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MANNA v. GREENBURGH # 11 SCH. DIST.

April 9, 1998

CHARLES MANNA, Plaintiff, against GREENBURGH # 11 SCHOOL DISTRICT, ESTHER RIDDER, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF EDUCATION, GREENBURGH # 11 SCHOOL DISTRICT and SANDRA MALLAH, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONNER

OPINION AND ORDER

 Conner, Senior D.J.:

 This action constitutes one of several legal proceedings arising from a relationship of animosity between plaintiff Charles Manna (and his union) and the defendants. The Amended Complaint alleges acts of prior restraint and retaliation in violation of plaintiff's free speech and associational rights under the federal and state constitutions. Defendants now move to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the ground that this Court should abstain in light of the several related proceedings. *fn1" For the reasons discussed below, this case will be placed on the Court's suspense docket.

 BACKGROUND

 I. Parties and Procedural History

 Plaintiff Charles Manna is a teacher employed by defendant Greenburgh No. 11 School District (the "District"). He was one of the lead organizers and former chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, a group of teachers who purportedly advocate on behalf of children attending the District's schools. He is also a member of the Greenburgh No. 11 Federation of Teachers (the "Union"), a collective bargaining agent representing teachers employed by the District.

 The District was specially created by the State of New York to operate schools for emotionally disturbed children who reside at Children's Village, a private, not-for-profit therapeutic residential care facility in Dobbs Ferry. Defendant Esther Ridder is the president of the District's Board of Education (the "School Board") and vice-president of the Board of Directors of Children's Village. The School Board is selected by the Board of Directors of Children's Village. Defendant Sandra Mallah is the District's Superintendent of Schools.

 The original Complaint in this action was filed in May 1992 by Manna and then-plaintiff Ad Hoc Committee. The Complaint sought injunctive, declaratory, and compensatory relief against the District and Ridder based on a policy adopted by the District that limited the distribution of literature on school premises. On May 31, 1995, shortly after being transferred to this Judge, the action was placed on the suspense docket due to the pendency of a related state court action. That state action is still awaiting trial.

 On December 29, 1997, plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, which withdrew the Ad Hoc Committee as a co-plaintiff and added Mallah as a defendant. The Amended Complaint restated the charges in the original Complaint, and added new charges of unconstitutional retaliation. The retaliation claims stem from the District's preferral of disciplinary charges against plaintiff and other teachers in November 1994 and June 1997, and from the District's decision to reassign plaintiff to non-teaching duties and bar him from District premises and School Board meetings pending resolution of the disciplinary charges.

 II. Injunction Action

 The instant case originally was stayed because of a state court action (the "Injunction Action") that paralleled the allegations in the original Complaint. The Injunction Action was commenced on October 20, 1993 by Children's Village, and amended to include the District as co-plaintiff. Among other things, these plaintiffs sought an injunction prohibiting the Union from distributing written material on Children's Village and District premises and preventing the Union from further involving the schoolchildren in any labor dispute. In response, the Union contended that its activities were protected by the First Amendment.

 On November 22, 1993, the state court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Union members from distributing written materials to anyone on Children's Village grounds or distributing such materials to any Children's Village student anywhere. *fn2" On March 10, 1994, the court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the Union from picketing or distributing written material at a Children's Village dinner. Union members, however, violated the TRO and accordingly were held in criminal and civil contempt. The Appellate Division affirmed the contempt order, and on December 23, 1996 the Union filed a motion for leave to the Court of Appeals. That motion is pending.

 On August 2, 1994, the Union removed the Injunction Action to federal court, but the case was immediately remanded to state court. On December 9, 1994, the state court issued a second preliminary injunction prohibiting the Union from displaying or distributing written material relating to the labor dispute on Children's Village premises. The court also permitted the filing of an amended complaint adding the District as co-plaintiff. In May 1995 the Union moved to dismiss the amended complaint. The motion was denied on September 20, 1995, and the Appellate Division affirmed the denial on October 7, 1996. The Union answered the amended complaint on October 10, 1995, asserting the First Amendment as an affirmative defense.

 Around that time, a discovery dispute arose after the Union claimed a "union privilege" during depositions of its members. The state court granted in part the motion of the District and Children's Village to compel responses. On consent, the action was stayed pending appeal of the discovery issues. On October 7, 1996, the Appellate Division affirmed the state court's order compelling responses to certain questions. The Union moved for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals on December 23, 1996; this motion is pending.

 III. Disciplinary and Related State Proceedings

 In the instant action, the newly added allegations in the Amended Complaint revolve primarily around the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff and other Union members. On November 11, 1994 and June 23, 1997, the District preferred disciplinary charges against plaintiff pursuant to New York State Education Law § 3020-a. In general, when charges are filed against a tenured teacher, the school district or school board must determine whether probable cause exists to bring a disciplinary proceeding. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 3020-a(2)(a). The teacher may be suspended pending resolution of the disciplinary proceeding. See id. § ...


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