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Baxter v. Anello

February 19, 2008

CYNTHIA A. BAXTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VINCENZO ANELLO, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF NIAGARA FALLS, AND THE CITY OF NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Cynthia Baxter commenced this action against the defendants, the City of Niagara Falls ("City") and Vincenzo Anello, its former Mayor, alleging due process and First Amendment violations, and violations of the New York Public Health Law. On March 26, 2007, the Honorable John T. Elfvin, to whom this case was assigned, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants as the plaintiff's First Amendment and New York Public Health Law claims, but denied summary judgment as to plaintiff's due process claim.

The matter was transferred to this Court. On July 26, 2007, the parties filed a stipulation of undisputed material facts and moved to have this Court decide plaintiff's due process claim based upon the stipulated record. The parties filed briefs in support of their respective positions and on October 10, 2007, the Court heard oral argument.

For the reasons the forth below, the Court grants judgment in favor of the defendants on plaintiff's due process claim.

BACKGROUND

On January 1, 2000, plaintiff was appointed to the position of the City Clerk for the City of Niagara Falls, New York, by then newly-appointed Mayor Irene Elia. By virtue of that appointment, the plaintiff was also appointed as Registrar of Vital Statistics for the City. See Dkt. 53, at ¶ 29. Plaintiff assumed the duties of Registrar and City Clerk on January 1, 2000, and performed those duties until December 31, 2003.

In November 2003, Mayor Irene Elia lost her bid for re-election to defendant Anello. Shortly before assuming office on January 1, 2004, defendant Anello sent plaintiff a letter advising her that her duties as City Clerk would terminate on December 31, 2003. Id. at ¶ 32. Defendant Anello appointed Carol Antonucci as City Clerk commencing January 1, 2004.

Plaintiff alleges that under the City Charter, defendant Anello was required to obtain confirmation by a majority of the City Council of Niagara Falls before terminating her employment as City Clerk. It is undisputed that Anello did not obtain City Council confirmation. Plaintiff commenced this action alleging, among other things, that her termination without confirmation violated her rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

DISCUSSION

In order to establish her due process violation, plaintiff must show that the defendants' action deprived her of a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. See White Plains Towing Corp. v. Patterson, 991 F.2d 1049, 1062 (2d Cir. 1993). For the purposes of this motion, the parties have stipulated that the sole issue before the Court is whether the plaintiff had a protected property interest in her position as City Clerk.

Although property interests are constitutionally protected, they are not generally constitutionally established. "[R]ather, 'they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law- rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits.'" Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 85 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)). Thus, only where a plaintiff can demonstrate that state law confers "a legitimate claim of entitlement" to a particular position will a property interest in that position arise. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that her property interest in the City Clerk position was created by the City Charter. Specifically, plaintiff cites to Section 2.3(a) of the City Charter, which provides:

The Mayor shall appoint the Administrator, who shall serve at his pleasure. The Mayor shall also appoint, subject to confirmation by a majority of the Council, a Corporation Counsel, a Director of Finance, and a City Clerk, who serve at the pleasure of the Mayor except that they shall not be dismissed from office unless the Council shall confirm such action by majority vote. Nothing herein ...


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