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Timothy J. Smeraldo v. City of Jamestown

October 19, 2011

TIMOTHY J. SMERALDO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF JAMESTOWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Timothy J. Smeraldo commenced this civil rights and breach of contract action by filing a Complaint in the District Court for the Western District of New York. (Docket No. 1.) Therein, he alleges that Defendants the City of Jamestown, Rexford H. Rater, Barry L. Swanson, Lee C. Davies, and Robert Samuelson violated his rights under the First Amendment and Due Process clause, as well as committed a breach of contract and engaged in tortious interference with governmental processes. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and New York State law.

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Amended Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety.*fn1 (Docket No. 20.) Plaintiff opposes the motion.*fn2 For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Timothy J. Smeraldo, Plaintiff, is a resident of Jamestown, New York. (Complaint, ("Comp."), Docket No. 1, ¶ 4.) Defendant, the City of Jamestown, is a municipal corporation organized under the laws of New York State. (Id. ¶ 5.) The remaining defendants are, or were at all relevant times, employed by the City of Jamestown. (Id. ¶¶ 6-9.) Defendant Rexford H. Rater is the Director of Public Safety for the City of Jamestown and the Police Chief of the Jamestown Police Department ("JPD"). (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' Statement"), Docket No. 30, ¶ 4.) Defendants Barry L. Swanson and Robert Samuelson are captains in the JPD. (Id. ¶ 5, 7.) Defendant Lee C. Davies is a retired captain, formerly of the JPD. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff was employed by the JPD as a police officer from 1998 to November 26, 2007. (Non-movant's (Plaintiff's) Statement of Material Facts ("Pl.'s Statement"), Docket No. 25, ¶ 2.) On January 16, 2006, Plaintiff was involved in an incident during which Plaintiff allegedly assaulted an arrestee. (Id. ¶ 17.) As a result of this incident, Police Chief Rater suspended Plaintiff for 30 days without pay. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) Subsequently, in lieu of disciplinary proceedings, Plaintiff and the JPD entered into a Stipulation and Agreement ("S&A") that contained the following relevant provisions: 1) Plaintiff would be demoted from the rank of lieutenant to sergeant, and agreed to work at that rank in the detective bureau; 2) Plaintiff affirmed that he had violated departmental policies and that "he will endeavor not to violate any other Department policy in the future;" 3) Plaintiff would enroll in an anger management course; and 4) all records relating to the charges would be sealed.

(Defendants' Amended Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Am. Mot."), Docket No. 20, Ex. D.) Five months later, Plaintiff was transferred out of the detective bureau. (Pl.'s Statement ¶ 30.)

On April 6, 2007, Plaintiff was served with civil service charges alleging that Plaintiff acted disrespectfully towards a superior officer, engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer, and violated the S&A. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 17.) These charges arose as a result of two comments made by Plaintiff in March 2007. In one, Plaintiff, while at a funeral home, represented to another individual that he was or was going to sue the JPD. (Defs.' Am. Mot., Ex. A, p. 16.) In the other, Plaintiff, while at a line-up, upon hearing that a particular lieutenant would be out of town, allegedly remarked that "at any given night or day that the superior officer is going to wonder who is fucking his wife . . . ." (Id. at p. 17.) Following a § 75 proceeding pursuant to New York's Civil Service Law, a hearing officer determined that the JPD had failed to show that Plaintiff's statements at the funeral home violated either the JPD's rules of conduct or the S&A. (Id. at p. 16.) The hearing officer also concluded that the JPD had made such a showing as to Plaintiff's line-up statements. (Id. at pp. 18-19.) On this basis, the hearing officer deemed the proposed penalty of termination appropriate. (Id. at p. 23.)

On November 26, 2007 Police Chief Rater, relying on the hearing officer's conclusion, terminated Plaintiff's employment. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 19.) Plaintiff appealed his termination. The hearing officer's findings were confirmed in a CPLR Article 78 proceeding and subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court Appellate Division in the Fourth Judicial Department, on transfer from the Supreme Court in Chautauqua County. (Defs.' Am. Mot., Ex. B.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Western District of New York on March 12, 2009. (Docket No. 1.) Defendants filed an Answer thereto on April 9, 2009. (Docket No. 3.) Thereafter, Defendants filed an amended Answer on April 13, 2009. (Docket No. 5.) Filing irregularities required Defendants to resubmit their amended Answer on April 16, 2009. (Docket No. 6.) This case was referred to the Honorable H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge, for all non-dispositive and procedural matters on April 21, 2009. (Docket No. 8.) Defendants then filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on September 23, 2009. (Docket No. 19.) Defendants resubmitted their motion as an Amended Motion for Summary Judgment the same day, including missing pages from the § 75 civil service hearing, previously marked as Exhibit A. (Docket No. 20.)

III. DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is warranted where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure material on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A "genuine issue" exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. ...


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