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Taylor v. State, Department of Children and Families

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 25, 2014

LEA H. TAYLOR, JR., Plaintiff
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, STATE OF NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILDREN'S SYSTEM OF CARE, JEFFREY GUENZEL, CLARENCE WHITAKER, BETTY M. NG, and LISA T. HIBNER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

PETER G. SHERIDAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants State of New Jersey, State of New Jersey Department of Children and Families ("DCF"), State of New Jersey Division of Children's System of Care ("CSOC"), Jeffrey J. Guenzel, Clarence Whittaker, Betty M. Ng, and Lisa T. Hibner's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion to Dismiss pro se Plaintiff Lea H. Taylor, Jr.'s ("Plaintiff' or "Taylor") Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and/or for failure to state a claim pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, Motion for a More Definite Statement pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 12(e) (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff, an Administrative Analyst with the DCF, alleges that Defendants subjected him to racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), negligently transferred him to another division within the DCF, conspired to reassign him to another position within the DCF in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, breached the Collective Bargaining Agreement between his union, the Communications Workers of America ("CWA"), and the State of New Jersey, and defamed him in violation of state law. The Court decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Parties

Plaintiff Lea H. Taylor, Jr., an African-American male with a Master's Degree in Public Administration, is a resident of New Brunswick, New Jersey. He previously served as an Administrative Analyst 1, Civil Service Level 29, in the Division of Children's System of Care ("CSOC") (formerly the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services) within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families ("DCF"). Defendant DCF, a Cabinet-level Department of the State of New Jersey, provides various services throughout the State for children and youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Defendant CSOC, a Division of the DCF, is responsible for determining eligibility for childhood developmental disability services provided by the State. Defendant Jeffrey J. Guenzel previously served as Director of the New Jersey Division of Child Behavioral Health Services and, later, as Deputy Commissioner of the DCF. Defendant Clarence Whittaker currently serves as Manager of Community Services at the CSOC. He previously served in the DCF Office of Legal Affairs where he managed the Department's Administrative Hearings Unit. Defendant Betty M. Ng previously served as a Legal Specialist within the DCF. Defendant Lisa T. Hibner serves as a Hearing Officer for the State of New Jersey. The individually named Defendants were all employees of the State of New Jersey at the time of the alleged facts giving rise to this action.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff Lea H. Taylor, Jr. has been employed by the State of New Jersey as an Administrative Analyst since 2003. In 2008, he was hired by Brian Hancock, then-Deputy Director of the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services within the DCF, to serve as a database manager for the Division. (Comp]. at 4). In August 2008, despite his belief that he would serve as lead database manager, Plaintiff was informed by Deputy Director Hancock that he would instead be reporting to Rob Capizzano, a Caucasian male whose educational qualifications and civil service level were allegedly inferior to those of the Plaintiff. Id. ). In late-2010 or early-2011, shortly after he had assumed his position as Director of the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services, Defendant Guenzel allegedly stripped Plaintiff of the privilege of "speak[ing] for his service line[]" and assigned that privilege to a Caucasian woman within the Division. ( Id. at 4-5).

On October 2, 2012, while working as an Administrative Analyst within the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services, Plaintiff was summoned to a meeting with his direct supervisor, Defendant Clarence Whittaker, and then-Deputy Commissioner Guenzel. ( Id. at 5). At that meeting, Guenzel informed Plaintiff that he had been selected to fill a vacant position in the Office of Facilities Management ("OFM") and that he would be transferred to that position effective October 9, 2012. In response, Plaintiff allegedly "asked during the meeting that he be represented by union representation[, ]" however, according to Plaintiff, his request "was roundly dismissed[.]"[1] Id. ). Plaintiff ultimately objected to the transfer based on his belief that the position in the OFM, which involved some clerical work and the purchasing of computer products, was beneath an employee with his educational qualifications and civil service credentials. Id. ).

Following his transfer to the OFM, Plaintiff tiled a grievance which was addressed during an October 12, 2012 meeting chaired by Defendant Lisa T. Hibner. Id. ). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Hibner "erroneously applied the CWA contract for temporary assignment[]" when evaluating Plaintiff's grievance, and thus, she "violated the CWA contract[.]" Id. ). More specifically, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Hibner violated the CWA Agreement by failing to properly consider Plaintiff's level of seniority when evaluating the appropriateness of the transfer. Id. ). Plaintiff subsequently appealed Defendant Hibner's decision and the appeal was denied. Id. ). In November 2012, Plaintiff allegedly filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On August 19, 2013, he allegedly received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.[2]

On October 31, 2013, Plaintiff filed a five-count Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.[3] In Count One, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants subjected him to racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Specifically, Plaintiff contends that his "reassignment [to the OFM] by Defendants Guenzal and Whit[t]aker was based on racism" and that "[d]iscrimination is pervasive in the Division of Children's System of Care." ( Id. at Count One, ¶¶ 36, 48). In Count Two, Plaintiff asserts a claim for negligence against all Defendants based on his transfer to the OFM. According to Plaintiff, 141 of the Defendant[s] had a legal duty of due care towards [him] as an employee of the Division and the State of New Jersey[]" and "Defendants violated [that] duty of care by involuntarily reassigning [him.]" ( Id. at Count Two, ¶¶ 8, 20). In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants conspired to unlawfully reassign him to the OFM in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. ( Id. at Count Three, ¶¶ 1-21). In Count Four, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants breached the State's collective bargaining agreement with the CWA by transferring him to the OFM without having considered his level of seniority or provided sufficient notice. ( Id. at Count Four, ¶¶ 1-42). Finally, in Count Five, Plaintiff asserts a state law defamation claim against all Defendants. Plaintiff now seeks compensatory and punitive damages against all Defendants and reinstatement to his former position in the CSOC. On December 17, 2013, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Standards

1. FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

Pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the Court must dismiss a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to establish that the Court has jurisdiction over the claim. The plaintiff, as the party asserting jurisdiction, "bears the burden of showing that the case is properly before the court at all stages of the litigation." Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal district courts have jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, law, or treaties of the United States."[4] "Federal question jurisdiction arises where federal law creates the cause of action, or where the complaint, on its face, poses a federal question." Schneller ex rel. Schneller v. Crozer Chester Med. Cir., 387 Fed.App'x 289, 292 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Club Comanche, Inc. v. Gov't of V.I., 278 F.3d 250, 259 (3d Cir. 2002)).

2. FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint if the plaintiff "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts are required to "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 v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal citation and quotations omitted). In other words, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "The inquiry is not whether [a] plaintiff[] will ultimately prevail in a trial on the merits, but whether [he or she] should be afforded an opportunity to offer evidence in support of [his or her] claims." In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002). The Supreme Court has clarified, however, that "the tenet that a ...


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