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Mudge v. Zugalla

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 2, 2014

RANDY A. MUDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANNE M. ZUGALLA; THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; RANDALL SQUIER; THE COXSACKIEATHENS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; MICHELE WEAVER; and THE MIDDLEBURGH CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.

PHILLIP G. STECK, ESQ., CARLO ALEXANDRE C. DE OLIVEIRA, ESQ., COOPER ERVING & SAVAGE LLP, Albany, NY, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

BRUCE J. BOIVIN, ESQ., Ass't Attorney General, ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, NY, Attorneys for Defendants Zugalla and the New York State Department of Education.

JAMES A. GREGORY, ESQ., HOGAN, SARZYNSKI, LYNCH, DEWIND & GREGORY, LLP, Johnson City, NY, Attorneys for Defendants Squier and the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District.

PATRICK J. FITZGERALD, III, ESQ., GIRVIN & FERLAZZO. P.C., Albany, NY, Attorneys for Defendants Weaver and the Middleburgh Central School District.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Randy Mudge ("plaintiff" or "Mudge") filed this civil rights action on July 30, 2013, against the following defendants: The New York State Department of Education ("NYDOE") and Anne M. Zugalla, a Senior Professional Conduct Investigator with the NYDOE ("Investigator Zugalla") (collectively "the State defendants")[1]; the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District ("Coxsackie District") and Randall Squier, Superintendent of the Coxsackie District ("Superintendent Squier") (collectively "the Coxsackie defendants"); and the Middleburgh Central School District ("Middleburgh District") and Michele Weaver, Superintendent of the Middleburgh District ("Superintendent Weaver") (collectively "the Middleburgh defendants"). All individual defendants are sued in their individual capacities only.

Mudge asserts the following three causes of action, all brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) violation of his right to procedural due process; (2) violation of his substantive due process rights; and (3) a stigma-plus claim. He also delineates a fourth cause of action, in which he seeks injunctive relief against the State defendants only.[2]

All three groups of defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motions have been fully briefed. Oral argument was heard on December 13, 2013, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations have been taken from the complaint and are assumed true for purposes of the motions to dismiss. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc. , 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

Mudge, a resident of Greene County, New York, worked in the athletic department in the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District for over twenty years. In 2008-2009, the NYDOE initiated an investigation into allegations that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with two former students approximately twenty years ago.[3] Following an administrative hearing, a three-person panel voted to suspend his teaching and administrative licenses for one year. As a result of this investigation and suspension, plaintiff resigned from the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District in June 2009.

After his license was reinstated, Mudge applied for administrative and teaching positions in various school districts. He fully disclosed his suspension and the reasons therefor on all applications. At about this time, the State defendants allegedly began interfering with his attempts to secure new employment in the field of education in New York. In 2010 someone from the NYDOE instructed the Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES not to allow him to serve as a sports officiant. Plaintiff was eventually permitted to officiate basketball games, but only after he sought assistance from legal counsel.

During this same time period, Mudge applied for permanent full-time positions in the Coxsackie and Middleburgh Districts. Although he was not offered full-time employment, he began working as a per diem substitute teacher in both districts. He worked in the Coxsackie District from March 2011 until February 1, 2012, when Superintendent Squier removed him from the substitution list without explanation. There had been no complaints regarding his conduct or job performance. On September 27, 2012, Superintendent Squier advised plaintiff that he had been removed due to information provided by NYDOE employees, specifically Investigator Zugalla, John Doe, and/or Jane Roe.

Mudge's position as a substitute teacher in the Middleburgh District also ended abruptly. On February 15, 2012, Superintendent Weaver told him that she had received a letter from Investigator Zugalla indicating he was the subject of an ongoing NYDOE investigation. Superintendent Weaver subsequently had a phone conversation with Investigator Zugalla, who complained about the Middleburgh District's decision to employ plaintiff. On August 29, 2012, the Middleburgh School Board voted 5-0 to reappoint plaintiff for another year as a substitute teacher. Nonetheless, he was terminated on September 12, 2012. Plaintiff's request to meet with the Middleburgh School Board was granted, and he was advised that his termination stemmed from complaints regarding his previous license suspension and was unrelated to his recent work as a substitute teacher. The Board was also aware of the conversations between Superintendent Weaver and Investigator Zugalla.

After plaintiff's termination from the Middleburgh District, an article appeared in the Schoharie Times Journal under the headline: "MCS removes ex-teacher from substitute list. Former Hunter teacher allegedly had sex with two teenagers." Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 30.

III. DISCUSSION

The three groups of defendants put forth substantially the same arguments in support of their motions to dismiss. Specifically, they maintain the complaint must be dismissed in its entirety because: (1) Mudge does not have a protected property interest in his employment as a per diem substitute teacher; (2) such employment is not the type of fundamental right contemplated by substantive due process case law; (3) any statements made during the course of his termination were neither public nor false to support a stigma-plus claim; and (4) adequate post-deprivation due process was available to plaintiff in the form of an Article 78 proceeding. In addition, the State defendants argue that all claims against the NYDOE must be dismissed as this state agency is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.[4]

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss-Legal Standard

Defendants seek dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), more than mere conclusions are required. Indeed, "[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Dismissal is appropriate only where plaintiff has failed to provide some basis for the allegations that support the elements of his claims. See Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570 (requiring "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face").

When considering a motion to dismiss, the complaint is to be construed liberally, all factual allegations are to be deemed true, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the ...


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