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Ford v. Ballston Spa Central School Dist.

March 13, 2008

NANCY FORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; DR. JOHN R. GRATTO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS; PATRICIA HEIDELMARK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIR OF THE COMMITTEE ON SPECIAL EDUCATION; CARROL BREWER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE DIRECTOR OF PUPIL SERVICES, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; KATHY JARVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; KEITH STEWART, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; EUGENE HICKOK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND PATRICK LEANZA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; DEFENDANTS.
TRACY LYNN WALL, PLAINTIFF, V BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; DR. JOHN R. GRATTO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS; PATRICIA HEIDELMARK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIR OF THE COMMITTEE ON SPECIAL EDUCATION; CARROL BREWER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE DIRECTOR OF PUPIL SERVICES, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; KATHY JARVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; KEITH STEWART, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; EUGENE HICKOK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND PATRICK LEANZA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE BALLSTON SPA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

By Memorandum-Decision and Order dated February 22, 2007 (Dkt. No. 34), this Court consolidated these two civil rights actions and granted defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss certain claims. Specifically, the Court dismissed all claims against all individual defendants in their individual capacities, in accordance with the parties' stipulation; dismissed all "official capacity" claims against Kathy Jarvis, Keith Stewart, Eugene Hickock, and Patrick Leanza, all members of the Board of Education of the Ballston Spa Central School District ("Board of Education"); and dismissed the tenth, eleventh and twelfth causes of action.

Presently before the Court is a motion (Dkt. No. 42) by defendants for summary judgment dismissing both actions. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

THE COMPLAINTS

Both complaints claim that beginning in 1965, defendant Ballston Spa Central School District ("District") administered the Head Start Program pursuant to a federal grant for which the District applied annually. Plaintiffs Ford and Wall had been employed by the District at the Head Start Program since 1975 and 1987 respectively. At the times in issue, Ms. Ford held the position of Parent Education/Home Based Manager, and Ms. Wall held the position of Region Manager. On April 27, 2004, the Board of Education voted to cease administering the grant, and as of June 30, 2004, the District ceased to administer it. As a result, plaintiffs were no longer employed by the District.

The complaints further claim that plaintiffs engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. One such activity was speaking on issues of public concern. When first hired by the District, plaintiffs were not required to undergo competitive examinations. In 2002, they were advised that they would have to undergo such examinations. Plaintiffs believed they should be exempt from the examinations and made statements to the press criticizing the District's handling of the issue. On January 8, 2003, plaintiffs addressed a Board of Education meeting on the issue.

According to plaintiffs, defendant Dr. John R. Gratto, Superintendent of Schools, reprimanded them for their statements. On February 21, 2003, both plaintiffs underwent the examination, which they passed.

The complaints also allege that plaintiffs engaged in associational activity protected by the First Amendment. Before the District began considering relinquishment of the Head Start Program grant, plaintiffs and other Head Start Program employees engaged in collective bargaining and other union organizing activity. In December 2002, Head Start Program employees contacted the Civil Service Employees Association ("CSEA") for such purpose and in August 2003, the District recognized CSEA as the bargaining representative for certain Head Start Program employees, but not plaintiffs. Thereafter, plaintiffs and other non-recognized Head Start Program employees attempted to engage in union activity, including collective bargaining activity, with the District, but the District "refused to negotiate and collectively bargain" with them.

Plaintiffs claim that Dr. Gratto recommended that the District relinquish the grant and that he did so solely for the purpose of retaliating against plaintiffs for engaging in protected activities. Plaintiffs further claim that the other defendants knew of and ratified this retaliatory conduct.

