Local Defendants include (1) Paul Maroun, a Franklin County Legislator who also assists the local State Senator with respect to the issue of changes at Sunmount and is a member of the Town of Altamount's Task Force on the changes at Sunmount ("Task Force"); (2) Dean Lefebvre, Supervisor of the Town of Altamont and Co-Chairman of the Task Force; and (3) Daniel McClelland, Co-Chairman of the Task Force, a member of Sunmount's "Communications Work Group," and owner and operator of a local newspaper, the Tupper Lake Free Press. The Task Force, made up of local residents, businessmen, and government officials, ostensibly was developed to lessen the impact any changes at Sunmount might have on the local economy.
With respect to Local Defendants, plaintiffs allege that defendant McClelland "violated [their] Right To Petition by telling the owner and another employee of one local business that [plaintiffs'] petition was not approved by the Task Force and it was therefore an 'illegal petition', which resulted in the petition being withdrawn from public access." (Pls' Comp. at P 40.) Plaintiffs also claim that defendants Maroun and Lefebvre violated their rights by allegedly deceiving him with "fraudulent information . . . about Sunmount's closure." (Id. at P 45.) Finally, plaintiffs argue that defendants McClelland and Lefebvre have engaged in character assassination and further violation of plaintiffs' rights by failing to support the Action Group and speaking against the group and Mr. Greene's petitions.
Plaintiffs have raised eleven causes of action against individual defendants or combinations thereof, including claims of "endangerment of health and welfare," negligence, "suppression of investigation," "willful interference with family relations," intentional infliction of mental distress, misrepresentation, "deceit as fraud and silence as fraud," violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights, "character assassination," and statutory vagueness. Plaintiffs base jurisdiction for their claims on 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(1), 1367(a), 2201, and 2202, and "the Plaintiffs' intrinsic human rights," (Pls' Comp. at PP 3-11). Among the relief requested by plaintiffs is trial by jury, $ 1.4 million in compensatory damages, a court order directing defendants to return programs and services to plaintiff Patricia Donnelly and other children in the Tupper Lake public school system, and a declaratory judgment that the practices of defendants violated the constitutional and statutory rights of plaintiffs.
Each group of defendants now moves to have the Complaint dismissed as to them for failure to state a cause of action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Moreover, defendant Day and Local Defendants also move to have the Complaint dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Finally, defendant Day moves for dismissal based on improper service of process, Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(5), and Local Defendants move for dismissal because plaintiffs lack standing to sue. Each group of defendants also argues that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state law claims once the federal claims are dismissed.
When a party moves for dismissal both because a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a cause of action, the court typically should address the jurisdictional question first. In other words, the determination of whether the merits of a complaint are sufficiently substantial is a threshold question that must be addressed by a court before it can exercise jurisdiction and proceed to the legal determination under Rule 12(b)(6) of whether the complaint states a claim. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682-83, 90 L. Ed. 939, 66 S. Ct. 773 (1946). It may be impossible in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, however, to determine the jurisdictional issue without essentially determining whether a plaintiff has stated a cause of action. As the Court will explain below, jurisdiction to adjudicate a Section 1983 action arises when a plaintiff demonstrates a violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law. The Court consequently will be unable to avoid an application of the law pertinent to Rule 12(b)(6).
On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the facts alleged by a plaintiff are assumed to be true and must be liberally construed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Easton v. Sundram, 947 F.2d 1011, 1014 (2d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 911, 118 L. Ed. 2d 548, 112 S. Ct. 1943 (1992). In sum, a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears, beyond doubt, that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief. Dahlberg v. Becker, 748 F.2d 85, 88 (2d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1084, 85 L. Ed. 2d 144, 105 S. Ct. 1845 (1985). To determine whether plaintiffs here have stated a cause of action against defendants, the Court initially must determine the nature of the allegations required by the authority under which plaintiffs are suing.
