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ADLER v. PATAKI

May 10, 2002

ALAN M. ADLER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
GEORGE PATAKI, THOMAS F. DOHERTY, JAMES NATOLI, MICHAEL FINNEGAN, DENNIS C. VACCO, WILLIAM M. FLYNN, DONALD P. BERENS, THOMAS A. MAUL, JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Chief United States District Judge.

    MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the cross-motion for summary judgment of Defendants Pataki, Doherty, Natoli, Finnegan and Maul (collectively the "Executive Department Defendants") and the cross-motion for summary judgment of Defendants Vacco and Flynn (collectively the "Law Department Defendants"). The Court heard oral argument in support of, and in opposition to, these motions on March 20, 2002, and reserved decision at that time. The following constitutes the Court's determination of the pending motions.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed his complaint in December 1996, asserting eight separate causes of action: (1) a claim for First Amendment retaliation, pursuant to § 1983, alleging that Defendants terminated his employment based upon his political affiliation; (2) a claim for First Amendment retaliation, pursuant to § 1983, alleging that Defendants terminated his employment because of his wife's lawsuit against the State; (3) a § 1983 conspiracy claim for First Amendment retaliation; (4) a § 1985 conspiracy claim; (5) a state claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (6) a state claim based upon a violation of Article 1, §§ 8-9 of the New York State Constitution; (7) a claim brought pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, alleging that Defendants' actions were arbitrary and capricious; and (8) a claim alleging a violation of New York Mental Hygiene Law § 13.19.

Plaintiff's claims arise from his termination from his position of Deputy Counsel for Litigation for the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities ("OMRDD"). He was one of three Associate Counsels serving directly under the General Counsel of OMRDD. The position of Deputy Counsel is classified as exempt by the State from civil service protection, granting the appointing authority broad discretion in the appointment and removal process. In addition, the State has classified Plaintiff's position as "policy making" in accordance with New York Public Officers Law.

Plaintiff held his position as Deputy Counsel since his appointment in 1981. It is undisputed that Plaintiff's work performance during all relevant times was satisfactory or better. In December 1995, Plaintiff's wife, Susan H.R. Adler, commenced a lawsuit against then-State Attorney General Dennis Vacco as a result of her termination as a State Assistant Attorney General. Ms. Adler's litigation was pending during the time period relevant to this lawsuit.

On December 6, 1996, Plaintiff's supervisor, General Counsel Paul Kietzman, informed Plaintiff that he was being terminated. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants terminated him because he did not share the same political philosophy as Governor Pataki and because his wife had commenced a lawsuit against the State Attorney General.

Early in this litigation, Plaintiff moved for a preliminary inunction seeking reinstatement to his position as Deputy Counsel. In an oral decision, issued on January 23, 1997, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion, finding that he had not demonstrated that he was likely to succeed on the merits.

Thereafter, Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate a material issue of fact as to any of his federal claims or, in the alternative, that Defendants, in their individual capacities, were entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants further moved for dismissal of Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution or pursuant to this Court's discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims.

The Court granted Defendants' motion, finding that Plaintiff's position was exempt from First Amendment protection for dismissal based upon political affiliation alone. See Adler v. Pataki, No. 96-CV-1950, 1998 WL 326748, *3 (N.D.N.Y. June 19, 1998). The Court also found that "even if the Defendant's termination of the Plaintiff was based on his political affiliation and his wife's exercise of her First Amendment right to bring a suit against the State, the Plaintiff has still failed to state a claim for First Amendment retaliation." Id. (footnote omitted). The Court also noted that even if the only reason for Plaintiff's termination was his wife's lawsuit, "the individual Defendants would still be entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities based on the holding of McEvoy." Id. n. 6. Therefore, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's federal claims. In addition, because it had dismissed all of Plaintiff's federal claims, the Court declined to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims. See id.

The Second Circuit affirmed the Court's determination that Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities even if the sole reason for Plaintiff's termination was his wife's lawsuit. See id. at 48. Finally, the Second Circuit noted that "[q]ualified immunity shields the defendants only from claims for monetary damages and does not bar actions for declaratory or injunctive relief. . . . On remand, if [Plaintiff] ultimately succeeds on the merits of his state and federal claims, the District Court may fashion equitable remedies, including reinstatement, based on its assessment of the equities as they are developed at trial." Id. at 48. The court went on to note, however, that "the claim for declaratory relief may well be rendered moot if the District Court grants Adler's reinstatement claim or other injunctive relief." Id. (citation omitted).*fn1

With this background in mind, the Court will address each of the issues raised in the parties' motions in turn.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliatory discharge claim

1. Eleventh Amendment concerns — official capacity claims

Generally, "the Eleventh Amendment bars suits of any sort against a state in federal court unless the state has consented to be sued or Congress has expressly abrogated the state's immunity." Kostok v. Thomas, 105 F.3d 65, 68 (2d Cir. 1997) (footnote omitted). "Claims for damages brought against state employees in their official capacities are likewise construed as claims against the state and fall to the same Eleventh Amendment bar." Schallop v. N.Y. State Dep't of Law, 20 F. Supp.2d 384, 390-91 (N.D.N.Y. 1998) (citation omitted).*fn2

On the other hand, official capacity claims that seek prospective injunctive relief, such as reinstatement, are governed by a different standard. See Schallop, 20 F. Supp.2d at 391. Claims that seek such relief are not considered claims against the State. See id. (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 102, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)) (footnote omitted). Thus, these claims are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See id. (citations omitted). This exception, however, "only applies in circumstances where the state official has the authority to perform the required act" — such as the reinstatement of the plaintiff. See id.

Under this exception, Plaintiff's claims against the Law Department Defendants in their official capacity for injunctive and declaratory relief must fail. First, neither Defendant Vacco nor Defendant Flynn are in a position to reinstate Plaintiff to his former position if the Court were to order such relief. Accordingly, the Court grants the Law Department Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief against them in their official capacity.

With respect to the declaratory relief that Plaintiff seeks — a declaration that Plaintiff was highly qualified and competent to perform his job duties, that he was wrongfully terminated and that Defendants' conduct was illegal — the Court finds that this claim must fail because such a declaration would serve no prospective purpose and, thus, it is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Accordingly, the Court grants the Law Department Defendants' and the Executive Department Defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claim for declaratory relief against them in their official capacity.

2. Case and controversy concerns — individual capacity claims

It is well-established that "`the jurisdiction of federal courts is limited to cases and controversies.'" Fund for Animals v. Babbitt, 89 F.3d 128, 132 (2d Cir. 1996) (quotation and citation omitted). "A case or controversy becomes moot . . . when it becomes impossible for the courts to redress the injury through the exercise of their remedial powers." Id. at 133 (citation omitted). Moreover, declaratory relief is a discretionary remedy, and courts will deny this relief when the declaration sought would not serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling legal relationships to terminate or afford relief ...


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