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Matthews v. New Jersey Institute of Technology

March 23, 2010

MICHAEL C. MATTHEWS, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Michael Matthews, Jr. brings this employment discrimination / retaliation suit against his employer, the City of Atlantic City and its various employees, as well as the New Jersey Institute of Technology ("NJIT") and its Director, Ernest Muro. NJIT and Muro presently move to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

The Complaint alleges the following facts relevant to the present motion. For "many years" the City of Atlantic City employed Plaintiff Matthews as a Senior Systems Data Processor within the City's Management Information Systems ("MIS") Department. (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 1) In June, 2005, Matthews applied for a promotion to Director of Data Processing. He was not hired for the position. Instead, the City of Atlantic City hired Defendants NJIT and Ernest Muro.*fn1 Matthews alleges that the City hired NJIT and Muro "due to certain political connections." (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 2)

Matthews initially remained in his position as Senior Systems Data Processor while NJIT, through Muro, "assumed control" of the MIS Department. (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 6) According to Matthews, NJIT and Muro began to "ignore[] longstanding bidding procedures and for unknown reasons and without any logical explanation, made financial decisions which ultimately cost the City of Atlantic City taxpayers thousands of dollars." (Id.) Matthews alleges that he was "caught in the middle of this and attempted to correct it and stated that it was not the right thing to do, which caused Mr. Muro on behalf of NJIT to develop considerable hostility toward [Matthews]." (Id.) Specifically, Matthews alleges that Muro "consistently attacked [Matthews'] capabilities in managing MIS" when speaking with other people, and "advised City of Atlantic City decision makers [sic] that [Matthews] had sabotaged the [computer] network." (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 3)

In January or February, 2006, Matthews was demoted to Data Processing Programmer, with an 11% reduction in salary. (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 5) Matthews alleges that after his demotion, someone broke into the shop in which he worked and "reviewed what was in [his] computer." (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 3)

Matthews alleges that NJIT and Muro engaged in "conduct that was intentionally designed to remove [him] from his supervisory position within MIS [and] intentionally interfered with [his] prospective economic advantage and employment." (Compl. Count 1, ¶ 9) He further contends that "NJIT and Mr. Muro . . . entered into a concerted effort to ruin [Matthews'] reputation, breaking into [Matthews'] computer, [] beginning a series of threats to silence [Matthews]." (Id.)

Matthews seems to assert the following claims against NJIT and Muro: (1) intentional interference with economic advantage and prospective employment; (2) "breach of [Matthews'] civil rights pursuant to the New Jersey Civil Rights Statute," N.J.S.A. 10:6-2; (3) violation of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et. seq.; and (4) defamation.*fn2 As previously noted, NJIT and Muro move to dismiss all four claims.*fn3

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

III.

The Court begins with the common law tort claims of prospective interference with economic advantage and defamation before turning to the statutory claims.

A.

The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. ("TCA"), applies to the claims against NJIT and Muro, because NJIT is a public entity and Muro is a public employee. Bonitsis v. New Jersey Inst. of Tech. , 363 N.J. Super. 505, 522 (App. Div. 2003), rev'd on other grounds , 180 N.J. 450 (2004).*fn4 NJIT and Muro assert that the common law tort claims must be ...


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