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ADLER v. PATAKI
May 10, 2002
ALAN M. ADLER, PLAINTIFF,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 ...