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Dodson v. Bd. of Educ.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 25, 2014

DANA R. DODSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE VALLEY STREAM UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT and THE VALLEY STREAM CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants

For Plaintiff: Laura M. Dilimetin, Esq., The Law Office of Steven A. Morelli, Garden City, NY.

For Defendants: Caroline Beth Lineen, Esq., Rutherford & Christie LLP, New York, NY.

Page 241

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Joanna Seybert, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Dana R. Dodson (" Plaintiff" ) commenced this action against defendants the Board of Education of the Valley Stream Union Free School District (the " Valley Stream School Board" ) and the Valley Stream Central High School District (the " Valley Stream School District" and together with the Board, " Defendants" ) following his resignation as a gym teacher for the Valley Stream School District. Plaintiff principally contends that

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Defendants deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution because his resignation was coerced and a disciplinary hearing did not precede the resignation. The Complaint also asserts New York state law claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, defamation, and prima facie tort.

Defendants move to dismiss the entire Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and for improper service of process pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(5). Defendants also move to dismiss the state law claims on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to serve a timely notice of claim as required by New York Education Law § 3813(1) and that certain claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for leave to file a late notice of claim. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART and Plaintiff's cross-motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND[1]

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff worked as teacher for the District from 2001 until his resignation on September 21, 2012. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 11, 33.) On June 13, 2012, the District issued thirty-three disciplinary charges against Plaintiff pursuant to New York Education Law § 3020-a[2] for his alleged improper conduct towards a female high school student. (Compl. ¶ 19.) The District contended that Plaintiff acted improperly by hiring the student as his family's babysitter and by sending her inappropriate text messages. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff denied all wrongdoing and claimed that the student only complained to the District about his text messages because he refused to sign a permission slip that would have excused the student from cutting another teacher's class. (Compl. ¶ 20.)

On September 21, 2012, Plaintiff entered into a " Stipulation of Settlement and General Release" resolving the disciplinary charges against him (the " Agreement" ). (Compl. ¶ 33.) Under the terms of the Agreement, Plaintiff resigned from his position and waived his right to a disciplinary hearing guaranteed to tenured teachers under New York Education Law § 3020-a(2)(c).[3] (Compl. ¶ ¶ 23-24.) Among other things, the Agreement contains a general release clause and a general agreement not to sue Defendants.[4] (See Sealed Silverman Decl., Docket Entry 25, Ex D ¶ ¶ 5, 7.[5])

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Plaintiff claims that the Agreement is invalid because it is the product of fraudulent inducement and coercion. Plaintiff specifically alleges that " Defendants misled [him] into believing that: (1) he would be terminated if he did not sign the waiver; (2) he could go to jail if he did not sign the waiver; (3) he would be subject to additional disciplinary charges if he did not sign the waiver or if he revoked the waiver; and (4) that if he signed the waiver, he would retain his teaching license." (Compl. ¶ 34.) The Complaint does not explain how any of these alleged misrepresentations were false, nor does it identify the speaker or speakers, but it does allege that " Plaintiff has since been served with license revocation charges and now has a hearing Ordered [sic] for license revocation." (Compl. ¶ 36.)

The Complaint also contains allegations suggesting that Plaintiff signed the Agreement under duress and that he did not fully understand the terms of the Agreement. For example, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants made the misrepresentations listed above " all the while knowing that [Plaintiff] was suffering from [Diverticulitis] and was taking medication which impaired his judgment." (Compl. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff further alleges that " Defendants intentionally spread false rumors about him to school officials in other Districts to put further pressure on him, and to ensure that he could not obtain other employment." (Compl. ¶ 34.) Additionally, the Superintendent of the Valley Stream School District " told [Plaintiff] that he 'needed' to sign the waiver and that he did not want this to 'go public.'" (Compl. ¶ 25.) The Superintendent further " made false statements about Plaintiff" to teachers, staff, and others in and outside of the Valley Stream School District " in efforts [sic] to put pressure on Plaintiff to sign the waiver." (Compl. ¶ 27.) Defendants also " expressed to Plaintiff that if he did not sign the waiver, the District would proffer new, additional charges" against him. (Compl. ¶ 29.)

Finally, Plaintiff claims that " an attorney from the Union advised [him] that he should walk away" and that his teaching license " would not be affected" if he signed the Release. (Compl. ¶ 22.) He alleges that the attorney " did not go over all of the terms of the agreement" and that he " works with the District on a continual basis." (Compl. ¶ ¶ 22-23.)

II. Procedural Background

On June 18, 2013, Plaintiff served Defendants with a notice of claim pursuant to New York Education Law § 3813(1). (Silverman Decl. Ex. B.) On December 9,

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2013, Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Summons and Complaint in New York State Supreme Court, Nassau County. Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court. On February 14, 2014, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Docket Entry 10.) On March 20, 2014, Plaintiff cross-moved for leave to file a late notice of claim. (Docket Entry 22.) These motions are currently pending before the Court.

DISCUSSION

The Court will first address the applicable legal standards before turning to the merits ...


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