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Knox v. Town of Southeast

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 31, 2014

RAYMOND C. KNOX, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF SOUTHEAST, MICHAEL RIGHTS, Town Supervisor, DWIGHT YEE, Town Councilman, and ROBERT CULLEN, Town Councilman, individually and in their official capacity, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

EDGARDO RAMOS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Raymond C. Knox ("Plaintiff" or "Knox") brings this action against Michael Rights ("Rights"), Dwight Yee ("Yee"), Robert Cullen ("Cullen") (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"), and the Town of Southeast (the "Town") (collectively, the "Defendants") stating claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as claims pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"); and the New York Civil Service Law ("NYCSL"). Doc. 1. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Doc. 14. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted.

Plaintiff is a 72 year-old male who was employed by the Town of Southeast as the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department (the "Department") for over 23 years. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.[1] Plaintiff was classified as a "permanent competitive class employee, " as he was required to take and pass a Civil Service Exam in order to obtain his position as Director. Id. ¶¶ 5-6.

a. Plaintiff's Medical History

After suffering a heart attack in 2000, Plaintiff underwent a triple bypass surgery and had a defibrillator implanted in his chest. Id. ¶ 8. In February 2010, Plaintiff had surgery to remove and replace the defibrillator. Id. ¶ 9. During the surgery, Plaintiff developed a bacterial blood infection, which resulted in a five-week hospitalization from May 2010 to July 7, 2010. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff returned to work the Monday after his July 7, 2010 discharge from the hospital. Affirmation of Constantino Fragale ("Fragale Decl.") (Doc. 20), Ex. F (Knox Dep. Tr.) at 2:2-10; Declaration of James A. Randazzo ("Randazzo Decl.") (Doc. 15), Ex. F (Knox Dep. Tr.) at 18:7-9, 20:25-21:10. Thereafter, in August 2010, Plaintiff underwent an overnight procedure to have the defibrillator re-implanted in his chest. Randazzo Decl., Ex. F at 18:10-21. Plaintiff returned to work after the August procedure and continued to work for the Town until the end of 2010. Id at 21:8-19.

b. Elimination of Plaintiff's Position

In September 2010, Defendant Rights, the Town Supervisor, submitted a preliminary budget for 2011 (the "2011 Budget") to the Town Board. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 12. During the budgetary process, Defendant Cullen, a Town Councilman, called the Personnel Director for Putnam County, Paul Eldridge, on two separate occasions to discuss the Town's fiscal crisis and the process for eliminating civil service positions. Randazzo Decl., Ex. D (Eldridge Dep. Tr.) at 16:2-24. During the second conversation, Cullen specifically mentioned that the Director of Parks and Recreation was one of the positions, among others, that the Town was considering eliminating for fiscal and budgetary reasons. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19. On the morning of November 18, 2010, Defendant Cullen, along with Town Board member Roger Gross and Town Attorney Will Stephens, informed Plaintiff that his position was being eliminated due to budgetary concerns. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Later that evening, the Town Board voted to adopt the 2011 Budget, which eliminated Plaintiff's position, as well as four additional positions within the Town. Id. ¶ 23; see also Randazzo Decl., Ex. G. Defendant Cullen voted in favor of the budget, while Defendants Rights and Yee voted against it. Randazzo Decl., Ex. G; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 24. Plaintiff admits that he did not request a hearing regarding the elimination of his position at any time, either before or after the November 18, 2010 vote on the 2011 Budget. Randazzo Decl., Ex. F at 111:17-20. It is further undisputed that Plaintiff continued to work as Director of Parks and Recreation until December 31, 2010. Id. at 7:5-7.

