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Adams v. New York State Education Dep't

May 4, 2009

TWANA ADAMS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Peck, United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is the motion of defendants New York City, Chancellor Joel Klein and the New York City Board of Education (collectively, the "City Defendants" or the "City") for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d). (Dkt. No. 98: City Notice of Motion.) The City Defendants seek to recover costs and attorneys' fees for work that they performed in Teachers4Action v. Bloomberg, 08 Civ. 548, that they cannot utilize towards defending the present case. (Dkt. No. 99: Greenfield Aff. ¶¶ 2-3.)

For the reasons discussed below, the City Defendants' Rule 41(d) motion is GRANTED in the amount of $10,762.50 in attorneys' fees and $440.40 in costs for a total of $11,202.90.

FACTS

The "Teachers4Action" Prior Lawsuit

On January 21, 2008, represented by then-attorney Edward Fagan, an alleged entity called "Teachers4Action," acting "on behalf of its members," sued Michael Bloomberg, New York City, Joel Klein, and the New York City Department of Education. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 1: Compl.) On April 15, 2008, Teachers4Action filed an amended complaint -- naming twenty-eight teachers as co-plaintiffs, including current plaintiff Twana Adams -- against the same defendants and also added the United Federation of Teachers ("UFT"), UFT President Randi Weingarten, and UFT representative Betsy Combier as defendants. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 16: Am. Compl.) On June 2, 2008, Teachers4Action and fifty-two individual plaintiffs -- including current plaintiffs Twana Adams, Josephina Cruz, Michael Ebewo, Joanne Hart, Eleanor Johnson, Julianne Polito, Thomasina Robinson, Brandi Scheiner, and Roselyne Gisors (the "Adams Plaintiffs") -- filed a second amended complaint. (Dkt. No. 99: Greenfield Aff. Ex. C: Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl.)

The Teachers4Action Second Amended Complaint

The Teachers4Action second amended complaint alleged, inter alia, that the City Defendants "conceived a plan" to: (a) charge some teachers with offenses for which they could be fired or suspended; (b) subject those teachers to hostile work environments, including "Temporary Reassignment Centers (hereinafter 'Rubber Rooms')"; and (c) subject those teachers to Education Law § 3020-a "disciplinary proceedings" without the protections provided by New York Education Law §§ 3020 and 3020-a and Collective Bargaining Agreement Article 21G. (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) The Teachers4Action second amended complaint also alleged that Article 21G's revisions in 2002 deprived teachers of the "due process rights" guaranteed by Education Law §§ 3020 and 3020-a by failing to provide "impartial arbitrators" and adequate representation at the 3020-a hearings and failing to adhere to Article 21G and § 3020-a's timing requirements. (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37, 39, 44, 61.) The Teachers4Action second amended complaint additionally alleged that the City Defendants retaliated against plaintiffs by "harass[ing]" plaintiffs, confining plaintiffs to Temporary Reassignment Centers for "weeks, months and/or years" when it was "not warranted," and creating a "hostile work environment." (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 49, 52, 56-58, 61.) The Teachers4Action second amended complaint alleged that defendants' creation of a "hostile work environment" and transfer of plaintiffs to Temporary Reassignment Centers changed the "terms and conditions of Plaintiffs' employment" and was "intended to interfere with Plaintiffs' current or future employment as tenured teachers." (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 52-56.)

