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Loren v. New York City Department of Education

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 25, 2015

STEVE LOREN, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, DENNIS WALCOTT, as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, RELAY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF EDUCATION, RALPH MARTINEZ, NICOLE HILL, MARISOL ALICIA FERGUSON, and VARIOUS

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

VALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge.

Plaintiff Steve Loren, pro se, initiated this lawsuit based on his experience in 2012 as a participant in the New York City Teaching Fellows ("NYCTF") program, which trains individuals to become public school teachers. As part of his participation in the program, Loren participated in an eight-day immersion program at the Relay Graduate School and was assigned to a field placement at PS x089. Two days before he completed his training, Loren was removed from the NYCTF program; he was not offered a position as a teacher at the program's completion. After unsuccessfully challenging his removal from the program in state court, Loren brought this suit against the New York City Board of Education ("BOE"), a number of BOE employees whom he blames for his termination (with BOE, the "BOE Defendants"), and the Relay Graduate School. Loren alleges that Defendants conspired to deprive him of a position as a public school teacher and brings a litany of claims relating to his participation in the program. For the following reasons, none of his federal claims has merit; Plaintiff's case is accordingly dismissed.

BACKGROUND[1]

The BOE established the NYCTF program to attract talented individuals to become teachers in the New York City public schools system. Second Am. Compl. ("SAC") at 4.[2] The SAC alleges that Fellows receive, at no cost, all education and training necessary to secure a "Transitional B Certificate, " which permits them to become public school teachers. Id. The BOE typically hires Fellows who successfully complete the NYCTF program. Id. The NYCTF also helps Fellows to obtain an advanced degree in education, which was necessary for Fellows' post-program placements to become permanent. Id. at 4-5.

Steve Loren is a 48-year-old New York resident who holds a Master of Business Administration degree and scored well on the New York State teacher licensing exams. Id. at 30-31, 39. Loren applied to participate in the NYCTF program and was accepted as a Math Fellow in April 2012. Id. at 5. Of the 900-Fellow cohort in 2012, 90 were Math Fellows. Id.

All of the Fellows participated in an "immersion class" in their relevant subject areas; in May 2012, Loren participated in an eight-day "math immersion" class at the Relay Graduate School. Id. Loren's relationship with Relay started off on the wrong foot, however. Although Relay had Loren's official MBA transcript and an unofficial version of his undergraduate transcript, Relay required him to submit his official undergraduate transcript (which he had difficulties obtaining because of a financial block).[3] Id. at 5-6. Over Loren's repeated protestations, Relay demanded that he produce his undergraduate transcript. Id. at 6. Ultimately, Loren "had no choice but to expend considerable time and expense" to secure an official transcript. Id.

With Loren's transcript finally in hand, Relay extended an official offer of admission; the packet of materials that Relay sent included a media waiver providing that Relay students could be videotaped by Relay. Id. at 7. Of the eight graduate programs with collaborative relationships with the NYCTF program, only Relay required the Fellows to sign a media waiver as a condition for admission. Id. Loren was "uncomfortable" with Relay's media waiver requirement and believed that it was a condition of admission to Relay, sanctioned by the BOE. Id. at 7-8. Loren negotiated the language of the media release with Relay and ultimately signed a revised version of the waiver. Id. at 10.

The Fellows were assigned to schools for four weeks of field experience beginning in July 2012. Id. Loren was one of four Math Fellows assigned to PS x089 in the Bronx.[4] Id. During Loren's tenure at PS x089, Defendant Ralph Martinez was the school's principal and Defendant Nicole Hill was a teacher at the school. Id. at 3. Defendant Marisol Alicea-Ferguson, another BOE employee, was assigned to be Loren's coach. Id. at 13, 4. Loren was assigned to teach a third grade class; unfortunately, much of his summer was spent "addressing faulty computers" and other administrative obstacles. Id. at 11.

During Loren's second of four weeks, the BOE "excessed"[5] the teacher who had been assigned to serve as Loren's mentor. Id. at 12. This allegedly led to a string of problematic experiences for Loren, culminating in the day in which Loren scrambled to teach a class - set to be observed by Alicea-Ferguson and her supervisor - with insufficient preparation, allegedly because Loren's co-teacher called in sick at the last minute. Id. at 13-14. Although the class was rescheduled, Loren asserts that the rescheduling of this class, along with other unspecified actions, "constitute a pattern of conspiracy" against him. Id.

Two days before he completed the "field experience" portion of his training, Loren was terminated. Id. at 16. Loren claims that his termination had no legitimate basis and constituted impermissible discrimination. Id. Loren was "the only teaching fellow at [PS] x089 over 40 years of age, " and, unlike his colleagues, Loren "was eligible for the[]highest level starting salary." Id. at 14. Loren alleges that his mentor believed that she was "excessed" because of "her age and relatively higher salary" and that Martinez's plans for the school favored younger teachers. Id. Loren alleges that this ageism is part of a broader DOE policy "of weakening teacher tenure protections, pruning high salary teachers from the teaching force, " and generally favoring younger teachers. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiff argues that this policy is related to the "corporatization" of education, including increased reliance on charter schools. Id. at 15.[6]

Loren unsuccessfully challenged his removal from the NYCTF program in an Article 78 proceeding. See Loren v. N.Y. City Dep't of Educ., 126 A.D.3d 419, 419 (1st Dep't 2015). Loren's Article 78 petition made factual allegations similar to those in the SAC, but in the Article 78 petition Loren alleged only that his termination was arbitrary and capricious. Fleming Decl., Dkt. 70, Ex. 1. After the Article 78 court rejected his claim, Loren brought this suit, alleging a number of constitutional violations and state and municipal law claims against the BOE, its employees, and Relay Graduate School.

Loren brings three federal causes of action: (1) First Amendment retaliation based on his complaints about Relay's media waiver, SAC at 18-28; (2) an Equal Protection violation, based on either "class-of-one, " age, or disability discrimination, id. at 28-34; and (3) conspiracy to interfere with his civil rights, id. at 34-40. Loren also alleges nine state law tort claims.[7]

DISCUSSION

Relay and the BOE Defendants separately move to dismiss Loren's claims. Relay moves to dismiss Loren's constitutional claims on the theory that Relay is not a state actor and did not act under color of state law.[8] The BOE Defendants challenge the merits of the constitutional claims and assert that the state tort law claims are untimely as against the BOE. All Defendants also argue that Loren's claims are precluded by res judicata and collateral estoppel. The Court concludes that Loren's federal claims lack merit and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Loren's state law claims; accordingly, Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART and the case is DISMISSED.

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), [9] courts "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'" Meyer v. JinkoSolar Holdings Co., Ltd., 761 F.3d 245, 249 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting N.J. Carpenters Health Fund v. Royal Bank of Scot. Grp., PLC, 709 F.3d 109, 119 (2d Cir. 2013) (alterations omitted)). "To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Drimal v. Tai, 786 F.3d 219, 223 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). "At this stage, dismissal is appropriate only where [Plaintiff] can prove no set of facts consistent with the complaint that would entitle [him] to relief." Meyer, 761 F.3d at 250. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, and [courts] are not bound ...


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