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Malta v. Slagle

March 26, 2007

BRIAN MALTA AND VALERIE MALTA PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RICHARD E. SLAGLE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAYOR OF THE VILLAGE OF CELORON, NEW YORK, THOMAS BARTOLO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEPUTY MAYOR AND MAYOR OF THE VILLAGE OF CELORON, NEW YORK, WARREN GERTSCH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEPUTY MAYOR AND TRUSTEE, JOHN ECKHOLM, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE, KYLIE ROSS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE, VIKIE STRONG, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS VILLAGE CLERK OF THE VILLAGE OF CELORON, NEW YORK, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE VILLAGE OF CELORON, NEW YORK, AND GREG OSMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CODE ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF CELORON, NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Plaintiffs bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants have violated their First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection rights by preventing them from speaking at or making video recordings of public meetings of the Celoron Village Board of Trustees. Presently before this Court is Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on liability for their First Amendment and Equal Protection claims.*fn1 For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The following facts are undisputed for purposes of the present motion, except where indicated. Plaintiffs are residents of the Village of Celoron, New York. (Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1 Statement ("Pls.' State."), ¶ 1). The Village of Celoron Government includes a Board of Trustees (the "Board"), which periodically conducts public meetings. (Pls.' State., ¶¶ 2, 12). Plaintiffs began regularly attending Board meetings following Plaintiff Brian Malta's unsuccessful campaign for Village Trustee in 2004. (Pls.' State., ¶¶ 10-11). Plaintiff Brian Malta ran for Village Trustee again in 2005, and continued attending Board meetings with his wife, Plaintiff Valerie Malta. (Brian Malta Affidavit, ¶ 7).

Plaintiffs allege that the Board has prevented them from speaking at Board meetings. (Pls.' State., ¶¶ 14-16). Defendants concede that Mayor Richard Slagle ruled Brian Malta out of order at a Board meeting in February of 2005, because Malta, a candidate for office, was attempting to engage in political debate. (O'Connor Affidavit, ¶ 19). At some time in early 2005,*fn2 the Board adopted Resolution 14-2005 which provided that "[t]he Mayor shall have the right to rule out of order anyone who attempts to raise issues that are of an offensive nature, are strictly political in content or are designed to insult or embarrass an individual or group of individuals." (Pls.' State., ¶ 14).

On April 25, 2005, the Board adopted Resolution 16-2005, which prohibited the use of video recorders at Board meetings, except by members of the press. (Pls.' State., ¶ 17). Pursuant to Resolution 16-2005, Plaintiff Valerie Malta has not been permitted to videotape Board meetings. (Pls.' State., ¶¶ 17-23; O'Connor Affidavit, ¶ 27). Although she cannot make video recordings, Valerie Malta has reportedly made an audio recording of almost every Board meeting since April of 2004, and asserts that she maintains a library of the tapes.*fn3 (Valerie Malta Affidavit, Ex. A, p. 7).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs commenced this action on May 16, 2005, by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. The Complaint alleges that Defendants prevented Plaintiffs from speaking at and videotaping Board meetings in violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. On July 13, 2006, Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on liability for their First Amendment and Equal Protection claims. Plaintiffs' motion is currently before this Court.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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 judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A "genuine issue" exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. In a case where the non-moving party bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant may satisfy its burden by pointing to the absence of evidence supporting an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

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." Addickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed. 2d 142 (1970). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). The function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence ...


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