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Mary Jane Scalafani v. United States Department of the Army

March 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge:



Presently before the Court is a motion by Defendants United States Department of the Army ("the Army"), John McHugh ("McHugh") and Suzanne Oprisko ("Oprisko") (collectively referred to as "Defendants") to dismiss Plaintiff Mary Jane Scalafani's ("Plaintiff" or "Scalafani") complaint alleging violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") and New Jersey common law. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully retaliated against her for reporting a dangerous mold condition at her workplace, conduct that allegedly resulted in her constructive discharge. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under any of her causes of action. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted, and the Complaint is dismissed.

I. Factual and Procedural History

For the purpose of this motion, the facts alleged in the Complaint are assumed to be true. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008). Prior to her early retirement on April 1, 2008, Plaintiff had been employed by the Army as a Security Manager at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. Compl. ¶ 8. On or about April 2007, Plaintiff began registering complaints with Oprisko, her superior, as well as other superiors, that there was a dangerous mold condition in her workplace. Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff contends that Defendants did not address her initial complaints and, therefore, that she continued to register additional complaints and requests for inspections and testing to determine the severity of the mold condition. Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff further alleges that she suffered physical injuries because of the mold condition. Compl. ¶ 12. Moreover, Plaintiff contends that Defendants promised to relocate her away from the mold condition, but that such a relocation never occurred. Compl. ¶ 11-12. After filing her internal complaints, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants begun to harass her, became excessively hostile, and otherwise treated her in a discriminatory manner. Compl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants began criticizing her work product and objected to her use of sick leave, culminating in an oral admonishment on October 12, 2007, and a Memorandum for Record on October 15, 2007. Compl. ¶ 14-15. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants continued to harass her, causing her to finally resign and accept early retirement. Compl. ¶ 17-18.

Although not adequately identified in the Complaint, Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Defs' Br. at 3-4.*fn1 Plaintiff's first EEOC complaint was filed in May 2008 and was subsequently dismissed in a decision finding no discrimination under Title VII. Def's Br. at 3. Plaintiff filed a second complaint in 2009 which the EEOC dismissed on September 21, 2009, finding that the statute of limitations had expired.

After the dismissal of her second complaint by the EEOC, Plaintiff initiated the instant action on December 16, 2009, alleging employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, NJLAD and common law. Plaintiff also contends that her early retirement amounted to a constructive discharge since she was allegedly forced to retire as a result of Defendants' actions. Defendants then filed the instant motion to dismiss.

II. Standard of Review

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (citation and quotations omitted). In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6) standard. Specifically, the Court "retired" the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. As the Third Circuit has stated, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 555 U.S. at 555).

In affirming that Twombly standards apply to all motions to dismiss, the Supreme Court recently explained the following principles. First, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948-49 (2009). Second, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. Therefore, "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 1949. Ultimately, "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).

Moreover, in deciding a motion to dismiss, a court may consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of plaintiff's claim. Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 222 n. 3 (3d Cir.2004).

As the Third Circuit has explained, "document[s] integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint" may be considered on a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir.1997). Without this rule, "a plaintiff with a legally deficient claim could survive a motion to dismiss simply by failing to attach a dispositive document on which it relies." Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Industries, Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Indeed, the Third Circuit has observed that "the primary problem raised by looking to documents outside the complaint -- lack of notice to the plaintiff -- is dissipated 'where plaintiff has actual notice ... and has relied upon these documents in framing the complaint.'" Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1426 (quoting Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 48 (2d Cir.1991)).

III. Discussion

A. Title ...

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