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Hennigan v. Driscoll

September 30, 2009

PATRICK HENNIGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MATT DRISCOLL, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF SYRACUSE; FRANK FOWLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS POLICE SERGEANT OF THE CITY OF SYRACUSE; AND CITY OF SYRACUSE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On April 4, 2004, Plaintiff, a former police officer with the Syracuse Police Department ("SPD") filed this action. See, generally, Complaint. Generally, Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to resign from the SPD as a result of statements that Defendants Fowler and Driscoll made to Syracuse-area newspapers.*fn1 More specifically, Plaintiff alleges the following claims: (1) Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights by forcing him to resign and denying his request for a name-clearing hearing; (2) Defendants defamed him with their statements to the newspapers which were printed on January 29, 2005, February 3, 2005, February 6, 2005, and April 27, 2005; and (3) Defendants caused him to suffer severe emotional distress as a result of statements that Defendants Fowler and Driscoll made to the press, which allegedly led to Plaintiff's coerced resignation from the SPD. See Complaint at ¶¶ 14-17, 19, 21-22, 35-37.*fn2

Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 16. In support of their motion, Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's claims for four reasons: (1) the record before the Court does not contain any evidence establishing, nor does Plaintiff's complaint allege facts plausibly suggesting, that Plaintiff had a property interest in his job which entitled him to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, see Defendants' Memorandum of Law at 11-12; (2) even if the Court finds that Plaintiff had a property interest entitling him to due process, the record does not contain any evidence establishing, nor does Plaintiff's complaint allege facts plausibly suggesting, that Defendants' alleged defamatory statements were the impetus for Plaintiff's resignation from the SPD; and, therefore, Defendants did not infringe upon Plaintiff's property interest in violation of due process, see Defendants' Reply at ¶¶ 23-24; (3) the record before the Court does not contain any evidence establishing, nor does Plaintiff's complaint allege facts plausibly suggesting, that the statements that Defendants Fowler and Driscoll made to the media were uttered with malice with intent to injure Plaintiff, see Defendants' Memorandum of Law at 14; and (4) the record before the Court does not contain any evidence establishing, nor does Plaintiff's complaint allege facts plausibly suggesting, that Defendants engaged in extreme or outrageous conduct resulting in Plaintiff's alleged emotional distress, see id. at 15.

II. BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2004, Plaintiff submitted an application for employment as a police officer with the SPD. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 1. At the time, he was a police officer with the Town of Clay Police Department, where his duties involved, among other things, enforcing Town of Clay laws and ordinances at a salary of approximately $32,000 per year in a police department that was smaller than the SPD. See Declaration of James McGinty dated January 25, 2008 ("McGinty Decl.") at Exhibit "N" at 8, 32, 34, 36-40, 43; Dkt. No. 17, Part 2, at 13. In his application to the SPD, Plaintiff stated, in part, that he was "[f]orced to resign from [the] Onondaga County Sheriffs Department in 1999 after successful completion of field training program, the reason(s) for which were never communicated to me personally by any Onondaga County Sheriffs Department Official." See Dkt. No. 17, Part 2, at 26.

On or about November 25, 2004,*fn3 Plaintiff authorized the release of confidential background information to the SPD for purposes of his employment application. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2.

On or about December 6, 2004, the SPD made Plaintiff a conditional offer of employment with a starting date of December 27, 2004. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3. The conditional offer of employment stated as follows:

As a result of our assessment of the information you have provided on the recruit information form, and your successful completion of the physical agility portion of the Onondaga County Civil Service Exam, we are offering you a position as Police Officer. This is a conditional offer, for hiring on December 27, 2004 only. Based on the number of position openings and your standing among other qualified candidates, a final and unconditional offer of employment will be made to you upon successful completion of the remainder of the background investigation. Such investigation includes but is not limited to medical, polygraph, and psychological tests. Do not terminate any present employment at this time.

Please understand that this is a conditional offer of employment.

See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "C."

