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NAUTA v. CITY OF POUGHKEEPSIE

June 10, 1985

BERT NAUTA and SANDRA NAUTA, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF POUGHKEEPSIE, NEW YORK; THOMAS APOSPOROS, AS MAYOR, DANIEL FITZPATRICK, FORMER CITY MANAGER, ALBERT SIGNORE, FORMER SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC WORKS, CITY ALDERMAN AL WEIL, ARTHUR WEINBERG, PAT LETTERII, FORMER CITY ALDERMAN, ROBERT BEEBLE, JOSEPH RUNZA, JOHN GREENE, ALL DEFENDANTS INDIVIDUALLY, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER

LASKER, D. J.

This civil rights action arises out of events surrounding the adoption of the City of Poughkeepsie's 1981 budget. In addition to numerous federal civil rights claims Bert Nauta, plaintiff, asserts a plethora of state causes of action against the City and past and present Poughkeepsie officials in their individual capacities. The defendants move pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6) and 56 to dismiss the complaint and for summary judgment. *fn1"

 Poughkeepsie's legislative body ("the council") consists of the mayor and eight aldermen, all of whom are elected officials. By a majority vote the council appoints a city manager as its chief executive officer. The city manager is responsible for presenting to the council a preliminary annual budget to aid the council's formulation of the final budget.

 Beginning with the passage in 1978 of a local law limiting the City's taxing authority to 1 1/2% of the five year average of the full value of the real estate within its borders, the City entered a period of considerable budget cutting caused by various fiscal restraints. As was true of the preceding budget years the 1981 proposed budget called for the elimination of city personnel, *fn2" including the position of "Senior Engineering Aide," a civil service position, which Nauta had held since 1976. When the 1981 budget was adopted on December 16, 1980 fourteen previously funded positions were eliminated, Nauta's among them.

 I. Protected Property Interests

 A) Nauta's first and third causes of action *fn3" assert that he had a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment as a permanent civil service employee and that he was deprived of his position as Senior Engineering Aide without due process. Defendants answer that the claim is without merit because the elimination of Nauta's position did not violate any of Nauta's contractual or civil service rights.

 Whether Nauta had a legitimate entitlement to which due protection attached depends upon state law, Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972), here, New York's Civil Service Law. N.Y. CIV. SERV. LAW §§ 75 et seq. (McKinney 1983). Under Section 80 a public employer has "[the] undisputed management prerogative . . . to abolish positions in the competitive class civil service in the interest of economy . . ." Saur v. Director of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, 41 N.Y.2d 1023, 1024, 363 N.E.2d 1374, 1375, 395 N.Y.S.2d 629, 630 (1977); accord Switzer v. Sanitary District No. 7, 59 A.D.2d 889, 890 399 N.Y.S. 2d 43, 44 (2d Dept.), appeal dismissed, 43 N.Y.2d 845 (1977); see also Abbott v. City of Poughkeepsie, 98 Misc. 2d 601, 414 N.Y.S.2d at 461 (1979). Moreover, "if the promotion of efficiency or economy in government is the basis for the termination of a position, then such action is deemed to be taken in good faith . . ." Connolly v. Carey, 80 A.D.2d 936, 937, 437 N.Y.S.2d 768, 769 (3rd Dept. 1981). Faced with the allegation of legitimate budgetary motivation, plaintiff has the burden of showing that there was not a bona fide financial reason to abolish his position, or that a financial saving was not accomplished by the elimination of the position, or that another person was hired in his place, or some other indicia of bad faith. Turner v. Berle, 61 A.D.2d 712, 714-15, 404 N.Y.S.2d 50, 52 (3rd Dept. 1978).

 The defendants assert that Nauta's position was eliminated for legitimate budgetary reasons, a contention which Nauta disputes. Although it is not normally possible to decide the issue of a defendant's good or bad faith on a motion (see, e.g., Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Roller, 368 U.S. 464, 1962, 7 L. Ed. 2d 458, 82 S. Ct. 486 ), summary judgment for the defendants is appropriate here because the evidence of budgetary motive is so compelling that no reasonable interpretation of the evidence supports the existence of a " genuine issue as to a material fact." Cf. Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Corporation, 613 F.2d 438, 445 (2d Cir. 1980) ("The mere possibility that a factual dispute may exist, without more is not sufficient to overcome a convincing presentation by the moving party.")

 The undisputed evidence in this case establishes that in 1978 the City enacted a local law lowering the permissible tax revenue from 2% of the five year average real property assessment to 1 1/2%. *fn4" As a result of this fiscal consideration, in 1979 twenty eight positions were eliminated. *fn5" As of 1980 the City budget funded 419 city employees. In 1981, the relevant year in this case, 14 more positions were eliminated, of which eleven slots were filled at the time of the deletion, including Nauta's position of Senior Engineering Aide. The City's 1982 budget eliminated 43 additional jobs followed by the deletion of 13 positions in 1983. As of February 1, 1984 the budget called for the funding of 348 positions, making a total reduction of 71 positions between 1980 and 1984. Of the 71 positions eliminated, only one, that of "Tree Foreman" has been re-created. *fn6"

 In early December of 1980 Daniel Fitzpatrick, the then City Manager was directed by members of the Finance Committee of the City Council to propose to them approximately $300,000 in personnel cuts for the 1981 budget. *fn7" Shortly thereafter, Fitzpatrick advised Alfred Signore, then Superintendent ofthe Department of Public Works (a department made up in part by the Department of Engineering) of the impending personnel reductions and instructed Signore to provide Fitzpatrick with a list of positions for elimination. *fn8" After meeting with John DeZuane, the City Engineer, Signore provided Fitzpatrick with the requested list, which recommended that the Senior Engineering Aide position, among others, could be eliminated. *fn9" Fitzpatrick conveyed this information to the Common Council on December 12, 1980. *fn10" The budget which deleted the position was enacted December 16, 1980. *fn11"

 In addition to Nauta's position, in 1980 the Department of Engineering consisted of the City Engineer and an Assistant Engineer, both professional engineering positions, and a draftsman. *fn12" The defendants assert that the position of Senior Engineering Aide was selected for elimination because it was concluded that the position could be eliminated with the least detriment to the department. *fn13" Nauta does not dispute that he did not have a professional engineering degree nor that he was unqualified to be a draftsman. *fn14"

 The 1980 budget called for salaries totaling $79,766 within the Department of Engineering. As of 1984 the City budget funded salaries within the department of $74,196. The position of Senior Engineering Aide has not been re-created since it was cut in 1981. *fn15"

 To rebut this evidence, which establishes a prima facie case of legitimate budgetary concerns, Nauta asserts that three months after his position was cut the City Manager attempted to re-create the same job under a new title for the purpose of hiring one Eugene Taylor. This allegation is without evidentiary support. Documentary evidence establishes that Eugene Taylor was hired to fill a temporary position for which funding was provided in the 1981 budget. The five-month position was in the Department of Street Maintenance, and was not, a Nauta claims, an engineering position. *fn16" These facts give rise to an inference of bad faith.

 Nauta also argues that bad faith is indicated because the City attempted to fill his position by using individuals working "out of title" in violation of the Civil Service ...


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