Each plaintiff's complaint sets forth the following causes of action: first, denial of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, specifically denial of her rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of collective bargaining, freedom from retaliation, and equal protection; second, adverse employment action in retaliation for her exercising her right to free speech by speaking out on matters of public concern; third, adverse employment action in retaliation for her exercise of the right to freedom of association; fourth, conspiracy to retaliate against her for exercising her constitutional rights; fifth, denial of her right to collective bargaining; sixth, unequal treatment with intent to inhibit or punish her exercise of her constitutional rights; seventh, municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for depriving plaintiff of her constitutional rights; eighth, deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights in accordance with the custom, policy and/or practice of the School District and Board of Education by voting to relinquish the Head Start Program grant; and ninth, deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights in accordance with the custom, policy and/or practice of the School District and Board of Education by voting to relinquish the Head Start Program grant. As noted, the tenth, eleventh and twelfth causes of action have been dismissed. Each plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary relief, and an award of costs and attorney's fees.

APPLICABLE LAW

Summary judgment is appropriate "where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Beth Israel Med. Ctr. v. Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.J., Inc., 448 F.3d 573, 579 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). A material fact is one that would "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," and a dispute about a genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that "a reasonable [factfinder] could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, a court must resolve all ambiguities, and draw all inferences, against the movant. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

The Local Rules of the Northern District provide a procedural framework for the resolution of summary judgment motions, placing the burden on the parties to present the evidence that either supports or defeats the motion. The movant must first submit a Statement of Material Facts setting forth the undisputed facts upon which it relies and specific citations to the record where each fact is established. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The court must satisfy itself that the cited record evidence supports the movant's assertions of fact and that those facts show that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; a Statement of Material Facts is not a substitute for evidentiary proof of the facts. See Zhanghi v. Incorporated Vill. of Old Brookville, 752 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1985); see also New York State Teamsters Conf. Pension and Ret. Fund v. Express Servs., Inc., 426 F.3d 640, 649 (2d Cir. 2005).

Once the movant submits a properly supported Statement of Material Facts, the non-moving party must file a response thereto. "Any facts set forth in the [movant's] Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party." N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3); accord Adirondack Cycle & Marine, Inc. v. American Honda Motor Co., 2002 WL 449757, *1 (N.D.N.Y.). The Second Circuit has endorsed this rule, noting: "Rules governing summary judgment practice are essential tools for district courts, permitting them to efficiently decide summary judgment motions by relieving them of the onerous task of 'hunt[ing] through voluminous records without guidance from the parties.'" New York State Teamsters, 426 F.3d at 649(quoting Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 74 (2d Cir. 2001)).

Here, defendants have submitted a Statement of Material Facts properly supported by references to competent record evidence. Plaintiffs, although represented by counsel, have failed to submit a response thereto. Thus, the Court accepts as true the facts as set forth in defendants' Statement of Material Facts. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). In any event, a review of plaintiffs' submissions discloses no evidence raising a material question of fact on any issue.

FACTS

The majority of the facts cited in defendants' properly supported Statement of Material Facts are consistent with the factual allegations in the complaint. Certain evidence cited in the Statement of Material Facts clarifies the complaint and/or militates against the conclusory allegations in the complaint. The Court summarizes such evidence as follows.

At the times in question plaintiffs held administrative positions in the Head Start Program administered by the District pursuant to a federal grant. At some point, a group of Head Start Program employees sought participation in the New York State Employees' Retirement System. Apparently in late 2002, the Saratoga County Civil Service Department ("CSD") determined that Head Start Program employees would be required to take competitive Civil Service examinations. Plaintiffs and other Head Start Program employees believed they should be permitted to retain their positions without taking examinations.

The determination that they would have to take Civil Service examinations prompted both plaintiffs to attend the January 8, 2003 Board of Education meeting. At the meeting, Ms. Wall read aloud the following statement:

We are here in support our Family Education Coordinator, Patricia Heidelmark, who informed us of her meeting with you during which she requested your support in advocating for the grand fathering in of the many Head Start employees who are becoming a part of the Civil Service System.

After our meeting with Dr. Grotto, Carol Brewer, Pat Nugent and Patty Heidelmark and representatives Mr. Kalinkewicz and Ms. Dahoda on Monday, January 6th, we felt the need to come to this Board ...


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