Patricia Bohrman, an employee in the Department, testified at her deposition that the functions and duties of the Director position were never eliminated and that since the abolishment of Plaintiff's position, she performed all of the functions and duties previously performed by Plaintiff. Fragale Decl., Ex. D (Borhman Dep. Tr.) at 8:13-24, 9:15-19.

c. Amendment to the Town Automobile Usage Policy

On May 20, 1999, a resolution was enacted by the then-existing Town Board which provided, inter alia, that only the Highway Superintendent, Town Building Inspector, and Director of Parks and Recreation could take Town vehicles home and keep them overnight without first obtaining permission from the Town Supervisor (the "1999 Automobile Policy"). Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 29. Shortly after Defendants Rights and Yee took office in 2009, they made a proposal to the Town Board to form a Town "vehicle pool, " which would require that Town vehicles be stored in one location and that any employee wishing to use one would be required to report to that location and sign out the vehicle. Id. ¶ 30. Thereafter, on August 26, 2010, the Town Board voted to amend the 1999 Automobile Policy to incorporate Defendants Rights' and Yee's "vehicle pool" proposal (the "2010 Automobile Policy"). Id. ¶ 33; see also Randazzo Decl., Ex. J. The amended policy authorized only the Highway Superintendent to take a Town vehicle home without first obtaining permission from the Town Supervisor. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 33; see also Randazzo Decl., Ex. J ¶ 4.

In June 2010, prior to the amendment, Defendant Cullen called Plaintiff, who was hospitalized at the time, to apprise him that the Town vehicle at Plaintiff's residence would be relocated to the Highway Department. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 34. Thereafter, Defendant Cullen and Ms. Bohrman picked up the Town vehicle from Plaintiff's home and moved it to the Highway Department. Id. ¶ 36. Defendants contend that it was necessary to move the vehicle from Plaintiff's home because while he was out on medical leave, the other employees in the Department were forced to use their personal vehicles to conduct Town business, and would then submit vouchers for reimbursement to the Town.[2] Id. ¶ 35 (citing Randazzo Decl., Ex. E (Cullen Dep. Tr.) at 37:9-21).

Plaintiff testified at his deposition that upon his return to work from medical leave, although he would use the Town vehicle "[o]nce in awhile... if [he] needed it for some specific reason, " because there was "no procedure" for using the vehicle on the weekends or in the evenings, Plaintiff "chose not to use it, " and stated that the vehicle was not always "available for [him]." Randazzo Decl., Ex. F at 63:11-66:15. Rather, Plaintiff chose to use his personal vehicle to conduct Town business on a daily basis. Id. at 64:2-3, 90:25-91:3. Plaintiff thereafter requested to be reimbursed for the costs associated with using his personal vehicle, however, Defendants denied Plaintiff's requests. Id. 90:25-94:12.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "An issue of fact is genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Senno v. Elmsford Union Free Sch. Dist., 812 F.Supp.2d 454, 467 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing SCR Joint Venture L.P. v. Warshawsky, 559 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir. 2009)). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the litigation under the governing law. Id. The party moving for summary judgment is first responsible for demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party meets its burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with admissible evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to avoid summary judgment." Saenger v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., 706 F.Supp.2d 494, 504 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Jaramillo v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 536 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2008)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant.'" Brod v. Omya, Inc., 653 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Williams v. R.H. Donnelley, Corp., 368 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2004)). However, in opposing a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party may not rely on unsupported assertions, conjecture or surmise. Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). The non-moving party must do more than show that there is "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." McClellan v. Smith, 439 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, "the non-moving party must set forth significant, probative evidence on which a reasonable fact-finder could decide in its favor." Senno, 812 F.Supp.2d at 467-68 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 256-57 (1986)).

III. Analysis

Plaintiff claims that Defendants acted in bad faith and violated his due process rights, as well as discriminated against him on various bases[3] when they took the following actions: (i) eliminated the Director of Parks and Recreation position; (ii) amended the Automobile Policy; and (iii) refused to reimburse Plaintiff for the mileage he incurred as a result of his use of his personal vehicle for Town business purposes.[4] Defendants, on the other hand, argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims because it is undisputed that Plaintiff's position was eliminated "strictly because of the Town's economic circumstances, " and that "none of the other actions taken by the Town violated Plaintiff's constitutional or statutory rights." Defs.' Mem. L. (Doc. 16) 1-2. ...


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