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Applewhite v. Briber

March 14, 2006

MONICA J. APPLEWHITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT BRIBER, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

INTRODUCTION

In this action, brought pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for the revocation of her license to practice medicine. The defendants are individuals sued in both their personal and official capacities who, while employed by the New York State Department of Health and/or the Office of Professional Medical Conduct ("OPMC"), were involved in the revocation of plaintiff's medical license. This matter is now before the court on the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint and/or for summary judgment.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff commenced this action with the filing of a complaint on December 24, 2003 (Item 1). On April 15, 2004, in lieu of an answer, defendants Briber, Lynch, Nichols, Novello, and Wear filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of judicial immunity and statute of limitations (Item 6). Defendants Croll and Horan filed a motion to dismiss (Item 9), and defendant Ciccarella filed a motion for summary judgment for plaintiff's failure to state a claim (Item 10). Defendant Trost filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment on the basis of judicial immunity (Item 18), and defendants Grossman, Pellman, Price, and Rogers filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of judicial immunity (Item 20). Defendant Kohn filed a motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds and for plaintiff's failure to state a claim (Item 22). Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the various motions to dismiss and for summary judgment (Item 30). All defendants filed replies (Items 32, 33, 37).

On December 14, 2004, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in which she discontinued her claims against defendants Fein and Pellman for lack of service, withdrew her claims under New York State law, and added a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1981 for race discrimination. Defendant Trost filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint (Item 43), and the remaining defendants filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment (Item 44). Plaintiff filed a response to the motions on January 24, 2005 (Item 48). On February 7, 2005, the defendants, with the exception of defendant Trost, filed a reply memorandum of law (Item 49). Oral argument was heard on June 29, 2005. Thereafter, the parties accepted the court's invitation to file a further submission (Items 55, 59). For the reasons that follow, the motions are GRANTED, and the complaint is dismissed.

FACTS

Plaintiff was a physician licensed by the State of New York in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (Item 39, ¶¶ 18-20). In the fall of 1998, plaintiff learned that she was the subject of an investigation by the OPMC. Id., ¶¶ 21-25. Plaintiff provided patient medical records and other information, and appeared for interviews with investigative staff of the OPMC, including defendants Ciccarella and Kohn. Id., ¶¶ 27, 30, 38, 42. On or about June 27, 2000, plaintiff received a statement accusing her of 23 charges of misconduct, her medical license was summarily suspended by defendant Novello, and she was directed to appear at a hearing. Id., ¶¶ 53-56.

The hearing commenced on August 25, 2000 and continued on fifteen additional dates until November 9, 2001. Item 39, ¶ 61. Defendants Rogers, Nichols, and Wear were members of the hearing committee, and defendant Trost was the Administrative Officer. Id., ¶ 60. On or about March 27, 2002, plaintiff was advised that the committee had voted to sustain 11 of the 23 charges of professional misconduct and determined that her license should be revoked. Id., ¶ 69. On April 10, 2002, plaintiff appealed this determination to the Administrative Review Board ("ARB") of the OPMC. Id., ¶ 70. On July 29, 2002, the ARB, of which defendants Grossman, Briber, Lynch, and Price were members, affirmed the hearing committee's decision. Id., ¶ 71. Defendant Horan prepared the ARB decision. Id., ¶ 72. Plaintiff alleges that she was targeted for investigation by the OPMC in part because she was a sole practitioner and a member of a racial minority. Id., ¶ 73.

DISCUSSION

1. Standards of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). "This rule applies with particular force where the plaintiff alleges civil rights violations . . . ." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Burnette v. Carothers, 192 F.3d 52, 56 (2d Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1052 (2000). "However, conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Smith v. Local 819 I.B.T. Pension Plan, 291 F.3d 236, 240 (2d Cir. 2002) (citation and quotation omitted); see also Wynder v. McMahon, 360 F.3d 73, 80 (2d Cir. 2004) (Rule 12(b)(6) motions permit each particular defendant to eliminate causes of action for which no set of facts has been identified that support the claim(s) against him).

The task of the court in addressing the Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to determine the weight of the evidence, but only to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint. Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000). In reaching its determination, a court's review must be limited to the complaint and documents attached or incorporated by reference thereto. See Kramer v. Time Warner, Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment is warranted 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." A "genuine issue" exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . ." Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence must be "viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion . . . ." Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849 (1991). The function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the ...


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