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Stone v. New York Public Library

April 22, 2008

RICHARD E. STONE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, ASTOR, LENOX, AND TILDEN FOUNDATIONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Richard E. Stone ("Stone" or "plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brought this action under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000a, et seq., which guarantees individuals full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation without race-based discrimination. Stone alleges that employees of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations ("NYPL" or "defendant") treated him in a racially discriminatory manner on at least four occasions. NYPL filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied in a Memorandum Opinion dated August 2, 2006. Stone v. New York Pub. Library, No. 05 Civ. 10896, 2006 WL 2167257 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2006). Following the completion of discovery, NYPL filed the instant motion for summary judgment. The defendant's summary judgment papers, which were served on the plaintiff, included a Local Rule 56.2 Notice to Pro Se Litigants Opposing Summary Judgment, which advised Stone of his burden of submitting evidence to oppose summary judgment. Stone has filed an affirmation in opposition to the motion based solely upon allegations regarding the conduct of discovery. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Stone's Title II claim is premised upon allegations regarding several incidents that took place at various branches of the NYPL. His compliant, filed in October 2005, referenced four such incidents, each of which took place at the Mid-Manhattan Branch; in his opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss and during his deposition on July 24, 2007, Stone identified at least two additional incidents. Each will be briefly described here.

On October 8, 2004, Stone, who is black, claims that a "deranged old white male" approached him while he was speaking to a librarian at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NYPL. Stone spoke to the individual in an effort to "calm him down," and raised his voice in order "to try to talk over him." The librarian told Stone to keep his voice down, and she called security. By the time the security officers arrived, the "white male" had fled the scene, and the librarian told security that Stone was to blame for the incident, and that he should be escorted out if he did not calm down. Stone was not escorted out, however. Stone spoke to a security officer after the incident, who told him that the librarian "has an attitude anyway" that the officer "thinks is based on race." Stone has alleged that the actions taken by the librarian were racially discriminatory, in light of what he was told by the security officer and because "she favored somebody who was obviously wrong."

On June 3, 2005, also at the Mid-Manhattan Branch, Stone alleges that at approximately 5:50 p.m. (ten minutes prior to closing time), a "young black female" turned off the computer that he was using without warning him that she would do so. Stone reported this incident to a supervisor, a white woman, who was "dismissive" of his complaint. At his deposition, Stone stated that he believed that the actions taken by both individuals during this incident "could be racially motivated" because "[w]hen it comes to certain people they feel that they don't have equal rights," and that they can "just dismiss your complaints because they don't consider you worthy of taking any action." Specifically with regard to the actions taken by the "young black female," Stone testified that "[t]his is a social phenomenon . . . , to put it in street parlance, they dis their own men." With regard to the supervisor's actions, Stone also stated that "she seemed zombiatic," and that "maybe she didn't like her job, that is not an easy job."

On June 9, 2005, at approximately 7:38 p.m., Stone was waiting on line to check several videos out of the library. Although Stone was in the front of the line, the clerk, an Asian woman, called forward for service a white woman who was standing behind him. Stone testified that this clerk had been rude to him previously -- i.e., "she would take her time calling you over to be serviced, and then while you were being serviced she would service you so rapidly, like you are a disease" -- and that he "didn't want her to wait on [him] anyway." He further testified that he was not an "aggressive" person who stepped forward as soon as a clerk appeared to be available, but rather that he is a person who waits for an indication from the clerk that they are ready to serve the next customer. Stone has alleged that the clerk's actions in this instance were racially motivated because "it didn't make any sense, it was improper, it was not logical, it was not reasonable." Stone reported this incident to a security officer, but he took no action.*fn1

On January 17, 2006, at approximately 5:50 p.m. (ten minutes prior to closing time), at the Jefferson Market Branch, Stone alleges that a clerk left him waiting to be served while she discussed personal business with a co-worker. When she finally processed his transaction, she did so "so fast and brushed [Stone] to the side so that she could take care of a 'white' lady swiftly," and did not allow Stone time to gather his possessions. Stone testified, "I thought that that was rude and racially motivated because she was rushing me out of the way so she could deal with the white lady." Again, Stone reports, he informed a supervisor about this incident, but he took no action. With regard to the racial motivation of the supervisor, Stone testified that "I am satisfied that [he was racially motivated] because there is no other reason why."

On April 3, 2006, at 8:48 p.m. (twelve minutes prior to closing time), Stone was standing in line when a white man entered the room and walked straight up to the clerk's desk, thereby cutting ahead of him in line. Stone did not say anything until the man had finished his transaction, after which he told him that he "should have waited in line." Stone alleges that the clerk "saw me in line" but "took the white guy over me who was not even in line."

Finally, Stone testified that in 2005 and 2006 he went to branches of the NYPL several times a week, but went less frequently in 2007. He testified that this was due to the fact that (1) he "could be injured by crazy people," or catch diseases from other patrons or the unsanitary conditions in the restrooms, (2) the "grittiness" of New York is particularly prevalent in "places where the public has access," and (3) "some of the staff are very, very rude" and "not very efficient." He also stated that "I don't believe that it is [the NYPL's] policy to discriminate, but I believe that the way they investigate and adjudicate" complaints "leaves much to be desired, and may actually encourage discrimination because [NYPL employees] realize they don't have to be identified."

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment may not be granted unless all of the submissions taken together "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." Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a material factual question, and in making this determination the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When the moving party has asserted facts showing that the non-movant's claims or defenses cannot be sustained, the opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," and cannot rest on the "mere allegations or denials" of the movant's pleadings. Rule 56(e), Fed. R. Civ. P.; accord Sista v. CDC Ixis N. Am., Inc., 445 F.3d 161, 169 (2d Cir. 2006). Only disputes over material facts, facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Finally, in applying these standards here, it should also be noted that plaintiff Stone is proceeding pro se, and that this Court has an obligation to read his submissions liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See, e.g., Wright v. Comm'r, 381 F.3d 41, 44 (2d Cir. 2004).

Stone's claim is premised upon Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides that

[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or ...


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