The Teachers4Action second amended complaint raised twelve causes of action, only some of which were asserted against the City Defendants. (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 93-253.) The first cause of action claimed that the City Defendants, Weingarten and the UFT violated plaintiffs' First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by: (a) depriving plaintiffs of "impartial [a]rbitrators" and "adequate representation" at § 3020-a hearings (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 95-97); (b) preventing plaintiffs from "enforc[ing] their constitutional and contractual rights" (id. ¶ 100(a)); (c) "retaliating against Plaintiffs for speaking out against the deplorable conditions in the workplace and/or in the Rubber Rooms" and "expos[ing] the Defendants wrongful acts and/or conditions within the NYC public school system" (id. ¶¶ 100(b)-(c), 101); (d) "limiting Plaintiffs' ability to associate, assemble, discuss and/or communicate" about the allegations against them (id. ¶¶ 100(d)-(f), 101(f), 102-03, 114, 116); (e) "improperly 're-assign[ing]'" plaintiffs to the Temporary Reassignment Centers, where "they waited for months and years without a chance to clear their names and protect their salaries, licenses and property rights" (id. ¶¶ 104-05, 113); (f) "harass[ing]" plaintiffs and creating a "hostile work environment" (id. ¶ 113); and (g) "negotiat[ing] and implement[ing] Article 21G, which was intended to interfere with Plaintiffs' and other teachers', 'certifications and license', salaries and due process rights" (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 107-08).

The Teachers4Action second cause of action claimed that the City Defendants harassed plaintiffs and subjected them to a hostile work environment by creating "conditions . . . in the schools before Plaintiffs were transferred to the Rubber Rooms [] and . . . conditions . . . in the Rubber Rooms." (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 118-35.)

The Teachers4Action third cause of action claimed that the City Defendants retaliated against Plaintiffs ([a]) by interfering with Plaintiffs' freedom of speech and freedom of association; ([b]) by targeting Plaintiffs and others who acted as "whistle blowers" and spoke out about the due process violations and the wrongs within the Rubber Rooms and the NYC public school system[;] . . . ([c]) by intimidating Plaintiffs and others from acting as "whistle blowers" and speaking out about the due process violations and the wrongs within the Rubber Rooms and the NYC public school system[;] . . . [(d) by] threaten[ing] Plaintiffs that if they did not agree to some form of punishment and/or fine, they would be subjected to potentially ruinous fines, suspension without pay, and/or termination and loss of certifications and/or licenses[;] . . . [(e) by] threaten[ing] Plaintiffs that if they attempted to object to the manner in which Defendants . . . were conducting the [§§ 3020 and 3020-a] administrative hearings, . . . Plaintiffs would be subjected to additional punishment[;] (f) by "filing new allegations" against the Teachers4Action president after the Teachers4Action plaintiffs sent certain letters to the City Defendants, Weingarten and the UFT; (g) by directing the arbitrators to continue the § 3020-a hearings even if plaintiffs did not have representation; (h) by subjecting plaintiffs to an evaluation by the DOE's Medical Division, "as a result of which [plaintiffs could] be summarily terminated"; and (i) by having a Department of Education lawyer intimidate a plaintiff's doctor into revealing confidential medical information. (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 138-43, 148-50.)

The Teachers4Action fourth cause of action claimed that the City Defendants "constructive[ly] discharge[d]" plaintiffs. (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 157-61.) The Teachers4Action fifth cause of action claimed that the City Defendants "breached the terms of the contract with Plaintiffs." (Id. ¶¶ 164-70.) The Teachers4Action eighth cause of action claimed that the City Defendants negligently "hired and retained principals and other administrators who they knew, or should have known, would carry out the Defendants' plan to target Plaintiffs and other tenured teachers." (Id. ¶ 201: see id. ¶¶ 202-08.) The Teachers4Action tenth cause of action claimed that the City Defendants, UFT and Weingarten conspired to form "[t]he Plan" to violate plaintiffs' rights, and "made material misrepresentations of fact about, among other things, Article 21G, NYS Education Law §§ 3020 and 3020-a, the arbitration panel and Plaintiffs' rights." (Teachers4Action 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 217-39.) The Teachers4Action eleventh cause of action claimed that the City Defendants' confinement of plaintiffs in the "Rubber Rooms, closets, empty windowless offices or other small spaces . . . . is/was improper . . . . [and] constitutes unlawful confinement and/or false imprisonment." (Id. ¶¶ 242-49.) The Teachers4Action twelfth cause of action requested a declaratory judgment. (Id. ¶¶ 251-53.)

