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Edge v. Board of School Trustees of The Salem Community School Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

July 1, 2019

JESSICA H. EDGE, Plaintiff,


          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Board of School Trustees of the Salem Community School Corporation's (the “Board”) Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Filing No. 16), filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Also before the Court is Plaintiff Jessica H. Edge's (“Edge”) Motion for Leave to File Surreply in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Filing No. 26). On September 12, 2018, Edge filed a Complaint (Filing No. 1), alleging employment termination in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, violation of 14th Amendment due process rights and a Petition for judicial review of administrative action pursuant to state statute. For the following reasons, the Court Edge's Motion for Leave to file a Surreply and denies the Board's Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As required when reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court accepts as true the factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Edge as the non- moving party. See Emergency Servs. Billing Corp v. Allstate Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 459, 464 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Edge is a resident of Washington County in the State of Indiana (Filing No. 1 at 2). The Board is located in Salem, Washington County, Indiana. Id. Edge had been a certified teacher at Salem Community Schools for sixteen (16) years from 2002 until her teaching contract was cancelled in August 2018. On December 4, 2017, Principal Brent Minton (“Minton”) recommended the cancellation of Edge's teaching contract. Id. at 3. The Complaint does not state why Minton recommended the cancellation of her contract; however, Edge denies all of the allegations against her. On November 14, 2017, the Board placed Edge on paid administrative leave. Id. at 3. On January 12, 2018, the Board withdrew the cancellation proceedings and directed Edge to return to work starting January 16, 2018. Id. at 5. However, before Edge could return to work, the Board required her to sign a “Last Chance Agreement.” Id. Under the terms of the “Last Chance Agreement” Edge was required to (a) participate in sensitivity and bullying training; (b) attend training to “learn the appropriate and professional use of all forms of social media in the school setting;” (c) “meet with the Salem Middle School Principal on a bi-weekly basis…to review the events of the past two weeks, discuss any concerns regarding the Teacher's implementation of the expectations established in this Agreement, and discuss and prepare goals for effective, professional and respectful communications…;” (d) meet with a mentor; (e) refrain from speaking with Board Members; and (f) request permission from her building principal to leave the building. Id.

         The same day of the notification that she would have to sign the “Last Chance Agreement, ” Edge informed the Board that she would not be returning on January 16th and would request FMLA leave to care for her sick daughter. Id. Edge completed the FMLA forms, but the Board asked her to provide additional information and resubmit the FMLA forms on three (3) occasions. She provided the Board with a third certification form on February 21, 2018. Id. The third request from the Board, by letter dated February 14, 2018, did not state whether Edge's FMLA was approved or denied. The Board failed to provide a Designation Notice to Edge stating when her FMLA leave began. Id.

         In May of 2018, the Board sent a letter to Edge stating that it intended to initiate proceedings to cancel her contract. In June of 2018, Edge was notified that the Board was moving to cancel her contract. Following a conference with the Board, it issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision dated August 13, 2018, cancelling Edge's contract. On September 12, 2018, Edge filed the instant Complaint alleging the Board violated the Family and Medical Leave Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when it cancelled her contract. She alleges the decision to cancel her contract was arbitrary and capricious; an abuse of discretion; contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity; and unsupported by substantial evidence.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for a judgment after the parties have filed a complaint and an answer and the pleadings are closed. A motion for judgment under Rule 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp., 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). Therefore, the court must determine whether the complaint states “a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         The court views the facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will grant a Rule 12(c) motion only if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief.” Northern Indiana Gun and Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998). However, the court is “not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff's claim or to assign any weight to unsupported conclusions of law.” Id. As mentioned, 12(c) permits judgments based on pleadings alone. Such pleadings include any instruments attached as exhibits, the complaint, as well as the answer. Id. Where the plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings, the motion should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the non-moving party cannot prove facts sufficient to support its position. Hous. Auth. Risk Retention Grp. v. Chi. Hous. Auth., 378 F.3d 596, 600 (7th Cir. 2004). Judgment may be granted on the pleadings only if all material allegations of fact are admitted or not controverted in the pleadings and only questions of law remain to be decided by the court. Maloy v. Stucky, Lauer & Young, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58084, at *4 (N.D. Ind. Apr.5, 2018).


         As an initial matter, the Court will address Edge's motion for leave file a surreply. (Filing No. 26). Edge contends a surreply is necessary because the Board has introduced new legal arguments in its reply brief. In particular, she argues the Board newly asserted that her claims are not preempted by the new state statute. (Filing No. 23 at 1-3) and newly argued that Indiana Code § 34-13-3.5 does not add an exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement. (Filing No. 23 at 3). The Board opposes any surreply arguing that it did not raise new arguments in its reply brief, but rather merely responded to issues first raised by Edge in her response brief.

         A court's decision to permit the filing of a sur-reply is purely discretionary. Meraz-Camacho v. United States, 417 Fed.Appx. 558, 559 (7th Cir. 2011) (unpublished opinion). Upon review of the parties briefing, the Court determines that the Board did indeed raise a new issue in their reply brief. Accordingly, the motion for leave (Filing No. 26) is granted and the information in the surreply (Filing No. 26-1) will be considered by the Court.

         In her Complaint, Edge asserts claims against the Board for (1) interference with, restraint and/or denial of substantive FMLA statutory rights; (2) retaliation for exercising substantive FMLA statutory rights; (3) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and violation of Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution; and (4) petition for review of the findings entered by the Board following Edge's cancellation of her teaching contract pursuant to Ind. Code § 20-28-7.5. (Filing No. 1 at 9-15.) The Board moves for partial judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Edge failed to comply with the written notice requirements of ...

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