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CRUZ v. NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY

September 1, 2004.

MAIDA CRUZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, EMANUEL SANDI, ISAAC RILEY, ALVERISTA HALL, and MADELYN OLIVA, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD HOLWELL, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Maida Cruz ("Cruz") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA"), Emanuel Sandi, Isaac Riley, Alverista Hall, and Madelyn Oliva (collectively "defendants"). In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her procedural due process rights by demoting her from one civil service position to another without a hearing. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants' deliberate indifference to her safety and health during her employment effected a violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the entire complaint. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in full. FACTS

The following facts, unless otherwise noted, are either undisputed or interpreted most favorably to plaintiff. NYHCA is a public benefit corporation created by the New York State Public Housing Law for the purpose of providing "safe, decent, affordable housing for low-income residents within the five boroughs" of New York City. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 1 (citing N.Y. Pub. Hous. Law §§ 2, 401 (McKinney 1989))). All of the named defendants hold managerial and/or human resources positions within NYCHA.*fn1

  Cruz began her employment with NYCHA in 1991 as a Caretaker.*fn2 (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 3). New York Civil Service Law classifies this position as a "Labor Class" title. (Oliva Decl. Ex. B ¶ 1). The job description for Caretaker provides that the employee is "[u]nder direct supervision, maintains the grounds, buildings and public spaces of public housing projects in proper condition." (Id.).

  On April 28, 1998, the NYCHA and City Employees Union, Local 237, International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("CEU") entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") effective April 1, 1995 through March 31, 2000, which covered the rights of several employees including Caretaker and Chief Caretaker. (Niederhoffer Decl. Ex. A). A Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") executed between NYCHA and CEU on March 7, 2002, extended the CBA to present. (Id. at Ex. B). On May 28, 2002, Cruz was appointed to the position of Chief Caretaker at Union Consolidated Houses located in the Bronx. (Oliva Decl. ¶ 2). Under New York law, this position is classified as "noncompetitive," as opposed to "labor." As Chief Caretaker, Cruz earned a "level A" salary of $34,857.00 per year. (Id.). The general statement of duties and responsibilities provides that the employee is "[u]nder general supervision, serves as resident caretaker, performing routine janitorial work and maintenance work of varying degrees of difficulty at scattered-site developments" of the NYCHA. (Id. at Ex. E). As resident caretaker, Cruz was entitled to occupy an apartment in the building at a reduced rental rate of $194 a month. (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 3).

  After becoming Chief Caretaker, Cruz alleges that she became subject to harassment and threats of physical violence from Tonya Johnson, one of the residents in the building, in February of 2002. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 3). Although Cruz complained to Sandi, Riley, Hall, and Oliva about Johnson, these defendants simply advised Cruz to file a police complaint pursuant to NYCHA's policy and custom. (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 3). Consequently, Cruz filed Incident Information Slips regarding Johnson's actions on February and 27, 2003, and March 15, 2003. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 3).

  On March 27, 2003, Johnson filed an allegedly false complaint with the police and the NYCHA claiming that on March 14, 2003, Cruz threatened her physically with a baseball bat. (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 4). Shortly thereafter, Cruz was demoted from the Chief Caretaker title on April 1, 2003 and reassigned to the Caretaker title without a prior hearing. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 2). No reason was given for Cruz's demotion or reassignment. (Oliva Decl. Ex. F ¶ 1). Cruz alleges that in addition to being "essentially demoted to the role of a janitor," she has lost approximately $4,000 in salary and benefits. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 4). Moreover, Cruz must quit the subsidized apartment she now occupies. (Waterson Affirmation in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 6 ¶ 1).

  On April 16, 2003, Oliva sent Cruz an official letter charging her with incompetency or misconduct regarding the March 14, 2003 incident. (Id. at Ex. 4 ¶ 1). Specifically, the letter alleged that Crux "threatened to strike resident Tonia [sic] Johnson with a baseball bat," "improperly brandished the bat in her direction," and "directed profane, abusive or threatening language towards Ms. Johnson." (Niederhoffer Supplemental Decl. Ex. A ¶ 1). A disciplinary hearing was held on these charges on May 6 and 19, 2003. (Id.) Cruz and Johnson gave conflicting testimony as to who threatened whom. (Id. ¶¶ 1-3, 7-9).

  The hearing officer concluded that Johnson's testimony was "not persuasive" and failed to establish that Cruz threatened to strike Johnson and brandished a bat in her direction. (Id. ¶ 10). However, the hearing officer found that "[d]espite Tonya's aggressive behavior, [Cruz], as an employee, had the obligation to avoid conflict with Tonya, a resident." (Id.). Based on this finding, the hearing officer determined that Cruz's behavior "amounted to a failure to conform to the ordinary standards of behavior that the [NYCHA], as an employer, had a right to expect, and violated [NYCHA's] policy against violence and threats of violence in the workplace." (Id.)

  As a result of these hearings, Cruz faced a 30-day suspension, ten days of lost wages, and an eviction from her subsidized apartment because she was no longer Chief Caretaker. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 6). Cruz nevertheless maintains that her performance as Chief Caretaker has been "fully satisfactory at all relevant times," (Id. ¶ 2), and for the purposes of the instant motion, the Court must assume this to be so. Moreover, it is undisputed that Cruz was demoted from the Chief Caretaker title prior to the disciplinary hearings.

  Based on these facts, Cruz has asserted two causes of action: that her demotion prior to the hearing was a violation of her procedural due process rights; and that the NYCHA's failure to protect her from a belligerent tenant was a violation of her substantive due process and equal protection rights.

  DISCUSSION

  I. The Summary Judgment Standard

  Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Fed.R. Civ. P. 56(c)). In reviewing the record, the district court must assess the evidence in "the light most favorable to the non-moving party," resolve all ambiguities, and "draw all reasonable inferences" in its favor. Am. Cas. Co. ...


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