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Taddeo v. County of Niagara

March 12, 2010

JOHN S. TADDEO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF NIAGARA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

In the complaint in this action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Niagara, the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, and Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein, plaintiff John S. Taddeo claims that he was wrongfully terminated from his employment as a Deputy Sheriff in violation of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and in retaliation for his alleged political activities in violation of the First Amendment and New York State Labor Law § 201-d. Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment on his due process claim (Item 18), and defendants move for summary judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety (Item 23).

For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is denied, and defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff was hired by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department in February 1987. He was at all relevant times a member of the collective bargaining unit represented by the Niagara County Deputy Sheriff's Police Benevolent Association (the "Union"). He worked in various capacities as a Deputy Sheriff until April 1994, when he was assigned to work in the courts. His duties included protection of the judges, maintaining courtroom order, operation of metal detectors, and other security services requiring authorization to carry a weapon.*fn1

On October 31, 2005, while he was working at the Niagara County Civic Building, plaintiff was approached by Chief Deputy Carlin and Chief Deputy John Taylor, who advised plaintiff that they were conducting an internal investigation, at the request of Sheriff Beilein, regarding allegations of illegal drug use. They took plaintiff's weapon and transported him to the Sheriff's office, where he executed the following Voluntary Statement:

I have admitted to the recreational use of illegal substances stemming from a time period of 1990-94 where drugs were prevalent in the N.C. Jail and at parties off duty.

Over the next ten years, I occasional[ly] used illegal substances recreationally.

As per meeting on 10/31/05 I did admit to Chief Deputy Carlin and Chief Deputy Taylor to recently using an illegal substance.

Prior to my being questioned by the aforementioned chiefs, I spoke to Capt. Young on Sat. Oct. 29th, 2005, where I requested Cindy Goss's phone # and spoke with her on Sunday Oct. 30th where she advised to set up appt. with Vicki Brennan at Brylin outpatient facility. Cindy works for E.A.P. [Employee Assistance Programs].

A urine test was administered voluntarily at approx. 3:50 pm. A lock of hair was cut from my head under protest from myself and Union President Edward Briggs.

Item 23, Exhibit L.

Plaintiff was suspended without pay as of October 31, 2005. The urine sample collected that day tested positive for cocaine metabolites (Item 23, Attachment 17, Ex. A), as did a urine sample taken from plaintiff on the next day upon his admission to the BryLin Outpatient Chemical Dependency program (Item 20, Ex. F).

At a meeting which took place on November 10, 2005, plaintiff was served with a "Notice of Disciplinary Charges" pursuant to Article VII of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the Sheriff's Department, specifying four separate rule violation charges resulting from the Department's internal investigation, three of which related to his admission to the use of illegal substances (see Item 23, Ex. M). The Notice advised plaintiff of his right to arbitration, and that the Sheriff's Department would "seek at any hearing herein the penalty of termination of employment" (id.).

In a letter dated November 14, 2005, the Union proposed a "Last Chance Agreement" to settle the charges in lieu of arbitration, allowing plaintiff to continue his employment subject to certain conditions (Item 23, Ex. Q). A meeting to discuss the proposal was held on January 27, 2006, attended by plaintiff, Union President Edward Briggs, Chief Deputy Taylor, and Undersheriff Samuel Muscarella. Following the meeting, the finalized Last Chance Agreement was executed by Sheriff Beilein, Mr. Briggs, and plaintiff, providing in pertinent part as follows:

This Agreement, dated this 27th day of January, 2006, by and between the County of Niagara and the Sheriff of the County of Niagara (hereinafter referred to as Employer), John S. Taddeo (hereinafter referred to as the Employee) and the Niagara County Sheriff's PBA (hereinafter referred to as the Union).

WHEREAS, the Employer has brought certain disciplinary charges against the Employee, pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Employer and the Union, and

WHEREAS, the Employee has been placed on and is serving, or has served, a thirty-day suspension without pay as a result of said charges being placed, in accordance with the provisions of the said bargaining agreement; and WHEREAS, the parties to this Agreement are desirous of resolving the said disciplinary charges and settling outstanding matters, to the mutual satisfaction and benefit of all involved;

NOW THEREFORE, in consideration of the mutual promises made herein, it is hereby agreed as follows:

1. The Employee shall continue in the employ of the Employer, subject to the ...


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