United States District Court Judge Dismisses Jay Paterno’s Lawsuit Against Penn State

Posted in Litigation

On Friday, February 25, 2016, United States District Court Judge Stengel issued a written opinion dismissing former Pennsylvania State University coaches Joseph “Jay” Paterno’s and William Kennedy’s lawsuit against their former employer, Penn State.

In Paterno, et. al v. The Pennsylvania State University, No. 14-4365, former Penn State assistant coaches Paterno and William commenced litigation in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that their former employer:

  • Violated their civil rights for the deprivation of their liberty and property interest without due process of law pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983;
  • Intentionally interfered with prospective contractual relations;
  • Committed civil conspiracy associated with the deprivation of their federal civil rights;
  • Violated Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 P.S. 260, et.; and,
  • Breached the contracts between them.

Penn State filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss Paterno’s and Kennedy’s suit based upon the legal arguments that the plaintiffs failed to set forth a cause of action to which relief may be granted. The Court agreed.

First, the Court found that Paterno and Kennedy were terminated prior to the release of the Freeh report and Penn State’s acceptance of the Consent Decree with the NCAA. That fact was of importance to the Court in reaching its decision to dismiss Paterno’s and Kennedy’s federal causes of action against Penn State. The Court recognized that when a head college football coach is terminated, the assistant coaches will often lose their jobs. Since the Plaintiffs’ employment was terminated in conjunction with the hiring of Coach Bill O’Brien, the terminations were not actionable. Moreover, the Court found that Coaches Paterno and Kennedy were “at will” employees. Hence, they had no “property interest” in continued employment with Pennsylvania State University.

The Court dismissed the former coaches “civil conspiracy” claim because it found the underlying federal civil rights claims were (as discussed in the preceding paragraph) not viable as a matter of law.

Because jurisdiction in the federal court was based upon the dismissed federal causes of action, the Court held that it need not address the other claims. That was because the other claims (breach of contract, wage and hour violations & intentional interference with prospective contractual relations) are based upon state law. Hence, once the Court dismissed the federal causes of action, it no longer had jurisdiction to entertain the remaining state claims.

Although the decision is certainly a set-back for JoePa’s son, both he and Coach Kennedy could assert the state law causes of action in a lawsuit filed in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.