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Scrutchins v. Division of Youth and Family Services

December 28, 2005

LOUISE SCRUTCHINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, RUTH STAGG, ROBERT SABREEN, JOHN DOES (1-10), JANE DOES (1-10), ABC CORP. (1-10), INDIVIDUALLY, JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenaway, Jr., U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on a motion by Defendants Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"), Ruth Stagg ("Stagg"), and Robert Sabreen ("Sabreen") (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss Counts Two and Three of Plaintiff's Complaint in their entirety, and Counts One and Four in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); and on Plaintiff's motion to amend the Complaint, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a).*fn1

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts Two and Three of the Complaint in their entirety, will be granted with prejudice, and Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts One and Four of the Complaint in part, will be granted with prejudice. Plaintiff's motion to amend the Complaint will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Louise Scrutchins ("Plaintiff") is, an African American female, employed by DYFS as a Family Services Specialist since 1988. (Plaintiff's Complaint filed December 14, 2004, attached as Exhibit A to the Declaration of Elizabeth A. Pascal ("Pascal Decl., Ex. A"), at Count One ¶¶ 4, 7.) Plaintiff has a Master's Degree in Social Work. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 4.)

In or about 1993, Plaintiff filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against DYFS in which she complained of several racially discriminatory practices. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 10.)*fn2 From November 1997 to May 2004, Plaintiff applied for and was denied, twenty-four different positions within the DYFS.*fn3 (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 8 (a-x.)) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Stagg and Sabreen were involved in the decision making process for the positions she applied for. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 8.) In or about June 2002, Plaintiff made a complaint of racial discrimination against DYFS (Plaintiff does not indicate to whom this complaint was made). (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 11.) According to Plaintiff, since she made her discrimination complaints, Defendants have denied her applications for promotions, denied her the opportunity to leave work at 5:00 p.m. to care for her gravely ill mother, subjected her to disciplinary actions, used a term she found racially offensive, and removed property from her desk. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶¶ 11, 13-14.)*fn4

On December 14, 2004, Plaintiff commenced this civil action against Defendants DYFS, Stagg,*fn5 and Sabreen*fn6 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶¶ 1-3.) Plaintiff asserts the following claims: race and gender discrimination, and retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), for failure to promote Plaintiff (Count One); breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count Two); State common law tort claims of fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation (Count Three); and violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3) (Count Four). (See Pascal Decl., Ex. A.)

On February 15, 2005, Defendants timely removed this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(b) because Plaintiff's suit involves a federal question; specifically, one of Plaintiff's claims arises under both 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. (Defs.' Notice of Removal dated February 15, 2005 ("Defs.' Removal"), at ¶ 4.) Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on May 13, 2005. On May 17, 2005, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend the Complaint.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will prevail ultimately. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). As established by this Circuit, "[t]he pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'" Kost v. Kozakewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting 5A CHARLES A. WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 1357).

While a Court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Upon Rule 12(b)(6) motions, federal courts may consider the allegations of the complaint, as well as documents attached to or specifically referenced in the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). Finally, Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes federal courts to dismiss a claim based on a "dispositive issue of law." Mruz v. Caring, Inc., 991 F. Supp. 701, 707 (D.N.J. 1998) (citing Nietzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989)).

DISCUSSION

In Count Two of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants breached the terms of her employment contract, as well as its implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, by failing to promote her into the various positions listed in Count One of the Complaint.*fn7 (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count One ¶ 8 (a-x), Count Two.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the contractual breach arises from Defendants' failure to promote Plaintiff on the basis of her "ability and merit," as contained in the provisions of the employment contract. (Pascal Decl., Ex. A, Count Two ¶¶ 2-3.)

Defendants argue that Count Two should be dismissed with prejudice because it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for two reasons: 1) Plaintiff does not have an individual employment contract with Defendants because she is a member of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1037; and 2) even if Plaintiff could show that a contract existed between the parties, her claim fails as a matter of law because she did not provide Defendants with a notice of claim, as required by ...


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