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BUNTIN v. CITY OF NEW YORK

United States District Court, S.D. New York


January 10, 2005.

RODGERICK BUNTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, CITY OF NEW YORK HUMAN RESOURCES ADMINISTRATION, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONSTANCE MOTLEY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rodgerick Buntin brings this action for alleged violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Article 1, Section 6 of the New York State Constitution. Plaintiff commenced this action on March 8, 2004, alleging that he was deprived of his property right of continued civil service employment in the New York City Human Resources Administration without being afforded the due process rights guaranteed to him under the U.S. Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the New York State Constitution.

This matter comes before the court on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, filed on May 25, 2004 by defendants City of New York, City of New York Human Resources Administration, and New York City Department of Corrections ("DOC"), on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Defendant New York State Department of Correctional Services has failed to appear. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is DENIED.

  I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Rodgerick Buntin was formerly employed by the New York City Human Resources Administration ("HRA") as a permanent caseworker until March, 2001. In May, 2000, plaintiff was incarcerated on Rikers Island after he was arrested for alleged parole violations. He was subsequently transferred to a New York State facility, the Wyoming Correctional Facility, in or around September, 2000, where he remained until November, 2001. During the period of his incarceration, the HRA undertook a series of disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff that resulted in his discharge in March, 2001.

  Plaintiff alleges that although he notified HRA of his place of incarceration at the time of his arrest, HRA failed to serve him with notice of disciplinary charges and subsequent related proceedings while he was incarcerated. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that he never received copies of the disciplinary charges against him, the notice scheduling an Informal Conference hearing, the Informal Conference determination, the notice of a hearing before the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), the Decision and Recommended Penalty of the OATH Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), or the letter discharging him from employment until after his release in November, 2001. Plaintiff claims that as a result of failing to properly serve him with notice of the aforesaid charges, hearings, and determinations, defendants deprived him of his right to contest the disciplinary charges and thereby also deprived him of his right to continued employment as a caseworker without due process of law.

  Defendants raise two arguments in their motion to dismiss. First, defendants contend that plaintiff concedes in his complaint that he was served by HRA at his last address of record on file with HRA, at Rikers Island, and at Wyoming Correctional Facility. Second, defendants argue that because plaintiff was not in custody of the New York City DOC after he was moved to Wyoming Correctional Facility in September, 2000, his claims that the DOC denied him due process after that date are without merit. The court addresses each of these claims in turn.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

  On a motion to dismiss, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scalisi v. Fund Asset Management, L.P., 380 F.3d 133, 137 (2d. Cir. 2004) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The court "must accept as true the allegations contained in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences" in favor of the pleader. Blue Tree Hotels Inv. (Canada), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d. Cir. 2004). A complaint should not be dismissed unless "`it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief.'" McKenna v. Wright et. al., 386 F.3d 432, 436 (2d. Cir. 2004) (quoting Citibank, N.A. v. K-H Corp., 968 F.2d 1489, 1494 (2d. Cir. 1992)). "This standard is applied with even greater force where the plaintiff alleges civil rights violations." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d. Cir. 1994) (citing Easton v. Sundram, 947 F.2d 1011, 1015 (2d. Cir. 1991)). When considering a motion to dismiss, "[t]he issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Courtenay Comunications Corp. v. Hall, 334 F.3d 210, 213 (2d. Cir. 2003) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). B. Defendants' Claim that Plaintiff Was Not Deprived Due Process Because Plaintiff Concedes that He Was Served

  Defendants argue that the complaint against municipal defendants should be dismissed because plaintiff was afforded due process since, "as plaintiff concedes, he was served by mail both at his address on file with HRA and at the prison where he was incarcerated." (Defs.' City of New York, City of New York Human Res. Admin., and New York City Dept. of Corr. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 2) (emphasis added). Specifically, defendants assert that, "Plaintiff concedes that HRA served him with the notice scheduling the Informal Conference Hearing, the Informal Conference Determination, the scheduling of the OATH hearing, the Decision and Recommended penalty of the OATH ALJ and the letter discharging him both at his last address of record on file with HRA and upon the warden of DOC at the Rikers Island facility and upon the warden of NYSDCS at the Wyoming facility." (Id. at 6) (emphasis added). Defendants then proceed to discuss what methods of service satisfy due process.

  Defendants misstate plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff repeatedly states in his complaint that "defendant HRA purportedly attempted to serve" him, and repeatedly follows those statements with the assertion that "plaintiff never actually received copies" of any of the notices of charges, hearings, or determinations. (Compl. §§ 14, 15, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30) (emphasis added). At issue is whether or not HRA served plaintiff. It is clear from plaintiff's complaint that plaintiff does not concede that he was in fact served. Indeed, it is clear from plaintiff's complaint that this is precisely the issue he is contesting; plaintiff disputes that service was made at all. Thus, a discussion of what method of service satisfies due process is moot, as the antecedent issue of whether service was made at all remains unresolved.

  Based on the standard set forth above requiring this court to consider the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and to accept as true the allegations in the complaint, and considering defendants' mischaracterization of plaintiff's complaint on the central issue of this case, this court finds that defendants have not met their burden in establishing that the plaintiff has no legal claim of denial of due process upon which relief could be granted. Indeed, the preliminary issue of whether plaintiff was served at all is clearly in dispute and is entirely unresolved. Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim of denial of due process is therefore denied.

  C. Defendants' Claim that Because Plaintiff Was Not In the Custody of the DOC After September, 2000, the DOC Cannot Have Denied Plaintiff Due Process

  Defendants' argue that because plaintiff was not in the custody of the DOC once he was moved to the Wyoming Correctional Facility in September, 2000, his claims of denial of due process, all of which commenced after that date, must be denied as to the DOC.

  The whole of defendants' argument on this point is comprised of three sentences. After quoting from plaintiff's complaint, defendants submit:

Plaintiff also contends that HRA initiated disciplinary proceedings against him commencing on November 6, 2000 and that from that time on he was allegedly denied due process because he did not receive notice of the disciplinary proceedings against him. Accordingly, because plaintiff was no longer in the custody of DOC after September, 2000, his claims that DOC allegedly denied him due process commencing on November 6, 2000 are frivolous and fail to state a cause of action against DOC.
Id. at 8 (internal citations omitted).

  The inference that defendants ask the court to make — that the DOC cannot be liable for any denial of due process that took place once plaintiff was moved from Rikers Island, a DOC facility, to Wyoming Correctional Facility, a state facility — on its face appears to make logical sense. Defendants, however, have provided no facts, statutory law, or case law in support of this contention. Defendants have provided no information as to the scope of the DOC's authority or the relationship between the DOC and state correctional facilities. Without additional support for this argument, and in light of the standard discussed above requiring the court to view the facts in the light most favorable to the pleader and to dismiss a complaint only where it appears beyond doubt that the pleader can prove no set of facts in support of his claim, this court cannot grant defendants' motion to dismiss as to this claim.

  III. CONCLUSION

  For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is denied, and the parties are ordered to appear for a pre-trial conference. An order to this effect will be filed concurrently with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

  SO ORDERED.

20050110

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