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Testa v. Salvatore Mancini Resource & Activity Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

July 8, 2019

KAREN TESTA
v.
SALVATORE MANCINI RESOURCE & ACTIVITY CENTER, INC., et al.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LINCOLN D. ALMOND United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before me for a report and recommendation (28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)) is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF Doc. No. 16). Plaintiff opposes the Motion. (ECF Doc. No. 20). Defendants have filed a Reply Brief. (ECF Doc. No. 23). For the following reasons, I recommend that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED in part as to Count VIII and otherwise DENIED.

         Background

          Plaintiff was previously employed as the Executive Director of the Salvatore Mancini Resource & Activity Center, Inc. (“SMRAC”). SMRAC was a Rhode Island nonprofit corporation that operated the Senior Center for the Town of North Providence. Plaintiff sues her former employer SMRAC, its purported successor-in-interest the Town of North Providence and North Providence's Mayor Charles Lombardi, both individually and in his official capacity.

         Plaintiff's Complaint originally contained nine counts alleging various state and federal claims. In her Opposition, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew[1] Count VIII (Procedural Due Process). There are eight remaining claims. Counts VII (First Amendment Retaliation) and IX (Equal Protection) are brought against the Town and Mayor Lombardi pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Counts I - VI assert state law claims against SMRAC, the Town and/or Mayor Lombardi.

         In the instant Motion to Dismiss, the Town and Mayor Lombardi argue, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), that the federal constitutional claims, Counts VII and XI, should be dismissed as they do not present plausible claims for which relief can be granted because there were no constitutional rights violations and no recoverable damages. (ECF Doc. No. 16-1 at p. 3). They also argue, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), that, after dismissal of the federal claims, no federal question or other subject matter jurisdictional foothold remains in this Court, and thus the state law claims should be dismissed without prejudice. (ECF Doc. No. 16-1 at p. 2).

         Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Negron-Gaztambide v. Hernandez-Torres, 35 F.3d 25, 27 (1st Cir. 1994); taking all well-pleaded allegations as true and giving the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences, see Arruda v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 310 F.3d 13, 18 (1st Cir. 2002); Carreiro v. Rhodes Gill & Co., 68 F.3d 1443, 1446 (1st Cir. 1995). If under any theory the allegations are sufficient to state a cause of action in accordance with the law, the motion to dismiss must be denied. Vartanian v. Monsanto Co., 14 F.3d 697, 700 (1st Cir. 1994).

         While a plaintiff need not plead factual allegations in great detail, the allegations must be sufficiently precise to raise a right to relief beyond mere speculation. See Bell Atl. Corp. v.Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (abrogating the “no set of facts” rule of Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 44-45 (1957)). “The complaint must allege ‘a plausible entitlement to relief' in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Thomas v. Rhode Island, 542 F.3d 944, 948 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 559). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (“[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief”). The Court of Appeals has cautioned that the “plausibility” requirement is not akin to a “standard of likely success on the merits, ” but instead, “the standard is plausibility assuming the pleaded facts to be true and read in a plaintiff's favor.” Sepulveda-Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of P.R., 628 F.3d 25, 30 (1st Cir. 2010).

         B. Summary of Factual Allegations and Arguments

         Plaintiff's Complaint is detailed and outlines a course of events unfolding between 2015 and 2017. Her factual allegations must be accepted as true in considering Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. In a nutshell, the Town discontinued its grant funding to SMRAC to operate the Senior Center and decided to fund and operate the Senior Center directly as a Town-run operation. The Town and Mayor Lombardi describe this change simply as a “political decision to stop appropriating money to a not-for-profit corporation” to run the Senior Center. (ECF Doc. No. 16-1 at p. 1). Plaintiff paints a different picture and alleges a pattern of retaliation for exercising her constitutional rights to speech, petition and support a political opponent. Plaintiff claims that the decisions to stop funding SMRAC, single out her unpaid wages for nonpayment, and the refusal to hire her to work at the “new” Town Senior Center were all impermissibly motivated by her constitutionally-protected conduct. (ECF Doc. No. 20-1 at p. 4).

         As to Count IX (Equal Protection), Defendants contend that Plaintiff fails to allege a viable “class of one” equal protection claim in accordance with the teachings of Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agric., 553 U.S. 591 (2008). Plaintiff counters that Engquist is inapposite and that the Town and Mayor Lombardi's willful and bad-faith determination to single out her wage claim for nonpayment under these circumstances states a viable “class of one” equal protection claim.

         As to Count VII (First Amendment Retaliation), Plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against by the Town and Mayor Lombardi for ...


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