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JESSEN v. CAVANAUGH

June 26, 1998

PREBEN JESSEN, Plaintiff, against JIM CAVANAUGH, individually, THOMAS F. DOHERTY, JR., individually, VICKI C. FORD, individually, GARY C. DELVECCHIO, individually, and the TOWN OF EASTCHESTER, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

 PARKER, District Judge.

 INTRODUCTION

 Plaintiff Preben Jessen commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his Equal Protection, Due Process, *fn1" and First Amendment rights in connection with the termination of his position as Lake Isle Park Superintendent because of his association with a perveived political rival of the current Town Supervisor and Town Board of the Town of Eastchester ("the Town"). During the events giving rise to this action, defendant Cavanaugh was the Town Supervisor, and defendants Doherty, Ford, and Delvecchio were members of the town Board. the defendants have moved for summary judgment and dismissal of Jessen's complaint on the basis, among others, that, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims. the individual defendants have also asserted the defenses of absolute and qualified immunity. for the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 The Town owns and operates Lake Isle Park ("the Park"), a recreational facility. In May, 1984, Preben Jessen was appointed by the Town Board to a two year term as Director of Park Operations, an unclassified civil service position. In 1987, the positions of Director and Deputy Director of Lake Isle Operations were reclassified by the Westchester County Department of Personnel to competitive civil service positions with the titles of Park Superintendent and Deputy Park Superintendent, respectively.

 Jessen obtained the highest score on the Competitive Civil Service examination and was appointed Park Superintendent in December 1987. Jessen's duties included responding to inquiries from both the Town Board and from the general public, participating in drafting and negotiating of contracts and licensing agreements, and supervising employees.

 During Jessen's tenure as Park Superintendent, he developed a relationship with then Democratic Town Supervisor Jim Doody, who had defeated Jim Cavanaugh, a Republican, in a previous election. In addition to monthly staff meetings, Jessen and Doody frequently had lunch together and Doody regularly met with Jessen at the Park. Doody was perceived by Jessen as being Cavanaugh's political opponent, and Jessen asserts that Cavanaugh and the other Republican Town Board members retaliated against Jessen due to his perceived alliance with Doody.

 In late January or early February 1996, Cavanaugh discussed with the Town Comptroller and Personnel Officer the possibility of privatizing the management of the Park in order to save money. Cavanaugh subsequently contacted the Director of Westchester County Department of Personnel to discuss these matters. After receiving a formal legal opinion from the Town Labor Counsel confirming the legality of the privatization and speaking individually with defendants Doherty, Ford, Delvecchio, and another Town Board member, Cavanaugh scheduled an executive session of the Town Board for February 29, 1996 to interview a prospective management firm, Carf Caterers, Inc. ("Carf"), which since 1983 had operated a restaurant and catering facility at the Park.

 On March 1, 1996, Cavanaugh advised Jessen that the Town Board would likely vote at its March 5, 1996 meeting to privatize the management of the Park and abolish the positions of Park Superintendent and Deputy Park Superintendent. Jessen alleged that Cavanaugh told him to clean out his desk and vacate his office by the close of business March 1, even though the Town Board's vote would not occur until March 5.

 On March 5, 1996, the Town Board approved the proposal to privatize the management of the Park and abolish the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent positions. Immediately prior to the vote, the Town Attorney, alleged by Jessen to be a political rival of Doody, advised the Board that the privatization was legal and could be carried out for cost saving reasons.

 On June 26, 1996, Jessen commenced this action. Jessen claims that his First Amendment rights of freedom of association and free speech were violated because his position was eliminated in retaliation against James Doody for Doody's partisan political activities or, stated differently, in retaliation against Jessen for his association with Doody. *fn2" Finally, Jessen contends that the defendants' alleged retaliatory conduct violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection.

 On July 1, 1996, Jessen commenced a special proceeding, pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, to set aside the Board's decision and for reinstatement of his position with back pay and seniority benefits. Jessen claimed, among other things, that the Town had acted in bad faith and without any legitimate economic motivation in abolishing his position, in violation of Article V, § 6 of the New York State Constitution. In the Article 78 proceeding, Jessen presented no claim specifically denominated as a First Amendment claim, although the hearing delved extensively in the factual circumstances surrounding the abolition of his position.

 Following the adjudication of the Article 78 proceeding, the Supreme Court, County of Westchester, (Silverman, J.) issued a decision and judgment dated March 7, 1997, denying Jessen's petition and concluding that the defendants' actions were substantively valid and procedurally proper. The Court specifically found that Jessen had "not ...


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