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Chahales v. City of New York

March 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Townes, United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Nicholas P. Chahales, who is an employee of defendant New York City Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New York State Constitution, alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights to free speech, equal protection and due process by denying him permission to run for elective office without taking a leave of absence. Defendants now move pursuant to Fed.R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, principally on the ground that plaintiff's § 1983 claims are barred by the statute of limitations. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted and this action is dismissed.


The following facts are drawn from plaintiff's complaint, the truth of which is assumed for purposes of this motion to dismiss. Plaintiff has been employed by the DEP as a Principal Administrative Associate since July 2001. Complaint at ¶ 2. At all times relevant to this action, plaintiff was assigned to the Bureau of Water Supply in Valhalla, NewYork, under the supervision of defendant Robert Ravallo, a Project Manager. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.

At some unspecified point in or before 2001, plaintiff, who resides in Mahopac, New York, decided to run for the Putnam County Legislature. Plaintiff was aware that New York City Mayoral Directive No. 91-7 ("Directive 97-1") required "city department heads . . . to avoid possible conflict[s] of interest or appearances of impropriety by requiring a leave of absence for City Employees running for elective office." Id. at ¶ 15. However, plaintiff was also aware that "department heads were given latitude to grant exemptions or waivers" under certain circumstances. Id.*fn1

Sometime in 2001 -- shortly after being hired by the DEP -- plaintiff sought an exemption under Directive 97-1. Id. at ¶ 22. According to plaintiff's complaint, Ravallo "immediately" denied plaintiff's request for an exemption "without any consideration of the latitude given to him to grant waivers by Mayoral Directive No. 91-7," and told plaintiff to "take a leave of absence or lose his job." Id. Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive a ruling on his application from either the Mayor of New York City or defendant New York Conflict of Interest Board ("the CIB"). Id. at ¶ 23.*fn2

Plaintiff elected to take an unpaid leave of absence and to run for office. He "lost the primary and dropped out as a candidate in early September" 2001. Id. at ¶ 24. Nonetheless, Ravallo told plaintiff that he could not return to work until after the general election in November 2001. Id. Plaintiff alleges that, since Directive 91-7 requires that an employee remain on leave only during the period that he or she is a candidate, Ravallo's refusal to permit plaintiff to return in September "was clearly an abuse of power and vindictive in nature, meant solely to serve as punishment and harassment for [plaintiff] having dared to exercise his Constitutional rights." Id.

On October 1, 2004, plaintiff commenced the instant action, alleging that defendants violated his federal and state constitutional rights. Plaintiff's first, third and fifth causes of action are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and allege violation of plaintiff's federal constitutional rights to free speech, equal protection and due process, respectively. The second, fourth and sixth causes of action allege violation of the same rights under the New York State Constitution. For each cause of action, plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages of unspecified amounts, as well as declaratory relief. In addition, plaintiff seeks reasonable costs and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

In support of plaintiff's equal protection claim, the complaint alleges that Ravallo himself received exemptions or waivers under Directive 91-7. According to plaintiff's complaint, Ravallo "sought and received a waiver to run for Town Councilman in Carmel, New York in 1997 [and] . . . has sought and received a waiver to run for said office numerous times since," most recently in July 2003. Id. at ¶ 16. Despite the obvious differences in the positions of the newly hired plaintiff and his supervisor, plaintiff implies that he and Ravallo are similarly situated and that the summary denial of his request for an exemption was "glaringly unequal to the preferential treatment afforded . . . Ravallo." Id. at ¶ 23.

Defendants now move to dismiss this complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), arguing (1) that plaintiff's § 1983 claims are barred by the statute of limitations; (2) that plaintiff's allegations against the City of New York and the CIB are insufficient to make out municipality liability and (3) that plaintiff's State constitutional claims are time-barred because plaintiff has failed to comply with applicable notice of claim requirements. Defendants also argue, in the alternative, that if this Court dismisses plaintiff's § 1983 claims, it should decline to exercise jurisdiction over plaintiff's State constitutional claims.

In response to defendants' first argument, plaintiff argues only that plaintiff's claims are timely pursuant to the "continuing violation doctrine." Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Opp. Memo"), at 2.*fn3 However, plaintiff does not allege a pattern of discriminatory acts against himself alone, but rather alleges that "[t]he clear practice of preferential and discriminatory behavior favoring Ravallo over Chahales allows the application of the continuous (sic) violation doctrine." Id. at 5 (emphasis added). Plaintiff therefore claims that the latest discriminatory action took place in 2003 -- the most recent occasion on which Ravallo was granted an exemption under Directive 91-7. Id.


The Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., Board of Educ. of Pawling Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Schutz, 290 F.3d 476, 479 (2d Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1227 (2003); Jaghory v. New York State Dept. of Educ., 131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997). A court "may not dismiss a complaint unless 'it appears beyond doubt, even when the complaint is liberally construed, that the plaintiff can prove no set of ...

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