United States District Court, S.D. New York
December 15, 2005.
BETTI ALTIERI & JACQUELINE DELISI, Plaintiffs,
THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: LAURA SWAIN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case, arising from the termination of New York City public
school Parent Teacher Association ("PTA") officials, due to
alleged retaliatory action by a former New York City school
district superintendent, is before the Court on Defendant's
motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs Betti Altieri ("Altieri")
and Jacqueline Delisi ("Delisi"), each of whom had served at
relevant times as President of the PTA of Public School 180 ("PS
180"), in District 20, and each of whom had received an
unspecified stipend for her services to the PTA, were removed
from their PTA posts in or about 2002, following an investigation
of the PTA's finances and of other complaints relating to the
PTA. Plaintiffs, alleging that the investigation and removal were
undertaken by Vincent Grippo ("Grippo"), the former District 20
School superintendent, in retaliation for Plaintiffs' vocal
support of District 20 teachers who were allegedly terminated by
Grippo on account of age, brought this action against Grippo and
the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"), asserting
claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of violations of their rights under the First, Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States,
as well as claims of defamation, harassment and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. Following Grippo's death in or
about 2005, Plaintiffs voluntarily discontinued all of their
claims against him. (See Docket Entry 36). In their opposition
to the instant motion, Plaintiffs withdraw, and indicate that
they do not oppose Defendant's motion insofar as it is directed
to, their Fourth Amendment and state law claims.*fn1 The
Court has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has considered thoroughly all submissions related
to Defendant's motion and for the following reasons, Defendant's
summary judgment motion is granted.
The following facts are undisputed unless characterized
otherwise. Grippo was the Superintendent for District 20 when
Altieri and Delisi were officers of the PTA at PS 180. (Compl. ¶¶
8-9.) During the Plaintiffs' tenure as PTA members, District 20
offices received anonymous complaints requesting an investigation
of the PTA finances. (Decl. of Martin Bowe in Supp. of Def's Mot.
for Summ. J. ("Bowe Decl."), Ex. B at 63-65.) The Superintendent
is empowered to conduct an audit of the PTA's finances when a
grievance is filed or when serious allegations are raised. (Id.
Ex. I at 25.) In addition, the Superintendent may "order
disciplinary or corrective action, as appropriate." (Id. Ex. E
at 0351; Ex. I at 25.) On September 24, 2002, Grippo ordered an
audit of the PS 180 PTA's finances. (Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp.
of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), at 15.) The audit
revealed that there were checks and receipts missing from the PTA checking account, (Bowe Decl. Ex. G
at 23; Ex. E at 0071-76), and that PTA members had used the
school's tax-free number to purchase items which were not used in
school. (Id. Ex. G at 29; Ex. E at 0071-135, 0156.) Plaintiffs
were subsequently removed from their PTA positions and denied all
rights, privileges and responsibilities as PTA officers.
Plaintiffs filed the instant action on December 18, 2002.
Plaintiffs allege they were targeted by Grippo for voicing
their support of older teachers who had brought separate legal
actions against Grippo and the DOE alleging age discrimination.
(Compl. ¶ 17.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that, prior to
their own dismissals, they had openly declared that "based on
their experiences with Grippo, age discrimination was taking
place and that District 20 was losing good seasoned teachers as a
result." (Pl.'s Opp'n, at 2.) Plaintiffs claim that the school's
secretary overheard the statement, "made a face, jumped up and
ran upstairs to the principal's office." (Id.) Plaintiffs
further allege that the acting principal, Beth Grater, after
learning about these comments, communicated them to Grippo, who
in turn launched an investigation into the PTA, specifically
targeting Plaintiffs because of their support for the teachers.
(Id. Point II.)
However, Grippo denies any knowledge of the alleged
conversation between Delisi and Altieri in the PTA room. (Bowe
Decl. Ex. A at 73). The DOE asserts that the investigation
involving Plaintiffs arose from incidents prior to the alleged
PTA room conversation, including Delisi's alleged improper public
discussion of a student's lewd behavior, Plaintiffs' alleged
harassment of teachers and physical conflicts with parents, and
anonymous letters describing the PTA's misuse of funds. (Def.'s
Mem. at 12-14.) DISCUSSION
Standard of Review
Summary judgment shall be granted in favor of a moving party
where "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of
establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986);
Lehman v. Discovery Commc'ns, Inc., 332 F. Supp. 2d 534, 536
(E.D.N.Y. 2004). "In determining whether a genuine issue of
material fact exists, a court must examine the evidence in the
light most favorable to, and draw all inferences in favor of, the
non-movant." Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280,
286 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). Nevertheless,
"Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against
a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on
which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A party opposing a summary judgment motion cannot rely solely
upon its pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Rather, it must
proffer evidence containing "specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial." Id. The proffered evidence, if
sufficient, will "be based on personal knowledge, shall set forth
such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show . . .
that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated
therein." Id. In evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, it
is not the Court's duty to "weigh the evidence and determine the
truth of the matter." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Instead, at
the summary judgment stage, the Court need only "determine whether there is a
genuine issue for trial." Id.
Plaintiffs Have Failed to Demonstrate That They Have a Viable
Basis for Municipal Liability Under Monell
Because neither Grippo nor his estate is a party to the instant
action, Plaintiffs seek to recover damages from Grippo's former
employer, DOE. However, the DOE may not be held liable for
Grippo's alleged actions under the respondeat superior theory of
liability. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658
(1978). In Monell, the Court observed that the language of
section 1983 "cannot easily be read to impose liability
vicariously on government bodies solely on the basis of the
existence of an employer-employee relationship with a
tortfeasor," and held that section 1983 did not incorporate
doctrines of vicarious liability. Id. at 692-94.
Nonetheless, a municipal employer may be held liable for
actions taken by its employees pursuant to an official municipal
policy or a policy created by a policymaker. See Bd. of the
County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997). Even absent
an express written municipal policy, a municipality may be held
liable if a plaintiff proves the existence of a widespread
practice that is "so permanent and well settled as to constitute
a custom or usage with the force of law." Adickes v. S.H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 167-68 (1970); Patterson v. County of
Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 226 (2d Cir. 2004). Further, a
municipality's failure to train or supervise employees, leading
to the deprivation of one's constitutional rights, may also serve
as grounds for municipal liability. Young v. County of Fulton,
160 F.3d 899 (2d Cir. 1998).
In the context of this summary judgment motion practice,
Plaintiffs have proffered no evidence from which a reasonable
jury could conclude that Grippo's allegedly retailatory actions were taken pursuant to any policy or widespread custom or
usage of the DOE. Indeed, Plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition to
the motion for summary judgment complains of Plaintiffs' removal
"through Grippo's improper use of the investigative offices of
the DOE." (Pls.' Opp'n, Point V.) Nor have Plaintiffs alleged
facts from which a reasonable jury could discern a failure to
train or supervise employees that lead to the alleged
constitutional violations complained of here. Accordingly, DOE is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Even when all of the
evidence is examined in the light most favorable to the
Plaintiffs, Delisi and Altieri have failed to demonstrate that
any genuine issue of material fact precludes the grant of summary
judgment in DOE's favor in all respects.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion for summary
judgment is granted, and Plaintiffs' action is dismissed. The
clerk of court is respectfully requested to enter judgment in
favor of Defendant Department of Education and close this case.
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