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Miller v. New York City Dep't of Educ.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 2, 2014

ADAM MILLER, Plaintiff,

For Adam Miller, Plaintiff: Alan Edward Wolin, Wolin & Wolin, Jericho, NY.

For New York City Department of Education, Olga Livanis, Tina Yu, Jared Rosoff, Brendan Alfieri, Defendants: Christopher Saleh Bouriat, Shawn Matthew Clark, LEAD ATTORNEYS, New York City Law Department, New York, NY.

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Plaintiff Adam Miller (" Miller" ) brings this action against the New York City

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Department of Education (" DOE" ), Olga Livanis, Tina Yu, Julia Cunningham, Kared Rosoff, and Brendan Alfieri (collectively the " defendants" ). Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint as barred by Miller's waiver in a Stipulation Agreement and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, we grant the motion.


I. Factual Background

Miller is a tenured New York City teacher, who began teaching at the New Explorations into Science, Technology & Math (NEST) school in August 2003. Cmplt. ¶ 18. Shortly before the start of the 2006-2007 school year, defendant Olga Livanis was appointed as principal of NEST. Id. ¶ 20. From the time of her arrival, Livanis and Miller formed a contentious and hostile relationship,[1] resulting in plaintiff receiving an allegedly unwarranted " unsatisfactory" rating for the 2007-2008 school year. Id. ¶ 28.

Upon receipt of the rating, Miller was told that he would likely receive another " unsatisfactory" rating at the end of the next school year if he chose to stay at NEST. Id. ¶ 30. The receipt of another " unsatisfactory" rating had the likely consequence of sullying his teaching reputation and freezing his annual salary. Id. ¶ 29. To avoid this outcome, Livanis offered to remove the rating in exchange for Miller's tender of a post-dated resignation letter and agreement to transfer to another school. Id. ¶ 31. Miller consented to this arrangement and tendered a resignation letter, id. ¶ 32, but Livanis failed to remove the negative rating from his record. Id. ¶ 35. When Miller subsequently attempted to rescind his resignation, Livanis denied Miller's attempts to return to NEST and threatened to have him removed if he sought to resume his duties. Id. ¶ ¶ 36-39.

These events gave rise to two state court lawsuits. In December 2008, Miller sued pursuant to an Article 78 special proceeding in New York Supreme Court to rescind the resignation. Id. ¶ 45. He also commenced a separate state court action against Livanis for tortious interference with his contractual rights in August 2009. Id. ¶ 52. In May 2010, New York Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon, presiding over the Article 78 action, held that Miller's resignation was the result of coercion and dishonesty and ordered Miller reinstated to his teaching position at NEST. Id. ¶ 46.

However, the DOE disregarded the order and assigned plaintiff instead to a non-permanent position in the absent teacher reserve at the Art & Design High School, an allegedly inferior high school. Id. ¶ 48. As a result, Miller returned to state court and filed an Order to Show Cause to compel his reinstatement at NEST. Id. ¶ 49. On September 3, 2010, Justice Solomon again ordered the DOE to return Miller to his previous post. Id. ¶ 50. Nevertheless, when Miller attempted to return to NEST on September 6, 2010, he was denied entry by several security guards and police officers allegedly acting under Livanis's directive. Id. ¶ ¶ 53-56.

Consequently, on October 15, 2010, plaintiff moved to hold defendants in contempt of the state court ruling, at which point Justice Solomon directed the DOE to

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place plaintiff in a school with a similar academic profile to that of NEST. Id. ¶ 60. However, before Miller could be placed in a suitable alternative school, defendants agreed to allow Miller to return to his original post at NEST. Id. Following a stipulation dated November 8, 2010, and a resolution of his monetary claims, Miller finally returned to NEST on November 15, 2010. Id. ¶ 61.

Upon returning to the school, however, Miller alleges that he faced " a continuous, pervasive and relentless campaign of retaliation and harassment" as a result of his earlier litigation, protests, and complaints. Id. ¶ 62. Specifically, Miller was allegedly subjected to a litany of formal reviews and observations (unlike any other teacher at the school), allowed to teach only as a " team-teacher" and for a limited amount of time per class period, unfairly rated as " unsatisfactory" and thereby precluded from receiving any raises, and required to attend a string of disciplinary hearings concerning his interactions with the administration, all in an attempt to build a false record in order to remove him from NEST. Id. ¶ ¶ 63-161. Miller responded negatively to these developments, alleging that the disciplinary actions were conducted in bad faith and for retaliatory and harassment purposes. See, e.g., id. ¶ ¶ 74, 78, 81, 100-03, 150-51. This in turn prompted further disciplinary hearings to address Miller's allegedly inappropriate complaints and " insubordination," resulting in a cycle of antagonism.

As a result of this antagonism, Justice Solomon again asked the parties to arrange for plaintiff's transfer from NEST to an equivalent school. Defendants allegedly delayed such action and ultimately offered to transfer Miller on a trial-basis to another allegedly inferior school. Id. ¶ 148. Miller therefore rejected the offer and the cycle of disciplinary actions and opposition continued.

These disputes culminated in Miller's receipt of charges for a § 3020-a disciplinary hearing in May 2012. The charges included thirty-eight specifications in which Miller was accused of " unprofessional conduct" and advised that there existed just cause for his termination. Id. ¶ 162.

In response to these charges, Miller entered into a Stipulation Agreement (" the Stipulation" ) in February 2013, id. ¶ 163, under which the DOE agreed to discontinue the disciplinary hearing in exchange for plaintiff's admission of guilt, payment of a fine, and waiver of his rights to " make any legal or equitable claims" " arising from or related to this matter." Clark Decl. Ex. A. The Stipulation further noted that the parties entered the agreement " freely, knowingly and openly, without coercion or duress," id., and Miller was represented by counsel throughout the § 3020-a process culminating in his signing of the Stipulation. Cmplt. ¶ 164. As a result of this stipulation, Miller remained employed by the DOE, but was reassigned from NEST to the Absent Teacher Reserve. Id. ¶ 163.

II. Procedural Posture

Miller filed an initial complaint on November 14, 2013 and, after a pre-motion conference on March 4, 2014, filed an amended complaint on April 10, 2014. This complaint alleges that defendants' actions towards Miller upon his return to NEST exhibited an unlawful pattern of retaliation and harassment in violation of Miller's constitutional rights, as secured to him under the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause. Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on May 2,

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2014 and the motion was fully briefed on ...

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