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Garten v. Hochman

June 16, 2010

JAMES GARTEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JERE HOCHMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND THE BEDFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul G. Gardephe, U.S.D.J.

ECF

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff James Garten brings this action against Defendants Jere Hochman and the Bedford Central School District asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment right to intimate association and his First Amendment right to free speech and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.

Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

In 2003, Garten commenced an action for divorce against his then wife, Kari Garten. (Cmplt. ¶ 6) Kari and James Garten have two children together, Braden Mackenzie Garten and Sophia Jane Garten. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 3, 6)

In connection with the divorce proceeding, Kari and James Garten appeared before Special Judicial Referee James Montagnino on April 5, 2005. (Cmplt. ¶ 7) At that time, Kari and James entered into a parenting agreement. (Id.) With respect to Braden and Sophia's education, the agreement provided that "educational decisions that are to be made on behalf of the children will be joint decisions. But the parties at this time are agreeing that the children will remain in the Bedford Central School District through twelfth grade unless they otherwise agree." (Cmplt. ¶ 7) Kari and James also agreed that "the children will be in the West Patent Elementary School for their elementary schooling." (Id.) Kari and James stated under oath that they intended to "live up to all of the promises" in the agreement and were instructed by Montagnino that their agreement was fully binding. (Cmplt. ¶ 8)

The Complaint alleges that in or about September 2008, Kari solicited Defendant Hochman, Superintendent of Schools for the Bedford Central School District, to remove Braden and Sophia from the West Patent Elementary School and enroll them in the Pound Ridge Elementary School, another school in the same school district. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 5, 9). The Complaint claims that Kari "[d]eliberately intend[ed] to breach the agreement for her personal convenience (given the location of her residence within the attendance zone for the Pound Ridge Elementary School)." (Id.)

After having "supposedly learned" that Garten had moved to North Salem -- leaving his house in the West Patent area unoccupied -- Hochman informed Garten that he intended to enroll Braden and Sophia in the Pound Ridge Elementary School. (Cmplt. ¶ 10)

The Complaint pleads that Garten: in his dual capacities as father and citizen vigorously opposed Hochman, non-disruptively advocating that: i) Braden and Sophia were happy at the West Patent Elementary School and did not want to be enrolled in the Pound Ride Elementary School; ii) from an educational/pedagogical perspective it was in the best interests of Braden and Sophia to remain in the West Patent Elementary School; iii) from a psychological perspective it was in the best interests of Braden and Sophia to continue their education in the West Patent Elementary School; iv) the District should not insinuate itself into a post-divorce matrimonial dispute where the venue of the children's education had since 2005 been embodied in a jointly agreed to court order that imposed on Kari a contractual and enforceable obligation not to interfere with the children's education at the West Patent Elementary School; and inter alia v) Hochman, and through him the District, abandon his plan, intended to pander to Kari, to interfere with Braden and Sophia's education to their detriment. (Cmplt. ¶ 11)

On October 31, 2008, Hochman informed Garten that Sophia and Braden had in fact been reassigned to Pound Ridge Elementary School. (Cmplt. ¶ 12) Braden and Sophia were allegedly "emotionally distraught, uncomprehending, bewildered, frightened [and] tearful" after being told that they were to leave West Patent Elementary School. (Cmplt. ¶ 14) The Complaint alleges that Braden and Sophia understood their "forced reassignment" to be their father's fault and, as a result, Garten's relationship with his children "has been severely strained, a circumstance both reasonably foreseeable, expected, and intended by Hochman." (Id.)

The Complaint further alleges that, in reassigning Braden and Sophia, Hochman i) recklessly disregarded the children's best interests and intended to cause Plaintiff emotional upset and anxiety; ii) deliberately refused to properly exercise his plenary discretion to allow them to continue in the West Patent Elementary School despite his understanding that their coerced reassignment would adversely affect the quality of Braden and Sophia's education and impair their emotional well being; iii) appreciated that his unilateral reassignment of the children would case Braden and Sophia anxiety and substantial emotional upset; iv) correctly anticipated that, by reason of Plaintiff's opposition to the reassignment and Kari's advocacy in favor of the reassignment, both Braden and Sophia would resent their father's failure and/or inability to keep them enrolled in the West Patent Elementary School; v) intended to punish Plaintiff for vigorously opposing as contrary to the best interests of Braden and Sophia the coerced reassignment; vi) intended to punish Plaintiff for urging Hochman, and through him the District, not to facilitate Kari's deliberate violation of the 2005 agreement; vi) and inter alia intended to interfere with Braden and Sophia's intimate familial relationship with their father. (Cmplt. ¶ 13)

This action was filed on November 3, 2008. Garten brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment right to intimate association (Cmplt. ¶¶ 16-17) and for violations of his First Amendment right to free speech and to petition the government for the redress of grievances. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 18-19)

On January 28, 2009, Judge Conner denied Garten's motion for a preliminary or permanent injunction mandating that Defendants re-enroll Braden and Sophia in the West Patent Elementary School on the grounds that the abstention doctrine articulated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-56 (1971), required that the case be stayed in deference to a pending Article 78 proceeding. Garten v. Hochman, No. 08 Civ. 9425 (WCC), 2009 WL 302267, at *3-5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 28, 2009). Judge Conner noted that even if Younger abstention did not apply, he would have denied the motion for a preliminary injunction because Garten had failed to demonstrate either a risk of irreparable harm or a likelihood of success on the merits. Id. at *5-9. The Court noted that Garten had "not brought a ...


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