that she began contributing a
percentage of her wages upon attainment of eligibility on January 16 or 17, 1998. Accordingly,
Defendants argue, her claims accrued no later than January 16, 1998, the date that she attained
full-time status and became eligible to contribute to the Plan. In opposition, Plaintiff points to
her allegations that she retired in 2015 based on the belief that she had twenty years of credited
service, and that she had been working full-time hours for more than twenty years, even though
she was not designated as a full-time employee for all of those years.
The limitations period for civil actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is determined by
state law. Under Pennsylvania law, the applicable limitations period for civil rights actions
asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is two years. See 42 Pa. C.S. § 5524. In turn, the date when a
civil rights action accrues is a matter of federal law. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 280 n.6,
114 S. Ct. 807, 127 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1994) (J. Ginsburg, concurring). Under federal law, "[a]
section 1983 cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury
upon which its action is based." Peele v. McLaughlin, 641 F. App’x 111, 112 (3d Cir. 2016)
(quoting Sameric Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998).
Although the statute-of-limitations is usually an affirmative defense, a plaintiff bears the
burden to demonstrate timeliness if the claim is time barred on the face of a complaint. Johnson
v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 636 F. App’x 87, 89 (3d Cir. 2016). As the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals has observed:
[W]hile a court may entertain a motion to dismiss on statute of limitations
grounds… it may not allocate the burden of invoking the discovery rule in a way
that is inconsistent with the rule that a plaintiff is not required to plead, in a
complaint, facts sufficient to overcome an affirmative defense. This distinction
comes to the fore here, where the applicability of the discovery rule is not evident
on the face of the complaint but the plaintiff also does not plead facts that
unequivocally show that the discovery rule does not apply.
Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F. 3d 241, 251 (3d Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff, however, argues that the statutory period should be tolled. She points to the
principle that the running of the statute is delayed “until the plaintiff knew, or through the
exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, of the injury and its cause.” Beauty Time,
Inc. v. VU Skin Systems, Inc., 118 F. 3d 140, 144 (3d Cir. 1997). "The discovery rule is a
judicially created device which tolls the running of the applicable statute of limitations until the
point where the complaining party knows or reasonably should know that he has been injured
and that his injury has been caused by another party's conduct." Skolas, 770 F.3d at 251.
Viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff does not permit a
definitive finding that Plaintiff knew or should have known the pertinent facts, through the
exercise of reasonable diligence or otherwise, at any point prior to her retirement. As a result,
Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is unjustified at this juncture. In the interests of economy and efficiency,
the benefits of which inure to both the parties and the Court, the issue of timeliness should be
resolved as a threshold matter.
Therefore, the Court will Order a period of limited discovery,
directed towards that issue, followed by an opportunity for supplemental briefing.
In conclusion, Defendants’ Motion, to the extent that it asserts a statute of limitations
defense, shall be held in abeyance pending a thirty-day period of discovery limited to the
timeliness of Plaintiff’s suit. An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 6th day of January, 2017, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED,
and DECREED that the parties may engage in a period of discovery limited to addressing the
timeliness of Plaintiff’s claim. Discovery shall be complete by February 6, 2017. Defendants
may file a supplemental brief addressing the statute of limitations by February 13, 2017; Plaintiff
may respond thereto by February 21, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
LISA PUPO LENIHAN
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Counsel of Record
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