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Forcucci v. Board of Education of Hamburg Central School District

United States District Court, W.D. New York

October 23, 2014

CATHERINE SCHRAUTH FORCUCCI and HOLLY A BALAYA, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF HAMBURG CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

RICHARD J. ARCARA, District Judge.

This action is brought by plaintiffs Catherine Schrauth Forcucci and Holly A. Balaya primarily to allege claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the constitutionality of an administrative proceeding during which defendant Board of Education of Hamburg Central School District found Forcucci committed official misconduct as a Board member and removed Forcucci from elected office on the Board. Plaintiffs Forcucci and Balaya have moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65 for a temporary restraining order to enjoin the defendant from filling the Board seat that had been occupied by Forcucci. Plaintiffs allege the Board's administrative proceeding was biased and did not apply the proper legal standard for determining official misconduct. Plaintiffs are ultimately seeking a judgment in this case requiring the Board to reconsider, without biased members and pursuant to the proper legal standard, whether Forcucci committed official misconduct.

For the reasons stated below, after review of the written submissions of the parties and upon hearing oral argument on October 22, 2014, the Court denies the motion for a temporary restraining order. The Court finds plaintiffs fail to carry their burden to show a clear likelihood of success on the merits of the § 1983 procedural due process claim, and that plaintiffs fail to carry their burden to show they will suffer irreparable harm absent entry of the temporary restraining order until relief may be granted on their motion for a preliminary injunction.

In light of the Court's careful consideration of the merits of plaintiffs' procedural due process claim, and in the interest of efficiency and cost savings, the Court orders below a schedule for submissions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(3) so that the Court may consider partial summary judgment on that claim. Plaintiffs' pending motion for a preliminary injunction may be rendered moot, and a substantial narrowing of issues for discovery and trial may be possible.

FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On May 21, 2013, plaintiff Catherine Schrauth Forcucci was elected a member of the Board of Education of the Hamburg Central School District. See generally N.Y. Educ. Law § 1804. Forcucci was elected to a three-year term of office that was scheduled to expire June 30, 2016.

On May 2, 2014, Forcucci was served with charges of official misconduct as a Board member. A school board is authorized:

[t]o remove any member of their board for official misconduct. But a written copy of all charges made of such misconduct shall be served upon him at least ten days before the time appointed for a hearing of the same; and he shall be allowed a full and fair opportunity to refute such charges before removal.

NY. Educ. Law § 1709(18).

On May 14, 2014, Forcucci filed a petition with the New York Commissioner of Education pursuant to N.Y. Educ. Law § 310 seeking disqualification of the President of the Board from consideration whether the charge of official misconduct against plaintiff should be lodged before the Board, and from consideration of the charge because of alleged bias against plaintiff. The administrative petition to disqualify the President of the Board remains pending before the Commissioner of Education.

On September 10, 2014, Forcucci was removed from her remaining term of office as a member of the Board for official misconduct by a 5-1 vote of Board members. The vote followed a lengthy administrative hearing pursuant to N.Y. Educ. Law § 1709(18) before the Board.

After the Board voted to remove Forcucci from the Board, she filed this action on October 2, 2014, in Supreme Court, State of New York, County of Erie, to overturn the Board's removal decision, for remand to the Board with proper reconsideration by the Board whether plaintiff committed official misconduct, and for various other relief. Plaintiff alleges that some Board members were so biased that the failure to disqualify them from the removal proceedings violated her due process rights. Plaintiff Forcucci also alleges the Board was not advised of the correct standard to be used to determine whether she had committed "official misconduct" under Education Law § 1709(18).

On October 3, 2014, Forcucci filed an administrative appeal of the Board's September 10, 2014 removal decision with the New York Commissioner of Education pursuant to N.Y. Educ. Law § 310. Although plaintiff has not done so, she has a right to seek a stay of the Board's removal decision pursuant to N.Y. Educ. Law § 311 and 8 NYCRR § 276.1.

The Board removed this case from Supreme Court, County of Erie, to this Court on October 7, 2014 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The case was removable because it arises within the Court's federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and could have been brought here in the first instance.

Plaintiffs Forcucci and Balaya filed a motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65 for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction on October 15, 2014. The motion seeks to enjoin the Board from filling the seat from which Forcucci was removed pending this Court's ruling on plaintiff's § 1983 claim that she suffered constitutionally-inadequate procedural due process ...


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