Events Leading to the Voluntary Dismissal of the Teachers4Action Case

At a hearing in the Teachers4Action case on June 11, 2008, the Court set a briefing schedule for defendants' motion to dismiss. (See Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 63: 6/11/08 Order; Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 66: 6/11/08 Conf. Tr.) On July 7, 2008, defendants filed their motions to dismiss. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. Nos. 76-82.) Shortly after this, the plaintiff group in Teachers4Action began to fall apart. In early August, attorney Fagan filed a motion to be relieved as counsel for plaintiff Florian Lewenstein, the "representative" of Teachers4Action. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. Nos. 86-89.) In mid-to late-August 2008, certain of the plaintiffs started voluntarily dismissing their claims without prejudice (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. Nos. 96-97) and attorney Fagan filed a second motion to be relieved as counsel for additional plaintiffs (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. Nos. 103-05).

On September 15, 2008, this Court held a hearing on attorney Fagan's motion to withdraw, and, in scheduling the hearing, directed that any plaintiffs who wished to attend were invited to do so. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 125: 9/8/08 Scheduling Order; see id., Dkt. No. 141: 9/15/08 Conf. Tr.) The Court suggested that the Teachers4Action plaintiffs who no longer wanted to be represented by attorney Fagan should voluntarily dismiss their claims without prejudice so that they could regroup, find new counsel and then if they wished commence a new lawsuit. (See 9/15/08 Conf. Tr. at 4-5, 11-13, 19, 30.)

After the conference, Mr. Lewenstein and the other plaintiffs who no longer wished to be represented by attorney Fagan filed notices of voluntary dismissal without prejudice. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 138: 9/23/08 Order of Dismissal.) This group did not include any of the Adams plaintiffs. (Id.) To the Court's surprise, attorney Fagan also filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal without prejudice for the remaining plaintiffs that he still represented, including the present Adams plaintiffs. (Teachers4Action, 08 Civ. 548, Dkt. No. 137: 9/22/08 "Notice of Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice by All Plaintiffs Represented by Edward Fagan"; see also id., Dkt. No. 138: 9/23/08 Order, "so ordering" Fagan clients' voluntary dismissals.)

The Adams Case

On June 30, 2008, the Adams plaintiffs (and others who have since voluntarily dismissed their claims) filed a complaint in the present case against the State Education Department (but not the City DOE) and seventeen arbitrators of the § 3020-a hearings. (Dkt. No. 1: Compl.) The case was assigned to Judge Lynch. (See Dkt. No. 9.) On August 15, 2008, the City Department of Education moved to intervene because, inter alia, the Adams complaint sought "to prevent the [New York City] Department of Education . . . from 'attempting to enforce rulings, awards, settlements or decisions made as a result of the 3020a hearings.'" (Dkt. No. 30: City DOE Motion to Intervene; see Dkt. No. 28: Greenfield Intervening Aff.; Dkt. No. 29: City DOE Intervention Br. at 9-10.)

As had happened in the Teachers4Action case, the plaintiff group in the Adams case splintered in September 2008. On September 15, 2008, attorney Fagan filed a motion to be relieved as counsel for certain of the plaintiffs. (Dkt. Nos. 34-36.) On October 8, 2008, Judge Lynch granted Fagan's motion. (Dkt. No. 39: 10/8/08 Order.) Fagan continued to represent the Adams plaintiffs (and certain additional plaintiffs). (See id.)

On October 24, 2008, the plaintiffs still represented by Fagan (including all the Adams plaintiffs) filed an amended complaint adding the City Defendants and including a hostile work environment cause of action addressing the "Rubber Rooms'" conditions. (Dkt. No. 40: Am. Compl. ¶¶ 109-20.)

On November 10, 2008, counsel for the City Defendants wrote to Judge Lynch, noting that the Adams Amended Complaint asserted many of the same claims that had been voluntarily dismissed in the Teachers4Action case and requesting fees and costs pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(d). (Dkt. No. ...


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