At some point between approximately November 25, 2004, and December 13, 2004, Martin Henry, a Syracuse Police Officer, conducted a Recruit Investigation of Plaintiff's background.*fn4 During the background investigation, Plaintiff disclosed to Officer Henry details about an incident that occurred in August 1999. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 11; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 11; see also Dkt. No. 17, Part 4, at 6 (Memorandum from P.O. Martin Henry to Commanding Officer Human Resources, dated 12/13/04).

On December 13, 2004, the SPD's Candidate Selection Committee met with Plaintiff and, by a five-to-two vote, recommended that the SPD not hire Plaintiff. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 5; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 5; see also Dkt. No. 17, Part 4, at 7 (Memorandum from P.O. Martin Henry to Commanding Officer Human Resources, dated 12/13/04, indicating recommendation of Police Candidate Selection Committee on 12/13/04). However, on December 27, 2004, the SPD hired Plaintiff at a salary of approximately $48,000 per year. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6; see also McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "M" at 43. The continuation of his employment was contingent upon successful completion of a probationary period of fifty-two weeks. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6. Specifically, paragraph two of his Letter of Understanding and Acknowledgment, which Plaintiff signed on December 27, 2004, stated, "I [Plaintiff] acknowledge that my employment with the Syracuse Police Department is contingent upon successful completion of a probationary period of fifty two (52) weeks...." See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "F."

On January 29, 2005, a Syracuse-area newspaperprinted an article about Plaintiff's recent employment with the SPD and the August 1999 incident that Plaintiff had disclosed to Officer Henry during the Recruit Investigation. See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "Q" at 11. The article quoted Defendant Driscoll as saying, "If one scintilla of [the incident] is true, [Plaintiff] will not be a member of our Police Department[.]" See id.

On January 31, 2005, Plaintiff tendered his resignation as a police officer with the SPD through a hand-written, signed Inter-Departmental-Memo to the SPD. See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "H." The letter stated, in its entirety, "Sir: I hereby resign my position as police officer effective 1400 hrs, Monday 31 Jan 05." See id.*fn5

On February 8, 2005, Plaintiff sent a letter to Police Chief Steven Thompson rescinding his resignation from January 31, 2005, and requesting a post-termination hearing. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 8; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 8. Specifically, Plaintiff's letter stated as follows:

I am writing this letter to inform you that I am rescinding my resignation from Monday, January 31st, 2005 as it was made under duress and to reiterate my demand for a POST TERMINATION HEARING that was originally made on my behalf Tuesday, February 1st, 2005. I would also like to add that this rescinding of my resignation was going to be originally made on Thursday, February 3rd 2005 but when personnel was contacted I was told that I had to meet with Lieutenant J. Culeton on February 4th at 8:30am. I notified personnel via telephone that I was unable to make that appointment as I would be out of Town until February 7th and needed to reschedule. I was never re contacted by anyone regarding this.

See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "I."

On February 17, 2005, Chief Thompson sent Plaintiff a letter stating that he did not consent to the rescission of Plaintiff's resignation and that post-termination hearings did not apply to resignations. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 9; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 9.*fn6 Specifically, Chief Thompson's letter stated as follows:

This letter is in response to yours of February 8, 2005, wherein you informed me that you were rescinding your resignation from the Syracuse Police Department which was received and accepted by me on January 1, 2005, and which you now assert was made under duress.*fn7

Please be advised that, pursuant to applicable regulation, a resignation tendered by one in civil service may not be withdrawn without the consent of the appointing authority. In this case I am the appointing authority and I do not consent to the rescission or withdrawal of your resignation. Based upon the circumstances of our meeting on January 31, 2005, I must reject your current assertion that your resignation was in any way coerced or procured through duress. As we discussed then, and as I continue to believe now, your resignation was in the best interest of both yourself and of the Police Department.

In regard to your demand for a "post-termination hearing," please be advised that I am not aware of any such procedure that would relate to a resignation. I can only suggest that if you believe you are aggrieved in this matter you may want to consult an attorney to discuss whatever options may be available to you.

See McGinty Decl. at Exhibit "J."

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment ...


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