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Jones v. Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 3, 2014

ONONDAGA COUNTY RESOURCE RECOVERY AGENCY and its Fifteen Member Executive Board as Aider and Abettor, et al., Defendants.


THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.


Plaintiff commenced this action pro se asserting claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); Section 296 of the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"); and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12, see Dismissal Mot., dkt. # 18, to which Plaintiff has filed a response. See Res. to Dismissal Mot., dkt, # 20. Defendants have also moved for sanctions against Plaintiff pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, see Sanctions Mot., dkt. # 21, to which Plaintiff was granted permission to file a late response.[1] For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion for dismissal is granted in part and denied in part, and their motion for sanctions is denied.


Plaintiff is an African-American male employed at Defendant Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency ("OCRRA"). OCRRA is a public benefit corporation created by the State of New York with responsibility for managing Onondaga County's solid waste. The individual Defendants are employees and current or former Board members of OCRRA. This is Plaintiff's third federal court action against OCRRA, its individual employees, and current or former Board members, alleging that Defendants discriminated against him based on his race in regards to the terms and conditions of his employment.

In October 2008, Plaintiff filed his first lawsuit alleging that OCRRA and the individual defendants discriminated against him by not assigning him as a substitute plant operator and by disciplining him based on his inappropriate conduct toward his supervisor. That action, Jones v. OCRRA et al., 5:08-cv-1045 (FJS/GHL) ("Jones I"), was litigated to conclusion and dismissed by Decision and Order dated March 31, 2011.

On February 1, 2011, during the pendency of Jones I, Plaintiff filed his second federal court complaint, Jones v. OCRRA, et al., 5:11-cv-00113 (FJS/TWD) ("Jones II"). Defendants moved for summary judgment in that action. Plaintiff submitted an affidavit in opposition to defendants' motion which included allegations of continued discrimination and retaliation. Defendants assert that Plaintiff argued facts in this affidavit which he now complains of in this action. The Hon. Frederick J. Scullin granted defendants' motion and dismissed Jones II by Memorandum-Decision and Order dated September 23, 2013. See Jones v. Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, 973 F.Supp.2d 159 (N.D.N.Y. 2013).

During the pendency of Jones II, Plaintiff filed his third administrative complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR") on December 10, 2012. The administrative complaint was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Defendants contend that Plaintiff attached as exhibits to his administrative complaint numerous litigation documents from Jones II, including the aforementioned affidavit.

The NYSDHR investigated the administrative complaint and issued a Determination and Order After Investigation on June 4, 2013, finding NO PROBABLE CAUSE to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred. The EEOC issued Plaintiff a Right to Sue Letter on August 16, 2013.

Plaintiff commenced the instant action on November 15, 2013 ("Jones III"). He alleges five causes of action as follows: (1) "discriminatory, disparate treatment and hostile work environment" under Title VII; (2) "discriminatory, disparate treatment and hostile work environment" under Title VII; (3) retaliation under Title VII; (4) a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, brought pursuant to Section 1983; and (5) discrimination, disparate treatment, and hostile work environment under the New York Executive Law. Although Plaintiff asserts in his introductory paragraph that he brings the instant action pursuant to, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, see Compl. ¶ 1, he does not provide a cause of action directed to a Section 1981 claim. As indicated above, Defendants move to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims.


"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)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A. , 534 U.S. 506, 508 n. 1, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). However, a court may disregard those pleadings that are "no more than conclusions" and determine whether the remaining factual allegations "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 663-64, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Thus, "[w]hile 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)).

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 1949. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id . (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 557) (internal quotations omitted). The standard pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is identical to that under Rule 12(b)(6). Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills , 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001).

When assessing the sufficiency of a complaint against this backdrop, particular deference should be afforded to a pro se litigant whose complaint merits a generous construction by the Court when determining whether it states a cognizable cause of action. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) ("[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers'")(quoting Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 292 (1976) (internal quotations omitted)). In the event of a perceived deficiency in a pro se plaintiff's complaint, a court should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once if there is any indication that a valid claim might be stated. Branum v. Clark , 927 F.2d 698, 704-05 (2d Cir.1991); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) (leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires").


a. Plaintiff's Opposition to the Dismissal Motion

In opposition to the dismissal motion, Plaintiff submits a one page document that complains about Defendants' compliance with the Local Rules relative to the motion but which does not address the substantive merits of Defendants' motion. Plaintiff's Local Rules challenges are without merit. For instance, Plaintiff asserts that "Defendants counsel has failed to provide a Motion subsequent to filing a Notice of Motion, as per Local Rule 7.1 (h)." However, the Court's Docket indicates that Defendants filed not only a Notice of Motion seeking dismissal of this action, see dkt. # 18, but also a memorandum of law; an attorney affidavit; numerous exhibits consisting of Plaintiff's complaints in this and the two prior actions, Plaintiffs administrative complaint in this action, the Memorandum-Decision and Orders issued in the two prior actions; and a certificate of service. See id. ## 18-1 to 18-11.

Plaintiff's failure to respond to the merits of the pending dismissal motion does not preclude the Court from ruling on the motion. See, e.g., White v. Mitchell, No. 99-CV-8519 , 2001 WL 64756, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2001). Such a motion tests only the legal sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint; accordingly, since Plaintiff has been afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to the merits of the motion, but has failed to avail himself of that chance, the Court can now determine the Complaint's sufficiency as a matter of law based on its own reading of the Complaint and knowledge of the case law. McCall v. Pataki , 232 F.3d 321, 322-23 (2d Cir. 2000).

b. Title VII Claims Against the Individual Defendants

Defendants first argue that Plaintiff's Title VII claims against the individual Defendants should be dismissed as a matter of law. The Court agrees.

It is well established that individuals may not be sued under Title VII. Patterson v. County of Oneida, NY , 375 F.3d 206, 221 (2d Cir. 2004); Wrighten v. Glowski , 232 F.3d 119, 120 (2d Cir. 2000). Moreover, where a plaintiff names both the municipal entity and an official in his or her official capacity, district courts within the Second Circuit have consistently dismissed the official capacity claims as redundant. See, Jones II, Sept. 23, 2013 Memorandum-Decision ...

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