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LaFORGIA v. DAVIS

December 10, 2004.

GERTRUDE LAFORGIA Plaintiff,
v.
ERNEST DAVIS, individually and officially as Mayor of the City of Mount Vernon, N.Y. and the CITY OF MOUNT VERNON, NEW YORK Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE DANIELS, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Gertrude LaForgia, is the former Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety for the City of Mt. Vernon, New York. Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants, Ernest Davis, Mayor of the City of Mt. Vernon, New York ("the Mayor") and the City of Mt. Vernon, New York, alleging that she was terminated from her position in violation of her rights as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff opposes the motion. For the following reasons defendants' motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

  On December 13, 1998, the Mayor of the City of Mount Vernon, New York, Ernest Davis, appointed Plaintiff, Gertrude LaForgia, as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. At the time of her appointment, Plaintiff had recently retired from the New York City Police Force where she had an illustrious thirty-two year law enforcement career. As Police Commissioner, Plaintiff made significant achievements in lowering crime and improving the effectiveness of the Mount Vernon Police Department. Moreover, Plaintiff supervised 185 police officers and twenty-to-thirty civilians. She reported directly to the Mayor. According to Plaintiff, at no time prior to July of 2001 did the Mayor ever voice dissatisfaction with her performance as Police Commissioner. On the contrary, she alleges that the Mayor was quite pleased with her performance as he repeatedly expressed to her that "she was the best Commissioner the City ever had."

  Plaintiff claims that starting in July 2000, she repeatedly expressed her concerns to the Mayor on various issues which arose in the City, such as her concerns about certain budgetary matters and alleged improper departmental activities. Plaintiff suffered no adverse action as a result of these complaints, and these complaints to the Mayor played no role in her termination of employment.

  In November of 2000, over Plaintiff's objections, the Mayor appointed his personal chauffeur and bodyguard as First Deputy Commissioner ("First Deputy) of the Department. Prior to this appointment, the First Deputy served for twenty-eight years in the police department including service as a detective. With the exception of several undercover assignments in which he supervised three-to-five police officers on or before 1992, the First Deputy had no supervisory or management experience. Plaintiff believed that the First Deputy's lack of experience in a managerial role would have a demoralizing effect on the Department.

  Plaintiff also expressed her misgivings to the Mayor regarding the Deputy Commissioner of Technology and Special Projects ("Technology Commissioner"). Plaintiff requested that the Mayor terminate the Technology Commissioner because he was disruptive to departmental operations. Plaintiff asserts that the Mayor refused, contending that the Technology Commissioner was "valuable" to him.

  Further, around June 2001, Plaintiff expressed her concern that both the First Deputy and the Technology Commissioner were causing chaos within the Department by deliberately, routinely, and openly undermining her authority. She cites as examples the creation of duplicative work within the Department because they failed to communicate with her, bypassing her to give directions directly to the police chiefs and captains without informing her, and holding closed door meetings between the Mayor and these Deputy Commissioners without her presence, thereby keeping her uninformed about issues.

  On June 29, 2001, a regular weekly meeting with the Mayor was held. Plaintiff and both Deputy Commissioners were in attendance at this meeting. At the meeting, Plaintiff told the Mayor that the Technology Commissioner had made a gross miscalculation of the cost of purchasing mobile digital terminals for patrol cars. Plaintiff alleges that when she attempted to produce evidence of the miscalculation, The Technology Commissioner verbally attacked her, telling the Mayor that Plaintiff "didn't know what [she] was talking about." Plaintiff responded that she "was not going to listen to this," walked out of the meeting, and admits she may have slammed the door.

  Following this incident, Plaintiff went on a scheduled vacation. Upon her return, she was notified that the Mayor wanted to meet with her. In preparation for this meeting and because she anticipated the Mayor might fire her, Plaintiff drafted a statement to the Mayor recounting her achievements and listing work that still needed to be done in connection with law enforcement in the City. The purpose of the statement was to remind the Mayor of her numerous successes as Police Commissioner. On July 3, 2001, at the meeting with the Mayor, Plaintiff apologized for her conduct at the June 29th meeting, and agreed with the Mayor that her behavior was inappropriate. She further informed the Mayor that she could not manage the department unless the two Deputy Commissioners were removed from their positions. The Mayor informed her that if she could not work with her Deputy Commissioners, he thought it was "time [that they] parted company." At the end of this July 3rd meeting, Plaintiff advised her secretary and the Police Chief that the Mayor terminated her employment.

  On July 6, 2001, the local newspaper, The Journal News, quoted the Mayor stating that Plaintiff "handed him her resignation without prior notice." Likewise, at an interview with News 12 Westchester, the local cable station, the Mayor stated that Plaintiff had resigned. Plaintiff states that she contacted the Journal News reporter because she received telephone calls regarding the Mayor's statements. Plaintiff denies that she told the reporter that she resigned. However, on July 7, 2001, it was reported that she left because of "controversy and chaos" in the Department. Moreover, she was quoted as saying that the two Deputy Commissioners were unqualified and were obstacles to the smooth operation of the Department.

  On July 14, 2001, News 12 Westchester interviewed the Mayor and asked him about Plaintiff's statements in the paper. The Mayor claimed that Plaintiff lacked the requisite administrative skills to effectively supervise the two Deputy Commisioners. He further commented that Plaintiff was responsible for the chaos in the Department. He claimed at the interview that Plaintiff had informed him that she was incapable of performing her duties and responsibilities as Police Commissioner. The Mayor had appointed the First Deputy as the interim Acting Commissioner after Plaintiff's termination, and later at a subsequent interview stated that the First Deputy was "probably more qualified on paper than [Plaintiff]."

  After her termination, Plaintiff begun searching for employment at the end of August 2001. She applied for three positions. Additionally, she made some informal inquiries for positions with private security firms. She declined to apply for certain jobs because she believed she was overqualified.

  DISCUSSION

  Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, deposition, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Nebraska v. Wyoming, 507 U.S. 584, 590, 113 S.Ct. 1689, 1684 (1993). The burden of demonstrating that no factual dispute exists is on the moving party. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...


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