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Edwards v. Onondaga Community College

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 17, 2014

CINDY A. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,

Cindy A. Edwards, Pro se Skaneateles, NY, for Plaintiff.


DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Cindy A. Edwards has commenced this action against her former employer, Onondaga Community College ("OCC"), and three OCC employees alleging discrimination on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Plaintiff's complaint and accompanying application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") have been forwarded to me for consideration. Based upon my review, plaintiff's IFP application is granted, and I recommend that she be permitted to proceed against defendant OCC in connection with her ADEA claim based on allegations that her hours were reduced and she was retaliated against. I further recommend, however, that the remaining claims, including the ADEA claims against the individual defendants, be dismissed.


Plaintiff commenced this action on October 31, 2014, by the filing of a complaint and accompanying IFP application. Dkt. Nos. 1, 2. Generally, plaintiff alleges that she has worked as an academic tutor for the Content Tutoring Center ("CTC") at OCC since 2003. Dkt. No. 1 at 5. She also performed clerical work for the CTC "to increase [her] hours" and worked at the CTC reception desk in the evenings. Id. Plaintiff alleges she tutored and did clerical work from noon until four o'clock in the afternoon, and then worked at the CTC desk from four o'clock until eight o'clock in the evening. Id. at 6. Beginning in the fall of 2012, however, with respect to the clerical work and the CTC desk job, she was replaced by younger individuals and told that the changes were due to budget cuts. Id. at 7, 8. At or around the same time period, plaintiff's supervisor became hostile towards her. Id. When plaintiff confronted her supervisor, she was told that she was a good employee and well regarded. Id. at 7. Plaintiff, however, filed a grievance against her supervisor in accordance with the OCC human resources policy. Id. at 8. As a result of the grievance, plaintiff learned that "there was no change to the budget." Id. at 9. In addition, as a result of the grievance, plaintiff and her supervisor were advised not to communicate with each other directly, and the supervisor advised human resources that she did not want to work with plaintiff because, due to the grievance, "she was uncertain that she could remain civil toward [plaintiff]." Id. Following the filing of the grievance, plaintiff was replaced as the tutor for architecture and design. Id. at 10.

Plaintiff's complaint asserts claims of age discrimination in violation of the ADEA against OCC; Wendy Hammond, a Technical Specialist employed by OCC; Karen Hale, a Content Tutoring Center Coordinator also employed by OCC; and Eunice Williams, an OCC Human Resources representative. As relief, Edwards seeks recovery of monetary damages, including compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages, as well as costs and attorney's fees.


A. Application for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

When a civil action is commenced in a federal district court, the statutory filing fee, currently set at $400, must ordinarily be paid. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). A court is authorized, however, to permit a litigant to proceed IFP if it determines that she is unable to pay the required filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).[1] In this instance, because I conclude that plaintiff meets the requirements for IFP status, her application for leave to proceed IFP is granted.[2]

B. Sufficiency of Plaintiff's Claims

1. Standard of Review

Because I have found that plaintiff meets the financial criteria for commencing this case IFP, I must next consider the sufficiency of the claims set forth in her complaint in light of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Section 1915(e) directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

In deciding whether a complaint states a colorable claim, a court must extend a certain measure of deference to pro se litigants, Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam), and extreme caution should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and the parties have had an opportunity to address the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations, Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983). The court, however, also has an overarching obligation to determine that a claim is not legally frivolous before permitting a pro se plaintiff's complaint to proceed. See, e.g., Fitzgerald v. First East Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding that a district court may sua sponte dismiss a frivolous complaint, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff paid the statutory filing fee). "Legal frivolity... occurs where the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory [such as] when either the claim lacks an arguable basis in law, or a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint.'" Aguilar v. United States, Nos. 99-MC-0304, 99-MC-0408, 1999 WL 1067841, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 1999) (quoting Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998)); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) ("[D]ismissal is proper only if the legal theory... or factual contentions lack an arguable basis."); Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d. 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he decision that a complaint is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, for the purposes of dismissal under section 1915[(e)], may be based upon a defense that appears on the face of the complaint.").

When reviewing a complaint under section 1915(e), the court looks to applicable requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance. Specifically, Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of Rule 8 "is to give fair notice of the claim being asserted so as to permit the adverse party the opportunity to file a responsive answer, prepare an adequate defense and determine whether the doctrine of ...

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