A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 serves as the basic vehicle for federal court review of alleged state and local violations of federal law. The statute creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges rights created by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Section 1983, despite plaintiffs' arguments to the contrary, "does not create federal court jurisdiction. Rather, it creates a cause of action, a legal entitlement to relief, against those who violate federal law while acting pursuant to state government authority." Polite v. Casella, 901 F. Supp. 90, 93 (N.D.N.Y. 1995). Federal court jurisdiction to hear Section 1983 suits does exist, however, under the general federal question jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
For a claim to survive under Section 1983, plaintiffs must satisfy two prerequisites. First, they must show "that they have been deprived of a right 'secured by the Constitution and the laws' of the United States." Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155, 56 L. Ed. 2d 185, 98 S. Ct. 1729 (1978) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. 398 U.S. 144, 150, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970)). Second, they must show that the defendants "deprived them of this right acting 'under color of any statute' of the State of New York." Id. In other words, the conduct causing deprivation of the federal right must be "fairly attributable to the state." Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937, 73 L. Ed. 2d 482, 102 S. Ct. 2744 (1982). This requirement is satisfied by a showing that the party charged with the deprivation is a person who may fairly be said to be a state official or because his conduct is otherwise chargeable to the state. See Scott v. Dixon, 720 F.2d 1542, 1545 (11th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 832, 83 L. Ed. 2d 64, 105 S. Ct. 122 (1984). Even a private party, when acting pursuant to state law or in conjunction with state officials, may in certain circumstances incur liability under Section 1983. Id.
1. Defendant Day
Plaintiffs have expended considerable energy arguing that defendant Day was acting under color of state law, with some success. But after reviewing the Complaint, the Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently allege that defendant Day has deprived them of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The Court agrees with defendant that the relevant claim that plaintiffs are attempting to assert is a claim for a breach of the duty of fair representation. Again, plaintiffs' criticisms of defendant Day are in her capacity as "Leader" of PEF 242, and the specific allegations against defendant arise out of incidents in which she failed, in plaintiffs' view, to adequately contest the decision to close Sunmount. The Seventh Cause of Action in the Complaint alleges that defendant Day "omitted the concern that downsizing towards closure of [Sunmount] would constitute a failure to comply with the Mental Hygiene Law." (Pls' Comp. at P 106.)
Ordinarily, an action brought by an employee against a union for breach of the duty of fair representation "arises under" Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), and thus falls within original federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Cf. City of Saginaw v. Service Employees Int'l Union, Local 446-M, 720 F.2d 459, 461-462 (6th Cir. 1983) (action brought by union against employer). Any such suit "is purely a creature of federal law, notwithstanding the fact that state law would provide a cause of action in the absence of [Section] 301." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 23, 77 L. Ed. 2d 420, 103 S. Ct. 2841 (1983).
In this case, however, plaintiffs' suit cannot "arise under" Section 301 because the employer, a state government unit, is exempted specifically from the definition of "employer" for purposes of Section 301. See 29 U.S.C. § 152(2).
Where a state governmental employer is involved, federal jurisdiction over such a suit does not exist. Ayres v. International Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 666 F.2d 441, 443-44 (9th Cir. 1982). Thus plaintiffs alleged federal claims against defendant Day must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
2. State Defendants
In regard to State Defendants, the Court has assumed the facts alleged by plaintiffs to be true and construed them liberally in a light most favorable to plaintiffs. The Court can glean only two possible federal causes of action against State Defendants from the unartfully pleaded document. The first potential claim appears to be one for a violation of due process in connection with the alleged endangerment by State Defendants of Mrs. Greene and her unborn child at the swimming pool. The second potential claim is slightly more comprehensible, and relates to plaintiffs' allegations that State Defendants violated their First Amendment rights by stifling their protest of the Sunmount closure. The record reveals, however, that plaintiffs can prove no set of facts that would entitle them to relief under either potential claim.
Any claim predicated on a violation of due process must involve the invasion and deprivation of a recognized life, liberty, or property interest. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195-96, 103 L. Ed. 2d 249, 109 S. Ct. 998 (1989). Furthermore, State Defendants are correct that a due process claim must allege more than mere negligence on the part of a defendant. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31, 88 L. Ed. 2d 662, 106 S. Ct. 662 (1986). Despite these requirements the Complaint contains three causes of action that appear to allege only negligent violations of plaintiffs' rights. Even more dispositive is the fact that, although plaintiffs also allege intentional endangerment by defendants, the evidence indicates that plaintiffs were in fact never actually endangered -- Mrs. Greene was excused from supervising the allegedly assaultive class. The Court consequently is at a loss in determining exactly what type of life, liberty, or property interest may have been impinged here.
Turning to the potential First Amendment violations by State Defendants, the Court once again finds itself nonplussed by the Complaint. The Eighth Cause of Action in the Complaint, the only cause that refers to the First Amendment, reads in its entirety as follows:
INTERFERENCE WITH FIRST AMENDMENT FREEDOM OF SPEECH RIGHTS, THE ATTEMPT TO BLOCK PLAINTIFF'S ABILITY TO TAKE DISPUTED ISSUES TO THE NYS LEGISLATURE