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Nawrocki v. New York State Office of Children and Family Services

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 8, 2014

JACQUELYN C. NAWROCKI, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN and FAMILY SERVICES, DR. SHEILA REED, Assistant Director, Individually New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Defendants

For Jacquelyn C. Nawrocki, Plaintiff: Ryan Charles Woodworth, The Woodworth Law Firm, Rochester, NY.

For New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Dr. Sheila Reed, Assistant Director, Individually, New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Defendants: Hillel David Deutsch, LEAD ATTORNEY, N.Y.S. Attorney General's Office, Department of Law, Rochester, NY.

Page 338

DECISION AND ORDER

DAVID G. LARIMER, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Jacquelyn Nawrocki brings this action against the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (" CFS" ) and Dr. Sheila Reed, the Assistant Director of CFS, asserting a federal civil rights claim and three claims under state law, arising from certain events relating to the termination of her employment at CFS in 2013. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

BACKGROUND

The complaint alleges the following facts. On April 2, 2012, plaintiff was " provisionally appointed" to work at CFS, with the job title, " Licensed Master Social Worker 2." Complaint ¶ 8. On February 20, 2013, she was " permanently appointed" to the same position, but subject to a one-year probationary period. Id. ¶ 9. Defendant Reed was plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Id. ¶ 11.

Plaintiff alleges that during her employment, Reed placed in plaintiff's personnel file " numerous ... false statements" concerning her job performance. The complaint lists eighteen such statements, although it is not clear if they were contained in separate documents, or whether some of them are simply excerpts

Page 339

from a single document. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff's employment was terminated on or about August 8, 2013. Id. ¶ 12.

Plaintiff commenced this action on July 22, 2014. The complaint asserts four causes of action. The first (and only federal) claim alleges that defendants deprived plaintiff of a protected liberty interest in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Presumably this claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, although that statute is not cited anywhere in the complaint. The three state-law claims are for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's due process claim alleges the deprivation of a liberty interest under a so-called " stigma plus" theory, i.e., " a stigmatizing statement plus a deprivation of a tangible interest" without due process of law. Algarin v. Town of Wallkill, 421 F.3d 137, 138 (2d Cir. 2005).[1] To make out such a claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) " the utterance of a statement sufficiently derogatory to injure his or her reputation, that is capable of being proved false, and that he or she claims is false," plus (2) " a material state-imposed burden or state-imposed alteration of the plaintiff's status or rights." Sadallah v. City of Utica, 383 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Accord Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 87 (2d Cir. 2005).

" The 'plus' requirement must be alleged 'in addition to the stigmatizing statement' because 'reputation alone, apart from some more tangible interests' is not 'sufficient to invoke the procedural protection of the Due Process Clause.'" Balentine v. Tremblay, 554 F.App'x 58, 60 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Sadallah, 383 F.3d at 38, and Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976)). " Burdens that can satisfy the 'plus' prong under this ...


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