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FALINSKI v. KUNTZ

January 29, 1999

JOANNE FALINSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RAYMOND G. KUNTZ, INDIVIDUALLY, VIRGINIA REDERER, INDIVIDUALLY, RICHARD D. LEVINSON, INDIVIDUALLY, RUSSELL MARKMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, GAIL HORGAN, INDIVIDUALLY, PETER WALKER, INDIVIDUALLY, EDWARD J. FLYNN, INDIVIDUALLY, ROBERT LAIBOWITZ, INDIVIDUALLY, AND HENDRICK HUDSON CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMAHON, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
MEMORANDUM DECISION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
  JUDGMENT AND ORDER DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS*fn1

Plaintiff Joanne Falinski brought this action in June 1997, asserting six claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985 against individual Defendants Raymond G. Kuntz, Virginia Rederer, Richard D. Levinson, Russell Markman, Gail Horgan, Peter Walker, Edward J. Flynn, Robert Laibowitz, and against the Hendrick Hudson Central School District for alleged violations of her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims on a variety of grounds, including that they are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, that the individual defendants are shielded by qualified immunity, and for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, all claims are dismissed with prejudice.

I. Factual Background

Ms. Falinski was employed in 1983 as principal of Furnace Woods School, an elementary school within the defendant Hendrick Hudson Central School District (the "District"). (Complaint ¶ 3; Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1). While employed as principal, Ms. Falinski introduced a then-popular but now highly controversial method of teaching known as "Whole Language" philosophy into the Furnace Woods School. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 3 & 4). As opposition to the use of Whole Language mounted nationwide,*fn2 a group of parents with children attending the Furnace Woods School became vocal opponents of the Whole Language teaching philosophy and lobbied the District Board of Education (the "Board") for changes to the curriculum. (Compl. ¶ 16). In the summer of 1993, a group of parents calling themselves "Concerned Parents" sent an unsigned letter to the District voicing opposition to the Whole Language program and calling for Ms. Falinski's removal by the Board. (Compl. ¶ 22).

To that same end, Kuntz allegedly drummed up complaints from dissatisfied parents and District personnel. (Compl. ¶ 26). Interestingly, these complaints (which Defendants deny soliciting) did not relate to Whole Language, but rather came from the parents of children who needed, or who were believed to need, special educational services directed to learning disabilities. (See Affidavit of Virginia C. Rederer ¶¶ 5, 7, 9, 10, 13; see also Exhs. 1-4, attached to Rederer Aff.). The complainants alleged that their children were inappropriately denied special services to which they were entitled under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ("I.D.E.A."), which denial (if unfounded) could well have led to lawsuits by the parents against the District. (See Rederer Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7, 9, 10, 13; see also I.D.E.A., 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.).

After investigating the parents' complaints, the District brought disciplinary charges against Ms. Falinski in September 1993 pursuant to New York Education Law § 3020-a. (Compl. ¶ 30; Defs.' Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9, 10, 12, 13). Once the charges against Ms. Falinski became public, other complaints surfaced concerning special needs children, and the District subsequently filed additional charges. (Rederer Aff. ¶ 18). Hearings required by § 3020-a (the "Disciplinary Proceedings") began in May 1994 and continued for over three years; they had not concluded at the time Ms. Falinski commenced this action.*fn3 Throughout the pendency of the Disciplinary Proceedings, Ms. Falinski has been suspended from her job and placed on desk duty with significant restrictions on her access to the public. (Compl. ¶¶ 31 & 32).

After charges were filed, but before the Disciplinary Proceedings commenced, Ms. Falinski and her counsel, believing her to be the subject of unfounded rumors concerning the types of charges she faced, made it known that they were going to publicize the nature of the allegations. (Compl. ¶¶ 34 & 35). According to Defendants, Ms. Falinski's counsel and some of her supporters threatened to go further and bring pressure to bear on the complaining parents by publishing their children's names, in violation of federal and state law. (Rederer Aff. ¶¶ 20-22). Accordingly, Defendant Virginia Rederer authorized, and Kuntz commenced, a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to enjoin publication of the charges as long as they contained the names of the children or any information from which informed readers could deduce their identities. (Rederer Aff. ¶¶ 24 & 25). On November 23, 1993, Judge Peter Rosato of the New York State Supreme Court, Westchester County, issued a preliminary injunction barring Ms. Falinski from disclosing copies of the charges containing the names of the children, and otherwise denying the requested relief. (Rederer Aff., Exh. 14).

II. Ms. Falinski's Claims

Three of Ms. Falinski's claims (first, third, and fourth) concern the institution and delay of the Disciplinary Proceedings themselves. Two more claims (fifth and sixth) concern the aforementioned Lottery System. Ms. Falinski's remaining claim (second) concerns the state injunction proceeding commenced by the District to bar Plaintiff from disclosing the names of, and information about, children mentioned in the charges.*fn4

A. The Disciplinary Proceedings

For Ms. Falinski's first claim, she alleges that Defendants violated her First Amendment rights by bringing disciplinary charges against her in retaliation for her exercise of free speech, namely, for her vocal advocacy of the Whole Language curriculum. (Compl. ¶¶ 41, 44, 45). Ms. Falinski asserts in her third claim, without specificity, that the Defendants purposefully delayed the commencement of the Disciplinary Proceedings until May 1994 and have intentionally prolonged the hearings' duration to bankrupt her, destroy her reputation, and coerce her to resign — again, in retaliation for her First Amendment activities. (Compl. ¶¶ 41, 48, 49). Finally, for her fourth claim, Ms. Falinski contends that the Defendants' unreasonable delay in prosecuting the Disciplinary Proceedings violated her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Compl. ¶¶ 50 & 51).

B. The Lottery System

Ms. Falinski's fifth and sixth claims concern the Lottery System used to distribute seats to the general public during the first three sessions of the Disciplinary Proceedings in the Summer of 1994. Plaintiff's fifth claim alleges that the Lottery System excluded her supporters from the public hearings, in violation of her right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Compl. ¶¶ 52 & 53). Similarly, Ms. Falinski's sixth claim asserts that this practice violated her First Amendment right to exercise her free speech. (Compl. ¶¶ 54 & 55).

C. The State Injunctive Action

For her second and remaining claim, Ms. Falinski alleges that the Defendants pursued the state injunctive action against her in retaliation for her attempts to disclose the nature of the charges she faced and that, in doing so, the Defendants ...


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