Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil No. 85-2069)
BEFORE: ALDISERT, Chief Judge, GARTH, and SLOVITER, Circuit Judges
On April 15, 1985, plaintiff/appellants District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (District Council 47) and two representative plaintiffs filed a class action on behalf of black probation officers against defendant/appellees, judges and administrators of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.*fn1 District Court 47 alleged that the black employees had been victims of a discriminatory promotional examination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. and of their right to due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In Counts I and II, District Council 47 alleged that "on or about November 7 or 8, 1984, promotional examinations were administered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia and McCann Associates" for the positions of Probation Officer Supervisors grades 3, 4 and 5 in the Family and Adult Divisions of the Court of Common Pleas. Complaint, PP 16-17, app. 7. Those examinations allegedly had a disparate impact upon black applicants since the pass rates for blacks were significantly lower than those for whites in the various grades tested.
Further, District Council 47 alleged that average black scores were less than 80% of average white scores, "in violation of the EEOC Four-fifths Rule", and that the examination, prepared by McCann Associates under contract to the Court of Common Pleas, had never been the subject of an impartial professional validity study to determine whether its results correlated with future performance in the particular jobs tested. Accordingly, District Council 47 alleged that the Court's administration of the examination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
In Count III of the complaint, District Council 47 alleged that by specifically incorporating by reference the applicable federal statutes, rules and regulations prohibiting discriminatory examinations, the collective bargaining agreement which was executed between AFSCME and the Court of Common Pleas created "cognizable property and liberty interests secured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution," thus benefiting the plaintiffs. Therefore, the discriminatory promotional examinations administered by the defendants constituted a "deprivation of [those] property and liberty interests without due process of law". Complaint, PP 44-47, app. 13.
In Count IV, District Council 47 alleged that the Court's personnel regulations requiring that all promotions be in conformity with the rules and regulations established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "created cognizable property and liberty interests for its employees in non-discriminatory promotional opportunity." Therefore, plaintiffs asserted that the Court's administration of the allegedly discriminatory test constituted a deprivation of those liberty and property interests without due process of law as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Complaint §§ 49-53, app. 14-15.
On May 3, 1985, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of 1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction, 2) failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and 3) lack of standing of District Council 47 as the representative of the plaintiff class.
On August 15, 1985, the district court dismissed the action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Regarding plaintiffs' Title VII claim (Count I), the court ruled that plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their administrative remedies by filing charges of discrimination with the appropriate state agency or the EEOC required dismissal of their federal cause of action.
The district court dismissed plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims (Counts II, III and IV), on the grounds that
the complaint in this case is wholly lacking in specific facts to support its claim that the named defendants were responsible for the drafting or implementation of the alleged discriminatory examinations.
District Court op. at app. 118. The court further held that to the extent liability of the named defendants was premised upon theories of vicarious liability or respondent superior, the complaint likewise was defective since a complaint under section 1983 "must allege direct, personal involvement by the defendant in the alleged unconstitutional conduct, or active knowledge and acquiescence on the defendant's part to such conduct." Id. In a footnote, the court added that the complaint failed to allege a "causal connection between any policy or procedure implemented by defendants and any constitutional violation allegedly suffered by plaintiffs." Id., n. 3.
District Council 47 now appeals the district court's dismissal of its complaint.*fn2 For the reasons expressed below, we vacate the district court's order and remand for further proceedings.
The sole issue before us on this appeal is the district court's dismissal of District Council 47's section 1983 cause of action based on alleged deprivations of black employees' liberty and property interests without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.*fn3
The defendant Court of Common Pleas officials argue that District Council 47's complaint merely identifies the defendants as officials of the Court of Common Pleas, but does not allege that those defendants were individually responsible for the administration and implementation of the discriminatory promotional examination. The Court defendants argue that the only alleged nexus between the test and the defendants in the complaint is District Council 47's allegation that the tests were "administered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia and McCann Associates." Complaint, P 17, app. 7. There is no specific allegation that the named individual defendants employed McCann Associates to draft the test, or that those individual defendants administered or failed to validate the test. Further, they argue the complaint does not allege that any of the Court defendants knew that the test was unvalidated or discriminatory.
In reviewing a district court's dismissal of a complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), we must take all allegations and reasonable inferences which can be drawn therefrom as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Complaints may properly be dismissed only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim which would entitle them to relief." Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 759 F.2d 271, 273 (3d Cir. 1985).
Generally, we should construe pleadings liberally. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47-8, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). However, it is undisputed that this court has established a higher threshold of factual specificity for civil rights complaints. As this court stated in ...