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ANGRISANI v. CITY OF NEW YORK

July 18, 1986

EDWARD ANGRISANI, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PLATT

INTRODUCTION

PLATT, D. J.

 The plaintiff brings this action to redress the alleged deprivation of certain rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed to him by the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and statutorily secured by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as by the laws of the State of New York.

 Jurisdiction is conferred upon this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and § 1331 as well as under the judicially articulated doctrine of pendent jurisdiction. See United Mineworkers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S. Ct. 1130, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1966). Venue in the Eastern District of New York is proper because the claim arose within its borders. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) (1982).

 A. Factual Background

 This action arises out of events which transpired two years ago at a group home for wayward boys operated by the Catholic Guardian Society ("CGS") at 311 Clawson Street in Staten Island, New York ("the Clawson Street Home"). The plaintiff, Edward Angrisani ("Angrisani"), was a group home supervisor there from 1977 until June 1984. The Clawson Street Home was not only his place of employment, but was his residence and that of his wife and child.

 Defendant CGS is a not-for-profit organization which operates a number of such group homes as a voluntary agency under contract with the City of New York. CGS receives City, State and Federal funding and is subject to the rules, regulations, recommendations and supervision of New York State's Department of Social Services which operates in New York City through the Human Resources Administration, Department of Social Services, Special Services for Children ("City DSS"). See Complt. at P9. At all relevant times defendant James P. O'Neil ("O'Neil") was the Chief Executive Officer of CGS and defendants Victor Bozzuffi ("Bozzuffi"), Dominic Cervino ("Cervino"), and Leonard Jackson ("Jackson") were employees.

 On May 17, 1984 Bruce Garrett ("Garrett"), a juvenile resident of the Clawson Street Home with an alleged history of behavioral problems, *fn1" accused the plaintiff of striking him about the face and causing a bloody nose and superficial facial injuries. The youth's complaint was sent to the Confidential Investigation Unit ("CIU") of the City's Department of Social Services.

 According to the plaintiff, Garrett made this and other false and defamatory accusations in retaliation for being referred out of the agency "because CGS had been able to do little for or with him," and upon the instigation of Cervino, a director of the Clawson Street Home. Cervino's culpable participation was purportedly attributable to his personal animosity towards Angrisani generated by Angrisani's criticism of his work. Complt. at P29.

 The allegedly false report filed against the plaintiff triggered the operation of New York State Social Services Law § 422 ("§ 422"), which is designed to safeguard children from maltreatment and abuse. Any report of abuse or neglect committed by any person supervising children in facilities under City supervision are immediately relayed to the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register ("the State Register") for action under § 422. Upon receipt the State Register forwards reports involving acts in the City of New York to the CIU for investigation.

 Section 422 of Title 6 of the Social Services Law provides for the recordation in the State Register of all "indicated" reports, so designated when an investigation produces some credible evidence of child abuse. Recordation occurs without a prior evidentiary hearing in order to alert prospective employers and others authorized by Title 6 that a charge has been filed against the subject.

 Section 422 also provides that an indicated report may be expunged forthwith [if further investigation reveals no credible evidence to support the report. N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 422(5) (McKinney's 1983). If a report is not expunged or if the State's Commissioner of Social Services fails to act affirmatively within 30 days of an expungement request, the subject is entitled to an evidentiary administrative hearing. No time limit has been set for such hearings, however, and pending such review the indicated report remains on file.

 A subject is entitled to receive copies of all reports and relevant information on file with the State Register; however, "the commissioner is authorized to prohibit the release of data on file that would identify the person who made the report or who cooperated in a subsequent investigation, which he reasonably finds will be detrimental to the safety or interests of such persons." Id. at § 422(7).

 Plaintiff claims that the City DSS issued a report on or about June 20, 1984 to the effect that the charge was "indicated" and that on or about June 22, 1984, a further unofficial report was issued containing additional allegations against Angrisani including the fact that he practiced or condoned the heating of youths under his supervision and then bribed them not to reveal such practices. Plaintiff claims that this report was based at least partially on false information supplied by Garrett and defendants Cervino, Jackson and/or Bozzuffi and was negligently or carelessly prepared.

 This so-called "unofficial" report purportedly was forwarded to the State Register and CGS, and catalyzed plaintiff's termination by CGS as well as the loss of his family's residence. Plaintiff eventually obtained a copy of this report by subpoenaing it in connection with a State Court litigation.

 As provided in § 422(8) plaintiff promptly requested an administrative hearing, which was not convened until October 17, 1984. After several lengthy adjournments it was finally concluded in January 1985. A decision was not rendered until May 28, 1985. The Commission, based in part upon Garrett's affidavit recanting his accusation, determined that there was no credible evidence to sustain the charge of maltreatment and held that it should be expunged.

 B. The Prior State Court Litigation

 The plaintiff began his quest for judicial redress in State Court by filing an Article 78 proceeding "to require the State to promptly afford and complete administrative relief." Angrisani Aff. at P2. The plaintiff's petition alleged that the State had failed to undertake a thorough review, failed to notify him of the hearing and furnish him with all of the information in the State Register.

 The proceeding was dismissed on the defendants' motion for failure to exhaust State administrative remedies. Plaintiff filed an appeal, but according to him that appeal was subsequently withdrawn "as the administrative proceeding ha[d] been completed and the administrative relief requested in the Article 78 petition ha[d] become moot." Angrisani Aff. P3.

 C. The Federal Court Action

 Plaintiff commenced his case in federal court on June 21, 1985. He has subsequently amended the complaint twice. His latest pleading contains ten claims against the CGS, the City, the State and various individuals connected with those entities. In summary fashion the plaintiff seeks:

 
(1) A declaratory judgment that § 422 of the New York Social Services Law, on its face and as applied, is unconstitutional; and redress for
 
(2) Negligence on the part of individual defendants Usha Golikeri ("Golikeri"), Jared Kessler ("Kessler") and Pauline Phillips ("Phillips") and the CIU;
 
(3) Defamation by defendants Golikeri, Phillips, Cervino and Jackson;
 
(4) Defamation by the City of New York inasmuch as defendants Golikeri, Kessler, Phillips and CIU acted as the City's agents;
 
(5) The State's liability for all the wrongful acts of the defendants on the grounds that the defendants were ...

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