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Cronin v. Lawrance

August 5, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge


Plaintiff Timothy Cronin ("Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), alleging that Defendant Christopher St. Lawrence ("Defendant"), individually and in his capacity as Supervisor of the Town of Ramapo (the "Town"), violated Plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by retaliating against him for his refusal to place Defendant's campaign sign in Plaintiff's front yard. Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)"). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

For the purposes of this Motion, the Court accepts as true all facts alleged by Plaintiff in his Amended Complaint.

In 1996, Plaintiff was hired by the Town Parks Department (the "Parks Department") as a grounds worker assigned to the Spook Rock Golf Course. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4.) In the fall of 2001, Defendant was the Supervisor of the Town, and he was campaigning for re-election. (Id.¶ 7.) Around that time period, David Stein ("Stein"), a Town Councilman, asked Plaintiff if he would allow Stein to place a campaign sign "for himself and Defendant" in Plaintiff's front yard. (Id.) Plaintiff agreed, based on his assumption that Stein meant a "small one-foot by two-foot sign on wire stakes." (Id.) Subsequently, however, Plaintiff arrived home to find that a four-foot by eight-foot sign had been erected on his lawn. (Id.¶ 8.) Plaintiff called Defendant's campaign to have the sign removed. (Id.) No one from the campaign came to remove the sign, so Plaintiff removed it himself. (Id.) Several days later an identical sign was erected on the same spot. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff again removed the sign, this time depositing it in the Town Hall, at the exterior entrance to Defendant's office. (Id.) Following Plaintiff's removal of the signs, he allegedly "heard gossip that he had annoyed the Town Supervisor by doing this." (Id.¶ 10.)

Sometime in 2002, Plaintiff took and passed the civil service test for the position of assistant greenskeeper. (Id.¶ 11.) Plaintiff was promoted from grounds worker to assistant greenskeeper on May 29, 2003. (Id.) Plaintiff suggests there was improper delay in promoting him to this job, to which he claims he was entitled "by operation of law." (Id.)

In the fall of 2003, Defendant was again campaigning for re-election. (Id. ¶ 12.) During that time, a four-foot by eight-foot campaign sign for Defendant was placed in Plaintiff's front yard. (Id.) Upon discovering the sign, Plaintiff dismantled it and left it at the curb. (Id.) Plaintiff makes no allegation of any rumors about Defendant's reaction to Plaintiff's dismantling of the sign or any other retaliatory acts by Defendant.

In September 2005, while Defendant and Stein were again campaigning for re-election, Stein approached Plaintiff to ask if he could place a campaign sign in Plaintiff's front yard. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff informed Stein that while he would allow Stein's campaign sign in his yard, he would not allow a campaign sign for Defendant. (Id.) Shortly after this conversation, Defendant left a message for Plaintiff at his home, asking that Plaintiff return his call. (Id.) Plaintiff ignored this message. (Id.) Thereafter, Plaintiff received another call from Defendant, this time at work. (Id.¶ 14.) Defendant asked "if Plaintiff would allow his sign in his front yard." (Id.) When Plaintiff refused, Defendant allegedly "became angry and changed his tone of voice and responded 'what do you mean you don't want a sign? You're not supporting me?' Plaintiff answered that that was correct, and Defendant . . . hung up the phone." (Id.)

On January 21, 2006, Plaintiff sat for an exam for a "promotional opening for a Grade 19 position of Maintenance Supervisor in the Parks Department." (Id.¶ 15.) The results were posted on May 5, 2006, and Plaintiff passed with a score of 85%. (Id.) No other qualified individual passed the test, yet Plaintiff was not promoted. (Id.)

In July 2006, Plaintiff learned that both he and his supervisor, Dan Madar ("Madar"), had scheduled vacations for the first week of August 2006. (Id.¶ 16.) "Parks Department Director Ed Lockwood [('Lockwood')] questioned whether they should both be out at the same time, but ultimately told Plaintiff that he and Madar should 'work it out.'" (Id.) Plaintiff suggested to Madar that the other assistant greenskeeper, identified in the Amended Complaint only as "Wanamaker," could be left in charge for the week. (Id.¶ 17.) Madar informed Plaintiff that he had planned a work schedule for Wanamaker for that week. (Id.) Plaintiff did not come away from his conversations with Lockwood or Madar with the understanding that he could not take his planned vacation. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Nor was there any written policy that prevented an individual from taking his vacation at the same time as his supervisor. (Id. ¶ 18.) Accordingly, during the first week of August 2006, both Plaintiff and Madar went on their respective vacations. (Id.¶20.) A few days into Plaintiff's vacation, Plaintiff received a phone call from Madar, who explained that Lockwood was displeased. (Id.) Plaintiff was notified in that conversation that he was suspended. (Id.) Following this incident, the Town filed civil service disciplinary charges against Plaintiff, seeking his termination. (Id.¶ 21.)

Before the start of Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff's counsel spoke with the Town's counsel outside of Plaintiff's presence. (Id.¶ 22.) Following this conversation, Plaintiff's counsel informed Plaintiff that the Town's ultimate goal was to terminate Plaintiff "regardless of the outcome of the [disciplinary proceedings]." (Id.) In lieu of the disciplinary hearing, the Town offered to enter into an agreement whereby Plaintiff would be deemed to have resigned in exchange for certain cash payments. (Id. ¶ 23.) Feeling that he had no alternative, Plaintiff accepted the Town's offer and resigned. (Id.)

Plaintiff filed the instant action on July 15, 2008, and he filed his Amended Complaint on December 11, 2008. Defendant subsequently filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. The Court held oral argument on July 28, 2009.

II. Discussion

A Standard of Review "On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint, the court must accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor." Gonzalez v. Caballero, 572 F. Supp. 2d 463, 466 (S.D.N.Y. 2008); see also Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) ("We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), accepting all factual allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." (internal quotation marks omitted)). "In adjudicating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court must confine its consideration to facts stated on the face of the complaint, in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated ...

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