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Piccoli v. Yonkers Board of Education

December 14, 2009

ANNETTE PICCOLI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
YONKERS BOARD OF EDUCATION AND BERNARD AND ORDER PIERORAZIO, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seibel, J.

On September 29, 2008, Plaintiff Annette Piccoli filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Yonkers Board of Education (the "Board") and Superintendent Bernard Pierarzio, alleging violations of her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 10.) For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion is granted, with leave to replead.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

I. Background

A. Facts

For purposes of deciding this Motion, the Court assumes the facts as alleged in the Complaint to be true and draws all inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Plaintiff was employed as a probationary teacher in the Yonkers School District until her employment was terminated effective February 15, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff's employment was terminated by the Board at the recommendation of Superintendent Pierarzio based on a claim that "she had allegedly failed to follow district policy with respect to the dismissal of a student entrusted to her care and custody on December 10, 2007." (Id. ¶ 7.) On that date, Plaintiff had dismissed a student to the care and custody of an adult who came to pick the child up, after confirming with the child that the adult was there to pick her up from school (the "dismissal incident"). (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) According to Plaintiff, this dismissal conformed with the policy of the school at which Plaintiff was employed -- a policy which was set and confirmed by the school principal. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 14.)

On the day after the dismissal incident, Plaintiff and the principal of her school were required to report to the office of a central administrator, to whom the principal explained that Plaintiff had acted in accordance with the principal's policy for the dismissal of students. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) The principal was sent back to work because she was tenured, and she was never sanctioned for establishing the dismissal policy at issue. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15.) Plaintiff, however, was made to be a "public scapegoat," "though she had fully complied with the policy of her superordinate and no harm came to the dismissed child." (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff alleges that Pierarzio ignored the fact that Plaintiff's action complied with school building policy and "terminated plaintiff in an effort to deceive the public into believing that [P]laintiff had made an error." (Id. ¶ 17.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Pierarzio and other central office administrators made stigmatizing, false and adverse public statements about her in connection with her termination. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff, who was six months away from tenure eligibility at the time she was terminated, alleges that her stellar record as a teacher guaranteed that she would have gained tenure but for Defendants' baseless termination. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.)

As a result of her termination and the public statements made in connection with it, Plaintiff claims to have suffered pecuniary and non-pecuniary harm, an inability to find comparable employment, humiliation, and a loss of professional standing. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this Section 1983 action on September 29, 2008, alleging that her substantive and procedural due process rights were violated by Defendants in connection with her termination and the public statements made about the termination. On July 2, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on the grounds that Plaintiff has not alleged the existence of a protected property right or liberty interest, and that Plaintiff had adequate remedies under state and local law.*fn1

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). While Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Ashcroft, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

In considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court may "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth," and then determine whether the remaining well-pleaded factual allegations, accepted as true, "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. Deciding whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere ...


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