various state procedural violations and also purported to allege federal and state Constitutional violations. Defendants' removed the action to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). Plaintiff later amended his petition to include a request for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
The Town of Fenton, population 9,000, presently employs two Town Justices, Justice Benjamin and Justice Martin. Up until January 1, 1995 both Justices were paid the same salary, which most recently reached $ 11,906 annually. From as early as 1992, the Town Board raised concerns about the cost of their local government and, as part of these concerns, discussed lowering their Town Justices' salaries. The Justices were able to fend off salary cuts in 1993 and 1994 and actually received a 4.5% pay raise and a pay freeze in those years respectively.
One reason that the Justices' salaries were not reduced in 1994 was that an attorney for the Justices informed the Town Board of a recent legal precedent that held that "a reduction in salary of a Town Justice during the Justice's elective term constitutes an impermissible encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary." Catanise v. Town of Fayette, 148 A.D.2d 210, 543 N.Y.S.2d 825 (A.D. 1989). At that time both Justices were mid-term -- Justice Benjamin's term would conclude at the end of 1994 and Justice Martin's at the end of 1996.
As the end of 1994 approached, the Justices' salaries were discussed again, with particular regard to Justice Benjamin's position, which was about to start a new term. Justice Benjamin won re-election to his post on November 8, 1994. The next day a public hearing was held regarding the Town's preliminary budget for 1995. At that meeting, the proposed budget listed the salary for Justice Benjamin's position as $ 11,906. No discussions were held concerning that salary. One week later another public meeting was held, ostensibly for the purpose of discussing a zoning issue. At that meeting, on November 16, 1994, the Board voted to reduce Justice Benjamin's salary from $ 11,906 to $ 6,500,
and ultimately adopted the lower salary as part of the final budget. In the final budget, the other Town Justice's salary was frozen at the previous year's rate of $ 11,906, the Town Councilmen's salary was frozen at $ 6,500 and the Town Supervisor's salary was frozen at $ 14,085.
Justice Benjamin claims that the salary disparity between himself and Justice Martin violates his rights to equal protection and due process of laws, he also claims that the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious, exceeded their authority and was done in error of law and lawful procedure.
Defendants claim that the salary disparity is rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of fiscal responsibility and was procedurally proper.
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
Summary judgment is appropriate only when the moving party shows that no genuine issue of material fact exists as a matter of law. See, e.g., Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). An unresolved factual issue is one that a reasonable fact-finder could decide in favor of either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
II. FEDERAL JURISDICTION
The Court notes at the outset that although the plaintiff has not specifically alleged a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, the amended petition added a request for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and also alleged that jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1343, the statute that provides federal courts with original jurisdiction over actions based on civil rights statutes. Accordingly, despite plaintiff's unartful pleading, the Court will treat the petition as alleging a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of federal equal protection and due process rights, and alleging state law claims for violation of state equal protection and due process rights and for Article 78 review. See, e.g., Conrad v. County of Onondaga Examining Council of Plumbers, 758 F. Supp. 824 (N.D.N.Y. 1991). Therefore, removal was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), and this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.
III. EQUAL PROTECTION
Plaintiff alleges that defendants' decision to reduce plaintiff's salary and not to reduce Justice Martin's salary violates his right to equal protection of the law.
Equal protection analysis requires differing levels of scrutiny depending on the claim alleged. Where the alleged classification is not based on a suspect class or does not impair a fundamental right, the classification and the actions are reviewed on a "rational basis" standard, i.e., whether the legislative judgements are rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. See Image Carrier Corp. v. Beame, 567 F.2d 1197, 1203 (2d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 979, 60 L. Ed. 2d 239, 99 S. Ct. 1785 (1979). Here, the classification implicates only economic interests and, accordingly, the Court will employ the "rational basis" standard.
"The rational basis standard has two prongs: (1) the challenged action must have a legitimate purpose and (2) it must have been reasonable for the lawmakers to believe that use of the classification would promote that purpose." New York City Managerial Employees Assoc v. Dinkins, 807 F. Supp. 958, 965 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (citations omitted).
A. Legitimate Purpose
"In addressing the first prong of the rational basis test -- whether the governmental purpose is legitimate -- the governmental action will be upheld if the court can 'conceive' of a legitimate governmental purpose." Dinkins, 807 F. Supp. at 965 (quoting United States R.R. Retirement Board v. Fritz, 449 U.S. 166, 179, 66 L. Ed. 2d 368, 101 S. Ct. 453 (1980)). In this regard, "the articulated governmental purpose is presumed to be true unless the facts clearly establish otherwise." Id. Here, defendants contend that their purpose in reducing plaintiff's salary was to save money. Defendants have submitted affidavits and documentary evidence that they were concerned with economizing their governmental operations and with reducing salary levels. Defendants had commissioned studies on streamlining their local government, and, although plaintiff's was one of the only salaries reduced in the 1995 budget, the Councilmen's and the Supervisor's salaries were frozen at their 1994 levels.
Plaintiff does not dispute that budgetary savings is a valid purpose, rather he contends that savings is not really defendants' purpose. Plaintiff contends that defendants' true purpose was political pay-backs, specifically that the Town Supervisor was retaliating against plaintiff because the Supervisor's son had earlier pleaded guilty to charges before Justice Martin, and because Justice Benjamin's associate had supported the Supervisor's opponent in the recent election. Plaintiff also contends that his prior salary was commensurate with other, similar jurisdictions. "It is a fundamental principle of equal protection analysis, however, that this court must accept defendants' stated objectives as true absent a factual showing by plaintiff that such objectives could not have been the real objectives." Id. at 966. Plaintiff has not made the requisite factual showing here and has only put forth conjecture and speculation. Therefore the Court finds that defendants' stated purpose -- to save money -- was its true purpose.
Because "there can be no question that generating budget savings ... is a legitimate governmental purpose," the Court finds that defendants' purpose here was legitimate. Id.
B. Rational Relationship Between the Classification and Defendants' Actions