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Willing v. Suffolk County Dep't of Social Services

July 8, 2010

X HARRIET WILLING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUFFOLK COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, COMMISSIONER JANET DEMARZO, SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE STEVE LEVY, NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, AND COMMISSIONER GLADYS CARRION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Harriet Willing ("Willing") was terminated in November of 2006 from her position as the Director of Small Wonders, a private, non--profit children's daycare center. Willing now brings this civil rights action against the Suffolk County Department of Social Services ("Social Services"), Social Services Commissioner Janet DeMarzo, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, and its Commissioner Gladys Carrion (collectively "the Defendants"), alleging that the Defendants violated her due process rights by directing Small Wonders to terminate her employment. Willing also alleges that the Defendants defamed her.

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") motion to dismiss the complaint. In particular, the Defendants contend that Willing's defamation claim and her cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1993 ("Section 1983") are time-barred. The Court finds that Willing's defamation cause of action was not commencedwithin the applicable limitation periods and must be dismissed. However, before addressing the Defendants' challenge to Willing's Section 1983 claim, the Court will convert their Rule 12(b)(6) motion to one for summary judgment. In doing so, the Court must afford the parties a further opportunity to address material outside the pleadings that the Defendants introduced in their reply papers.

I. BACKGROUND

The limited factual background of this case is drawn from Willing's complaint. In September of 2006, while working as the Director at Small Wonders, Willing was told that a teacher there had abused or mistreated children. Willing notified Social Services of this allegation via a "hotline" established for reporting child abuse. After her telephone call, investigators were dispatched by Social Services and the Child Protective Service of New York to investigate the allegations. Although Willing had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged abuse, she claims to have fully cooperated with the investigation.

The Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated by Small Wonder in November of 2006, not long after the investigation was initiated. According to Willing, Small Wonders advised her that she was being terminated at the Defendants' insistence. Willing alleges that she did not receive any formal communication from the Defendants until March 9, 2007, when she was notified in writing by a caseworker from Social Services that an investigation revealed "credible evidence . . . to support the determination that [she] abused or maltreated children . . ." Pl. Com. at 19. Willing challenged this determination and, after an administrative review, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services concluded that she had not engaged in any improper or unlawful conduct.

Although not a model of detail or clarity, the gravaman of Willing's complaint appears to be that the Defendants violated her due process rights by directing Small Wonders to terminate her employment. Without specifying the nature of the offending statements, she also alleges that the Defendants defamed her.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review - Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

It is well-established that a complaint should be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) 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, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). In deciding whether a complaint meets this threshold, the Court is required to accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50, 173 L.Ed. 2d 868 (2009). In its analysis, the Court may refer "to documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, to matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or to documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. Am. Film Tech., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

Where matters outside the pleadings are presented in connection with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "a district court must either 'exclude the additional material and decide the motion on the complaint alone' or 'convert the motion to one for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 and afford all parties the opportunity to present supporting material.'" Friedl v. City of New York, 210 F.3d 79, 83 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Fonte v. Bd. of Managers of Continental Towers Condo., 848 F.2d 24, 25 (2d Cir. 1988).

B. Willing's Defamation Claim

Without actually specifying the offending statements, Willing alleges that the Defendants defamed her, making it difficult for her to obtain a new job in the education field. The Defendants contend that this claim istime-barred. The Court agrees.

N.Y. Gen. Mun. L. ยง 50-i "provides that a plaintiff must commence any action against a county for 'personal injury' within one year and ninety days from the claim's accrual." Canessa v. County of Suffolk, No. 09-CV-3256, 2010 WL 1438822, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 10, 2010) (Spatt, J.). N.Y. CPLR 215(3) imposes a stricter one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims asserted against individuals. Here, under either limitation period, even if the Court accepts that Willing's defamation claim did not accrue until she was contacted by Social Services on March 9, 2007, it is clear that this cause of action ...


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