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Andre Massena v. Laura Bronstein; Tarrick Abdelazim; Binghamton

April 18, 2012

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. Presently before the Court are Defendants' Laura Bronstein and Tarrick Abdelazim's motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety.

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"). Defendant Laura Bronstein ("Bronstein") was and is a professor at Binghamton University. She has served as Chair of the Social Work Department since 2006. 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 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 ("BHA"). Plaintiff complained that Tanenhaus was mistreating his tenants by, among other things, improperly evicting minorities. Bronstein did nothing in response to Plaintiff's complaints. *fn2

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 (hereinafter referred to as the "postering incident") . "The posters blamed the Binghamton Housing Authority and the Director of the Binghamton Housing Authority [Tanenhaus] . . . 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.*fn3

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 purported 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 . . . 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. *fn4

By letter dated September 2, 2008, Plaintiff was given a written 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 BHA. A disciplinary hearing was held on September 18, 2008. Bronstein ruled against Plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed.

In or around September 2008, Defendant Tarrick Abdelazim ("Abdelazim"), the person responsible for administering the VISTA program, 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, in November 2008, the written plan and the allegations of misconduct against Plaintiff were withdrawn. No action was taken against Plaintiff.

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. Presently before the Court is Defendants Bronstein and Abdelazim's motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 seeking dismissal of the claims against them in their entirety.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. It is well settled that, on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, see Tenenbaum v. Williams, 193 F.3d 581, 593 (2d Cir. 1999), and may grant summary judgment only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). An issue is genuine if the relevant evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to a dispositive issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant is able to establish a prima facie basis for summary judgment, the burden of production shifts to the party opposing summary judgment who must produce evidence establishing the existence of a factual dispute that a reasonable jury could resolve in his favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A ...


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