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DeLong v. Soufiane

January 14, 2010

DEBORAH DELONG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
YOUSSEF SOUFIANE, THE HEMPSTEAD UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, THE HEMPSTEAD BOARD OF EDUCATION, REGINA LATTIMORE-GORDON, TERRY GRANT, RALPH SCHNEIDER, DR. NATHANIEL CLAY, DIANNE BROWN, JOHN BROWN, SHARON SIMMONS, AND SALLY A. THOMPSON, IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur D. Spatt United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

SPATT, District Judge.

In November of 2005, Deborah DeLong ("DeLong" or "the Plaintiff"), a former administrator in the Hempstead Union Free School District ("HUFSD"), filed an 84 page complaint asserting various civil rights and state law claims against HUFSD and a number of HUFSD officials (collectively "the Defendants"). Since that time, this case has taken several unusual procedural turns. Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

DeLong, a 53 -year-old African-American woman, has been employed by the HUFSD since 1980, when she was initially hired as a social worker. In 1999, DeLong was granted tenure as the Director of Pupil Personnel Services ("PPS"). Several years later, DeLong was appointed to the position of Assistant Superintendent for PPS, a position that was eliminated by the HUFSD Board of Education on July 1, 2003. On that same day, the HUFSD Board of Education restored DeLong to her previous position as the Director of PPS. However, on October 3, 2005, the Board of Education abolished DeLong's position.

DeLong filed her initial Complaint in this action on November 18, 2005, alleging wide-ranging causes of action against HUFSD and many HUFSD officials. The gravaman of her lengthy Complaint was that various HUFSD officials conspired to mistreat her and violate her civil rights. On December 19, 2005, the Defendants filed a motion requesting a more definite statement as to the Complaint, which the Court granted on September 15, 2006. In granting the Defendants' motion, the Court ordered the Plaintiff to respond by filing an amended complaint within 30 days.

The Plaintiff did not filean amended complaint and no action was taken in the case for almost six months. On March 5, 2007, the Court sent a notice to the Plaintiff's then counsel, Douglas L. Thomas, requesting that he inform the Court within 10 days as to why the case should not be dismissed due to the Plaintiff's failure to prosecute. On March 19, 2007, after the 10-day period passed with no response from Thomas, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff's case for failure to prosecute pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 41(b) ("the March 2007 Order").

On July 31, 2007, the Court received a letter from the Plaintiff requesting that the Court reconsider the dismissal. In the letter, the Plaintiff explained that her failure to prosecute the case was attributable to neglect and deception on the part of attorney Thomas dating back as far as March of 2006. On October 10, 2008, the Court granted the Plaintiff's motion to vacate the March 2007 Order under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). See DeLong v. Soufiane, No. 05-CV-5529, 2008 WL 4561617 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 10, 2008). In particular, the Court found that the Plaintiff's extraordinary circumstances-namely her counsel's negligence and deception in failing to prosecute her case-justified giving the Plaintiff an opportunity to comply with the Court's earlier instruction to file an amended complaint. Id. at 5. The Court ordered the Plaintiff to file an amended complaint within 30 days. Id.

On October 30, 2008, the Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint asserting eleven causes of action that spanned 105 pages and 277 paragraphs; 21 pages longer than the initial complaint. On November 18, 2008, the Defendants filed a motion for a more definite statement of the Amended Complaint. In essence, the Defendants argued that the volume and nature of the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint frustrated their ability to analyze her claims and prepare a responsive pleading. On February 19, 2009, the Court granted the Defendants' motion and dismissed the Amended Complaint without prejudice. The Court gave the Plaintiff a final opportunity to file a Second Amended Complaint that complied with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8.

The Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint on March 20, 2009. The Second Amended Complaint is 61 pages in length and contains 199 paragraphs. On March 30, 2009, the Defendants again filed a motion for a definite statement, renewing their argument that the prolixity of the Second Amended Complaint prevented them from framing a responsive pleading. The Court denied the Defendants' motion in an order dated August 10, 2009, finding that the Second Amended Complaint provided sufficient detail to give the Defendants fair notice of the claims asserted against them.

DeLong's Second Amended Complaint alleges that the Defendants have violated various federal civil rights statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, as well as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1986. DeLong also asserts causes of action for defamation; assault and battery; negligent supervision and training; breach of contract; intentional interference with a contractual relationship; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In addition, DeLong contends that the Defendants have violated N.Y. Civil Service Law § 75-b. The Defendants have raised a number of arguments in support of their Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

II. DISCUSSION

Under the now well-established Twombly standard, a complaint should be dismissed only if it does not contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The Second Circuit has explained that, after Twombly, the Court's inquiry under Rule 12(b)(6) is guided by two principles. Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed. 2d 868 (2009)).

"First, although 'a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint,' that 'tenet' 'is inapplicable to legal conclusions' and '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). "'Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss' and '[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Thus, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and . . . determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

A. Whether the Plaintiff's Claims are Barred by the Applicable Statutes of Limitation

The Defendants contend that the claims alleged in the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint are barred by their respective statutes of limitation. The Plaintiff counters that her claims are within the applicable statutes of limitation because they "relate back" to her initial Complaint. The Court agrees.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c) provides that an amended pleading may "relate back" if: (1) the law that supplies the statute of limitations authorizes relation back; and (2) the amended pleading arises out of the same "conduct, transaction, or occurrence" as the original pleading. The Second Circuit has observed that the "central inquiry" under Rule 15(c) "is whether adequate notice of the matters raised in the amended pleading has been given to the opposing party within the statute of limitations by the general fact situation alleged in the original pleading." Slayton v. American Exp. Co., 460 F.3d 215, 228 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Stevelman v. Alias Research Inc., 174 F.3d 79, 86 (2d Cir. 1999)); see Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1497 (2d ed. 2009) (noting that where the alteration of the original pleading is "so substantial that it cannot be said that defendant was given adequate notice of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence that forms the basis of the claim or defense, then the amendment will not relate back and will be time barred if the limitations period has expired."). However, notwithstanding the "judicial insistence on notice," an amended pleading will relate back even where it contains substantial differences or amplifications if "the factual situation upon which the action depends remains the same and has been brought to defendant's attention by the original pleading." Wright & Miller, § 1497.

Here, although the two earlier incarnations of DeLong's pleading were not models of clarity, the Court is satisfied that the causes of action set forth in the Second Amended Complaint arise out of the same factual circumstances described in her original Complaint. In particular, both pleadings rest upon allegations that the HUFSD and the various HUFSD officials named as defendants conspired to mistreat her and violate her civil and constitutional rights. Despite the length and prolixity of the Complaint and the Amended Complaint, ...


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