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RUBIN v. CORNING-PAINTED POST

January 14, 2002

JEFFREY RUBIN, PH.D., PLAINTIFF,
V.
CORNING-PAINTED POST, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, Chief Judge United States District Court.

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Jeffrey Rubin ("Rubin"), requests a preliminary injunction against defendants, including his employer, defendant, Corning-Painted Post Area School District ("the School District"). The School District filed disciplinary charges against Rubin, a long-time employee of the School District, on August 24, 2001.*fn1 Rubin claims that these charges were brought against him in bad faith and in retaliation for his public speeches and comments against a school construction plan, apparently espoused by the School District and its administrators. Specifically, Rubin requests that this Court enjoin defendants from continuing to prosecute the disciplinary charges against him. In addition, Rubin seeks in his complaint damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights. Defendants oppose the request for injunctive relief and assert that the plaintiff has failed to meet the standards for such extraordinary relief.

The parties have submitted affidavits and memoranda of law and the Court heard oral argument on December 19, 2001.

The ultimate facts are very much in dispute, although the parties' respective claims are not.

Plaintiff asserts that the disciplinary action taken against him was a pretext and in retaliation for his speaking out against a controversial plan to construct new facilities in the School District.

Apparently, plaintiff did speak out at several public gatherings in opposition to the favored plan, Option Two. Defendants claim that his speech had nothing to do with their disciplinary proceedings.

The disciplinary matters involve charges of insubordination and refusal to comply with lawful and proper directives of Rubin's supervisor, Ellen Robinson. Defendants contend that this is a routine disciplinary proceeding involving a public school employee and this Court should abstain from considering the claims, especially since there are ongoing administrative proceedings relative to the disciplinary charges, occasioned by Rubin's request for a hearing pursuant to statute, New York Education Law, § 3020-a. Plaintiff concedes the general principles of the so-called Younger abstention doctrine but believes the facts of this case come within an exception to that general rule that permits federal court involvement.

Injunctive Relief

"A party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate `(1) irreparable harm should the injunction not be granted, and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party seeking injunctive relief.'" N.A.A.C.P., Inc. v. Town of East Haven, 70 F.3d 219, 223 (2nd Cir. 1995) (quoting Resolution Trust Corp. v. Elman, 949 F.2d 624, 626 (2d Cir. 1991)); PSC, Inc. v. Reiss, 111 F. Supp.2d 252, 254 (W.D.N.Y. 2000). The "`serious questions' prong is also frequently termed the `fair ground for litigation' standard." N.A.A.C.P., Inc. v. Town East Haven, 70 F.3d at 223.

In some situations, a higher standard applies. "The moving party must make a `clear' or `substantial' showing of a likelihood of success where (1) the injunction sought `will alter, rather than maintain, the status quo' — i.e., is properly characterized as a `mandatory' rather than `prohibitory' injunction; or (2) the injunction sought `will provide the movant with substantially all the relief sought, and that relief cannot be undone even if the defendant prevails at a trial on the merits.'" Jolly v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 468, 473 (2d Cir. 1996) (quoting Tom Doherty Assocs., Inc. v. Saban Entertainment, Inc., 60 F.3d 27, 33-34 (2d Cir. 1995)), overruled on other grounds by City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157 (1997). This standard applies here.

Concerning irreparable harm, I am not convinced that plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm which warrants injunctive relief. First of all, it is not disputed that although plaintiff has been suspended from his employment duties, he is receiving full pay and benefits. He is suffering no financial loss whatsoever. Furthermore, there appears to be no legitimate issue that plaintiff's present speech rights are now being curtailed. Since plaintiff is not actively engaged in employment with the School District, it would seem that all of his comments and remarks, if any, are outside the work place. Furthermore, the speech that plaintiff claims resulted in the allegedly retaliatory charges occurred many months ago about a proposal and plan that has long since been approved by the local electorate in a referendum. Plaintiff has requested damages as part of the federal lawsuit, and in light of plaintiff's employment status and his continued receipt of his full salary, I do not believe that plaintiff has established the requisite irreparable harm to warrant injunctive relief.

Abstention

Defendants also contend that the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). In this circuit, in order to invoke Younger abstention, the following three questions must be affirmatively resolved: "1) whether there is an ongoing state proceeding; 2) whether an important state interest is involved; and 3) whether the federal plaintiff has an adequate opportunity for judicial review of his constitutional claims during or after the proceeding." Christ the King Regional High School v. Culvert, 815 F.2d 219, 224 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 830 (1987). See also CECOS Int'l, Inc. v. Jorling, 895 F.2d 66, 70 (2d Cir. 1990).

Younger abstention "derives from the recognition `that a pending state proceeding, in all but unusual cases, would provide the federal plaintiff with the necessary vehicle for vindicating his constitutional rights . . .'" Temple of the Lost Sheep, Inc. v. Abrams, 930 F.2d 178, 183 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 866, 112 S.Ct. 193 (1991) (quoting ...


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