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Michael v. City of Buffalo

decided: October 24, 1975.


Appeal from an order granting summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, entered in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, by John T. Curtin, Chief Judge.

Kaufman, Chief Judge, Smith and Gurfein, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

KAUFMAN, Chief Judge:

Since we have today filed our opinion in Annette Heyman v. Commerce and Industry Insurance Company, 524 F.2d 1317 (2d Cir. 1975), in which we fully discussed the principles of law applicable to the granting of summary judgment, we shall not tarry over the question here. As in Heyman, we face a single issue. In this instance it is whether the district judge correctly granted summary judgment for the City of Buffalo, N.Y., when he dismissed Michael Judge's complaint seeking an injunction and damages under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3) to remedy alleged discrimination in hiring based on height. Although summary judgment under Fed. R.Civ.P. 56 can be a valuable tool for disposing of vexatious litigation and promoting prompt disposition of cases, Empire Electronics Co. v. United States, 311 F.2d 175, 179 (2d Cir. 1962); 10 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2711 at 364 (1973), it must be used selectively if we are to avoid trial by affidavit.

To improve police-community relations and overcome a lack of minority group representation on the city's police force, the City of Buffalo, N.Y. entered into an agreement in May, 1971 with the State of New York Office of Crime Control Planning, to establish a Community Peace Officer Program funded by the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (L.E.A.A.). Fifty candidates were to be appointed Community Peace Officers, to attend the Police Academy for training, and to serve in the police department for one year performing clerical and administrative duties during that time. After the expiration of that period, the Peace Officers would be appointed patrolmen, as positions became available, and given preference in hiring over candidates on the regular eligible list. According to the agreement of May, 1971 and Municipal Civil Service Commission Rules, the promotion to patrolman to fill a vacancy was to be automatic after the Peace Officer passed a medical examination.

Michael Judge was appointed a Peace Officer under this program on December 16, 1971. At that time, his height was 5feet9inch - exactly the minimum required for patrolmen under the Civil Service Commission Rules then in force. Unfortunately, while crossing a street during off-duty hours on February 27, 1972 Judge was struck by a car, severely injured, and subjected to a series of operations which required reductions on both of his legs - diminishing his height to 5feet7inch. Although he resumed his duties as Peace Officer after recovering from the accident, his promotion to the position of patrolman never occurred.

On June 21, 1973, Judge instituted this federal action against the City, contending that he was being discriminated against because of his height, in violation, as he alleges, of the Constitution*fn1 and federal guidelines.*fn2 In April, 1974, the City filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which the court treated as a motion for summary judgment. A cross-motion for summary judgment was filed by appellant. Affidavits were submitted by both sides in connection with these motions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e).

In support of his claim of discriminatory treatment, Judge cited a letter written to him on February 6, 1973 by William Cleary, Administrative Director of the Municipal Civil Service Commission, which stated:

At a meeting held on January 31, 1973, the Commission considered your eligibility for appointment to the position of Probationary Patrolman.

The Commission noted that in your final medical for this position, you do not meet the height requirement. The Commission directed that your name be deferred for certification for the position of Patrolman until you are reached for appointment to this position, at which time, if you do not meet the height requirement, your name will not be certified as eligible for appointment to Patrolman and your appointment as a Community Peace Officer must be terminated.

The appellant bolstered his assertion that he was not promoted because of his height by recounting in an affidavit that he had been instructed to "stretch a lot" by the person who conducted his January 24, 1973 physical examination, and that he was recalled on two occasions during which nothing but his height was checked and discussed. The appellant also relied upon a letter dated September 9, 1973 from Stephen T. Joyce, M.D., to Anthony J. Colucci, President of the Civil Service Commission. Dr. Joyce's medical opinion was solicited by the Commission (following a request by the appellant for an independent medical evaluation), and Joyce reported in a July 6, 1973 letter his tentative conclusion that Judge's disability would not interfere with his performance as a Peace Officer. Colucci on July 19, 1973 requested a final report and wrote to Joyce that

The medical examiner should understand that his examination is envisioning a candidate's physical condition for 20 years of police service. . . . It is important to keep in mind in connection with the medical examination that the appraisal is being made, not only as it exists at the time of the examination but is being projected over a career of 20 years or more filled with the difficult and exacting physical demands of police protection.

A copy of the physical standards for patrolmen was enclosed, and Joyce's September 9, 1973 response concluded:

After again looking over your criteria, . . . I do not feel that the injuries this man sustained would interfere with the ...

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