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PRATT v. BERNSTEIN

December 22, 1981

Helen PRATT, Plaintiff
v.
Blanche BERNSTEIN, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WARD

This action alleges violations of the United States Constitution and of New York tort law. Plaintiff, appearing pro se, after having originally been represented by counsel, is Helen Pratt, a citizen of the State of New York. Defendants are the City of New York, the Human Resources Administration of the City of New York ("HRA"), and six individual employees of HRA. Each of the six individual defendants is sued both individually and in his or her official capacity. The jurisdiction of the Court to hear this action is founded on 28 U.S.C., Section 1343 and principles of pendent jurisdiction.

The complaint seeks an order granting plaintiff certain declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. The Court, having heard the testimony adduced during the two days of trial, having examined the exhibits received in evidence, having reviewed its contemporaneous trial notes, which include the Court's appraisal of the witnesses and their demeanor, and having evaluated the pertinent legal principles, finds, upon the totality of the testimony and the documentary evidence, that plaintiff is not entitled to any of the relief sought in her complaint and that judgment must be entered in favor of defendants. This oral decision constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, in accordance with Rule 52, Fed.R.Civ.P.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff was employed by HRA as a clerk from January 17, 1967, until June 2, 1978. On April 1, 1977, plaintiff was working in the central files section on the third floor of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center, located in Manhattan. On that day, defendants Paul Hutchinson and Norman Hicks, then employed by HRA as Special Patrolmen, were assigned to the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center. As Special Patrolmen, the duties of Hicks and Hutchinson were generally to maintain order and to act as security guards in their areas of responsibility. On April 1, 1977, the central files section was within the area of responsibility of Hicks and Hutchinson.

 The other individual defendants occupied the following job positions with HRA on April 1, 1977: (1) Blanche Bernstein was Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services and Administrator of HRA; (2) Robert T. Heegan was HRA's "Principal Special Investigator"; (3) Wilburn Holland was the Director of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center; and (4) Delores Page was the office manager of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center.

 At about 4 p.m. on April 1, 1977, plaintiff, while working in the central files section, became involved in a dispute with Maria Ortiz, one of her co-workers. This dispute concerned a desk blotter that plaintiff had placed on her desk. The noise created by the dispute could be heard throughout the central files section.

 At the time of the dispute, defendant Hutchinson was at his post on the third floor of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center and heard loud noises coming from the vicinity of plaintiff's desk in the central files section. His job duties included maintaining order and security in the central files section. Accordingly, Hutchinson investigated the noise. When he approached plaintiff's desk, plaintiff said to him, "Get the hell away from here." Hutchinson asked plaintiff what the problem was. Plaintiff did not directly respond. Instead, she began addressing Hutchinson in an abusive, loud manner. Hutchinson tried to calm plaintiff. However, plaintiff grew more and more agitated, and continued shouting at Hutchinson in a voice that could be heard throughout the central files section.

 After about ten or fifteen minutes of endeavoring to calm plaintiff, Hutchinson, who still had been unable to ascertain why plaintiff was so upset, but who had smelled liquor on plaintiff's breath, asked plaintiff to accompany him to the patrolmen's room on the third floor of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center. Plaintiff refused, became even more upset, and then struck Hutchinson. Hutchinson then placed plaintiff under arrest. Special Patrolmen such as Hutchinson are authorized to arrest persons who commit crimes in their presence.

 At approximately the time when defendant Hutchinson placed plaintiff under arrest, defendant Hicks arrived on the scene. He assisted Hutchinson in taking plaintiff to the patrolmen's room subsequent to her arrest. In order to overcome plaintiff's resistance, Hutchinson and Hicks were forced to pick her up and to carry her from her desk to the patrolmen's room.

 Plaintiff was held in the patrolmen's room for a while, then transferred to another patrolmen's room located on the first floor of the East Harlem Income Maintenance Center, and thereafter taken to the 25th Police Precinct in a New York City police car. This occurred at about 5:30 p.m. Plaintiff was handcuffed to facilitate her transfer to the 25th Precinct. When plaintiff told defendant Hicks that the handcuffs were too tight, he loosened them. At the 25th Precinct, plaintiff was given a summons to appear in New York City Criminal Court on a later date, and at about 9 p.m. left the precinct for home.

 Plaintiff was charged with violation of New York Penal Law, Sections 195.05 (obstructing government administration), 205.30 (resisting arrest), 240.20 (disorderly conduct), and 240.25 (harassment). On January 11, 1978, the charges against plaintiff were "adjourned in contemplation of dismissal" pursuant to N.Y.Crim.Proc.Law, Section 170.55. The charges were subsequently dismissed on July 11, 1978.

 Shortly after April 1, 1977, HRA commenced a proceeding, pursuant to N.Y.Civ.Serv.Law, Section 75, to terminate plaintiff from her position at HRA. Hearings were held on three days in 1977. The proceeding was based in large part on the events of April 1, 1977, but also on two other alleged incidents of job misconduct by plaintiff. On January 12, 1978, the hearing officer recommended plaintiff's termination. By a letter dated June 2, 1978, defendant Bernstein endorsed this recommendation and terminated plaintiff's employment by HRA as of that date. This letter informed plaintiff of her right to administrative and judicial review of this decision. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the New York City Civil Service Commission; the appeal was denied on January 26, 1979.

 DISCUSSION

 Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a complaint in this court on July 31, 1979. The complaint sets forth two basic theories of liability. First, relying upon 42 U.S.C., Section 1983, plaintiff contends that defendants' conduct, as alleged in the complaint, deprived plaintiff of rights secured by the United States Constitution. Second, plaintiff argues that defendants injured her ...


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