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MAZZA v. HENDRICK HUDSON CENT. SCH. DIST.

October 7, 1996

JOAN ANN MAZZA and ROBERT PORR, Plaintiffs, against THE HENDRICK HUDSON CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, VIRGINIA C. REDERER, individually and as Superintendent, THE HENDRICK HUDSON BOARD OF EDUCATION, GAIL HORGAN, individually and as President, PETER WALKER, individually and as Vice-President, EDWARD J. FLYNN, individually and as Trustee, ROBERT LAIBOWITZ, individually and as Trustee, RICHARD D. LEVINSON, individually and as Trustee, RUSSELL MARKMAN, individually and as Trustee, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

 Plaintiffs, Joan Ann Mazza and Robert Porr ("plaintiffs"), bring claims for violation of First Amendment rights of free speech under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for malicious prosecution, and for defamation. Defendants, Hendrick Hudson School District, ("the District"), Virginia C. Rederer ("Rederer"), the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education ("the Board"), Gail Horgan ("Horgan"), Peter Walker ("Walker"), Edward J. Flynn ("Flynn"), Robert Laibowitz ("Laibowitz"), Richard Levinson ("Levinson"), and Russell Markman ("Markman"), move for summary judgment pursuant to F.R.C.P. 56(c) on the free speech claim, and move to dismiss the malicious prosecution and defamation claims pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 FACTS

 Plaintiffs allege the facts in the complaint as follows: Mazza served as the President of the Parent Teacher Association ("PTA") of the Furnace Woods Elementary School ("FWS") in Cortlandt Manor, New York from 1991 to 1993. In 1993, Porr was a candidate for election as a trustee to the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education.

 In 1993, defendants began taking steps to remove the school's Principal, Dr. Joanne Falinski ("Falinski"). Defendants' reasons for removing Falinski were not made public at that time, although it was later revealed that Falinski allegedly denied certain students their special education entitlements. Many members of the community, including Mazza and Porr were Falinski supporters; they proceeded, on their own volition, to thwart defendants' attempt to remove her.

 In September, 1993, the Board voted 6-1 to suspend Falinski. In October, 1993, Falinski pursued her rights under New York Education Law § 3020-a to have a public hearing on the charges against her. Falinski released to the general public the information that she had been charged with denying certain special education services to several FWS students. Falinski denied engaging in this conduct.

 In late October, defendants commenced an action in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester, against Mazza and Porr. Defendants alleged that Mazza and Porr acted as agents for Falinski by distributing the written charges against her, and by threatening to disclose the identity of the student complainants. Defendants sought a temporary restraining order ("TRO") which would enjoin Mazza and Porr from:

 
distributing the charges filed against Joanne Falinski by the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education under § 3020-a of the Education Law, or any version thereof...(and)
 
from disseminating any information which would identify or reasonably lead to the identity of any student named in the charges filed against Joanne Falinski by the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education under section 3020-a of the Education Law.

 Mazza and Porr allege that the defendants failed to provide the court with any legal authority or memoranda supporting their TRO application.

 On November 23, 1993, Justice Rosato dismissed the complaint against plaintiffs with prejudice, finding that defendants had failed to present any evidence which demonstrated that Mazza and Porr had engaged in the conduct alleged by the District. Defendants appealed to the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department, and sought another preliminary injunction to enjoin not only Falinski, her attorney, and also "all persons acting on their behalf." On April 13, 1994, the Appellate Division denied defendants' application. Defendants moved to reargue on April 19, 1994. On May 9, 1994, the Appellate Division denied that application.

 Mazza and Porr filed this action in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York on January 4, 1995. Defendants move for summary judgment on the § 1983 claim, and for dismissal on the pendant state claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 DISCUSSION

 A. Summary Judgment Standard

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes summary judgment if:

 
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

 The Court's responsibility is to perform "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial--whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." McNeil v. Aguilos, 831 F. Supp. 1079, 1082 (S.D.N.Y. 1993)(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)).

 The responding party "must set forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). A summary judgment motion cannot be defeated through mere speculation or conjecture. Pollis v. New School for Social Research, 829 F. Supp. 584, 589 (S.D.N.Y. 1993)(citing Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990)(other citations omitted). Rather, the responding party must show the existence of a disputed material fact in light of the substantive law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. McNeil, 831 F. Supp. at 1082 (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962)(per curiam)(other citations omitted)). See also Coach ...


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