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Andre Massena v. Laura Bronstein; Tarrick Abdelazim; Binghamton

February 24, 2011

ANDRE MASSENA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAURA BRONSTEIN; TARRICK ABDELAZIM; BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK; AND CITY OF BINGHAMTON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY Senior United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Plaintiff Andre Massena commenced the instant action against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of his suspension from the Binghamton University Masters of Social Work program and the non-renewal of his contract with the City of Binghamton's VISTA Program.

I. FACTS

At all times relevant hereto, from August 2006 until November 2009, Plaintiff was a student at the State University of New York at Binghamton ("SUNY Binghamton"). Plaintiff was enrolled in the Social Work Department and pursuing Master's Degrees in Social Work ("MSW") and Public Administration ("MPA"). From July 2008 through September 2008, Plaintiff was employed by the City of Binghamton as a VISTA Project Supervisor.*fn1

Over the course of three meetings from March through June 2008, Plaintiff complained to Defendant Laura Bronstein, Chair of the SUNY Binghamton Social Work Program, about the conduct of SUNY Binghamton Professor David Tanenhaus. Tanenhaus was, and continues to be, the Director of the Binghamton Housing Authority. Plaintiff complained that Tanenhaus was mistreating his tenants by, among other things, improperly evicting minorities. Bronstein did nothing in response to Plaintiff's complaints.

On or about August 25, 2008, Plaintiff placed posters in a SUNY Binghamton building stating that "a particular tenant of color in one of Tanenhaus' buildings was wrongfully evicted." Compl. at ¶ 21. "The posters blamed the Binghamton Housing Authority and the Director of the Binghamton Housing Authority . . . for the tenant's treatment, and they suggested that people call the SUNY Binghamton Social Work Department and the Binghamton Housing Authority to express their views." Id.

On or about August 29, 2008, Bronstein sent Plaintiff an e-mail advising that Plaintiff had not met the requirements necessary to advance under the Social Work Department's Advancement Policy. The bases for Bronstein's e-mail were that Plaintiff was alleged to have: (1) entered the University Downtown Center under false pretenses and continued to deny and lie about his activities in the building at that time; and (2) "perpetrated lies in this regard with University Police as per statements noted below and through emails with Professor Wiener and [Bronstein] where [Plaintiff] act[s] as if [he] had no knowledge of the posters distributed in the [University Downtown Center] that night; when in fact [he was] . . . observed on videotape distributing these posters [himself]." Id. at ¶ 22.*fn2

By letter dated September 2, 2008, Plaintiff was given a plan that required, among other things, that he withdraw from his social work courses for the Fall 2008 semester, take a leave of absence during the Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 semesters, re-apply for admission into the program for the Spring 2009 semester, issue a formal statement retracting the statements in the posters, and discontinue the practice of urging community members to contact the Social Work Department to alleviate the wrongs alleged to have been committed by the Binghamton House Authority. A disciplinary hearing was held on September 18, 2008. Brostein ruled against Plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed.

In or around September 2008, Defendant Tarrick Abdelazim, the person responsible for administering the VISTA program and a member of the Binghamton Housing Authority, declined to renew Plaintiff's contract to be a VISTA Supervisor.

In an October 21, 2008 memorandum to the SUNY Binghamton College of Community and Public Affairs ("CCPA") Ethics and Integrity Committee, Bronstein recommended that Plaintiff be dismissed from the Social Work program. Thereafter, the "Plan" and the allegations of misconduct against Plaintiff were withdrawn.

Based on the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff has asserted a claim that he was retaliated against for engaging in protected speech in violation of the rights guaranteed to him by the First Amendment.*fn3

Presently before the Court is Defendants City of Binghamton and Tarrick Abdelazim's motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) seeking dismissal of the claims against them in their entirety.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)). "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 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1964-65. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 1965. "'[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.'" Id. at 1965 (quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)). "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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint does not suffice "if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Iqbal, at 1950. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at ...


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