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LATINO OFFICERS ASSOCIATION v. CITY OF NEW YORK

March 31, 2003

LATINO OFFICERS ASSOCIATION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis A. Kaplan, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendants in this class action move for summary judgment dismissing the wrongful termination claims of plaintiffs Charles Castro, Fernando Sanchez, and Reuben Malave (the "Article 78 Plaintiffs") for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and on the basis of preclusion principles.*fn1

Facts

The Article 78 Plaintiffs are three of twenty-two class representatives in this action, which alleges discrimination by the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") on the basis of race, color, and national origin. Plaintiffs generally make three broad allegations: (1) the NYPD maintains and permits a work environment that is hostile to Latino and African-American officers; (2) the NYPD's application of its disciplinary rules and processes embodies a pattern or practice of disparate treatment of Latino and African-American officers; and (3) Latino and African-American officers have been retaliated against for complaining about what they perceived to be a hostile work environment and race-based disparities in discipline.*fn2 They seek declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the NYPD to, inter alia, abolish discrimination, appoint an independent monitor, remove the disciplinary charge process from the NYPD to an external body, and reinstate class members who were terminated in violation of the law.*fn3 Plaintiffs seek also back pay, benefits, and seniority, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.

Each of the three Article 78 Plaintiffs, an NYPD officer, was terminated by the NYPD and previously brought an Article 78 proceeding challenging his termination. The substance of each officer's claim is described below.

A. Charles Castro

1. Article 78 Proceeding

The Police Commissioner dismissed Castro on December 30, 1998 on the recommendation of an Assistant Deputy Trial Commissioner, who found that he had made false statements at an official interview relating to a harassment complaint by a civilian who subsequently was murdered by her former boyfriend, a police officer.*fn4

Plaintiff Castro brought an Article 78 proceeding in April 1999 to challenge his dismissal.*fn5 His petition alleged that: (1) the decisions of the Police Commissioner and Assistant Deputy Police Commissioner were not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the report of the Assistant Deputy Police Commissioner, as adopted by the Police Commissioner, was not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the penalty of dismissal was an abuse of discretion; (4) the divestiture of Castro's pension was arbitrary and capricious; and (5) the divestiture of the pension deprived Castro of due process of law.*fn6

Castro claimed also that his dismissal from the NYPD may have been related to, or in retaliation for, his membership and active participation in the Latino Officers Association ("LOA"), a fraternal organization whose members are current and former Latino and African-American NYPD officers and civilian employees, and that his dismissal reflected disparate treatment in the application of NYPD disciplinary rules and procedures. Castro's petition asserted that he is a "vocal and active member of the Latino Officers Association" and that he had brought "numerous charges of Discrimination and unfair treatment against supervisory personnel of the [P]olice Department."*fn7 Furthermore, Castro alleged in his supporting affidavit that "[t]here have been numerous instances where white officers have been similarly charged by the Police Department, however they were not terminated, and are currently receiving all the benefits afforded to them."*fn8 He then listed the names of ten white officers who allegedly fit this description.*fn9 Plaintiff cross-referenced this allegation in his verified petition.*fn10

The Appellate Division, First Department,*fn11 denied Castro's Article 78 petition, finding that the Commissioner's dismissal of Castro was supported by substantial evidence and that the penalty of dismissal did not "shock our sense of fairness."*fn12 The court did not explicitly address Castro's other claims.

2. Current Allegations

Castro asserts the causes of action previously described.*fn13 He claims that he was threatened and retaliated against for engaging in protected activities, including filing complaints with the NYPD and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").*fn14 He alleges further that his termination was the result of disparate treatment in the application of disciplinary rules and processes to Latino and African-American officers. He asserts that "non-Latino officers who have made clearly false and misleading statements during [official] interrogations have been allowed to retire with full pensions, or received lesser penalties than termination, while memory lapses comparable to [his] have not resulted in discipline."*fn15

Castro seeks the same relief sought by the class, including declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy the alleged discrimination wrought by the NYPD on Latino and African-American officers, reinstatement with back pay and seniority, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.*fn16

B. Reuben Malave

1. Article 78 Proceeding

Malave was arrested in March 1997 for soliciting sex from two undercover female police officers posing as prostitutes,*fn17 an allegation that later resulted in his being brought up on departmental charges. An Assistant Deputy Trial Commissioner found him guilty and of being unfit for duty due to intoxication.*fn18 The Police Commissioner terminated him on October 16, 1998.*fn19

Malave brought an Article 78 petition on February 8, 1999 to challenge his dismissal.*fn20 The petition contended that the Assistant Deputy Commissioner's findings and recommendations were not supported by substantial evidence, were against the weight of the evidence, and were arbitrary and capricious.*fn21 Malave contended also that the Police Commissioner's acceptance of the hearing officer's findings and recommendation was, "given the alleged misconduct, the petitioner's past work performance and respondent's regular practice, arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, contrary to law and public policy and shocking to the conscience."*fn22

The Appellate Division, First Department,*fn23 unanimously denied Malave's petition, finding that his dismissal was supported by substantial evidence.*fn24 It stated also that the penalty of dismissal was not "so disproportionate to petitioner's offenses as to shock our sense of fairness."*fn25

2. Current Allegations

Malave asserts the same claims and seeks the same relief as all other plaintiffs.*fn26 In particular, he alleges that "many similarly situated white officers have engaged in far more egregious conduct without being terminated, and have in fact remained on the force and received ...


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