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Manners v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 14, 2015

KEITH MANNERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, JOSEPH SCHNEIDER, WALTER HEINRICH, PAULA LAIME, ANN LAPINSKI, PETER FANELLI, and JAMES McCRUM, Defendants.

E. STEWART JONES HACKER MURPHY, LLP RYAN M. FINN, ESQ., Latham, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL MICHAEL G. McCARTIN, AAG., Albany, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Keith Manners, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL") against his former employer, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC"), various DEC employees, and Defendant McCrum with the New York State Police, on July 3, 2013. See Dkt. No. 1. Pending before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Dkt. No. 9.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed at the DEC as a police officer in February, 2013. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 7. On February 6, 2013, while off duty, Plaintiff was involved in a domestic dispute with the mother of his child. Id. at ¶ 16. A New York State Trooper responded to the incident and Plaintiff filed a report stating that he was a victim of domestic violence.[1] Id. at ¶¶ 17-19. The following week, Plaintiff followed up with the New York State Police regarding the incident and was informed that his complaint had been assigned to Defendant James McCrum, an Investigator with the New York State Police. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff states he made several attempts to contact McCrum to obtain information regarding the status of his complaint "but his requests for information were ignored." Id. at ¶ 21. Thereafter, Plaintiff contacted a Senior Investigator and a Captain with the New York State Police in an attempt to obtain information regarding the February 2013 incident. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. Defendant McCrum then contacted Plaintiff and informed him that the incident was a "he said - she said' matter" and no action could be taken with regard to the complaint filed by Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 24. In response, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the New York State Police regarding McCrum's handling of his complaint. Id. at ¶ 25.

After filing the complaint with the New York State Police, Plaintiff states that McCrum went "around to local Police Departments in the area looking for dirt' on Plaintiff" and utilized New York State's E-Justice System to illegally obtain information about Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28. Further, Plaintiff states that McCrum contacted Defendant Joseph Schneider, a Major with the DEC Division of Law Enforcement, informing him about the February 6, 2013, incident. Id. at ¶ 30.

Plaintiff states in his complaint that Defendant McCrum and the individual DEC Defendants conspired to take adverse action against him in retaliation for the complaint he filed with the New York State Police.[2] Id. at ¶ 29. In March 2013, Plaintiff states that Defendant Fanelli revoked Plaintiff's ability to work part-time with the local Sheriff's Department without explanation, which he had done with the DEC's permission for several years. Id. at ¶¶ 37-38. In response, Plaintiff filed a grievance with the DEC regarding Fanelli's action. Id. at ¶ 41.

On April 24, 2013, the DEC requested that Plaintiff attend an interrogation at DEC headquarters to inquire about the February 6 incident, Plaintiff's use of his patrol vehicle, a recent motor vehicle accident, and Plaintiff's relationship with a fellow DEC employee. Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. On June 6, 2013, Defendant Heinrich notified Plaintiff that he would be suspended for six months without pay.[3] Id. at ¶ 45.

Thereafter, Plaintiff took medical leave for aggravation of a pre-existing military disability, which he attributed to the stress and anxiety caused by Defendants' actions. Id. at ¶ 48. Plaintiff states that Defendants "spread false information about [P]laintiff to his fellow NYSDEC police officers and coworkers" who then refused to speak to him. Id. at ¶ 47. To substantiate his need for medical leave, Plaintiff submitted a doctor's note to Defendants on August 29, 2013. Id. at ¶ 49. On September 19, 2013, Defendant Schneider ordered Plaintiff to submit documentation containing a diagnosis from his doctor. Id. at ¶ 51. Again, on or about September 27, 2013, Defendant Laime requested Plaintiff submit documentation from his doctor containing a diagnosis to confirm his absence. Id. at ¶ 52. According to the complaint, Plaintiff reluctantly divulged his confidential health information to Defendants under threat of further discipline.[4] Id. at ¶ 53. Although Plaintiff's doctor submitted documentation releasing him back to work by October 1, 2013, Defendant Laime's September 27 letter stated that before Plaintiff was permitted to return to work, he would need to undergo a medical examination by the Employee Health Service. Id. at ¶¶ 55-56. The examination was scheduled for October 23, 2013, and Plaintiff was released back to work on October 30, 2013. Id. at ¶ 57. During this month delay, Plaintiff was required to use his accrued benefits and sick leave. Id.

Plaintiff states that upon returning to work, he continued to be isolated from his coworkers. Id. at ¶ 58. On November 20, 2013, Plaintiff was required to attend an "interrogation" with the DEC. Id. at ¶ 59. On December 9, 2013, Plaintiff was suspended without pay and ten days later Plaintiff received his second Notice of Discipline stating that he would be terminated. Id. at ¶¶ 60-61. Plaintiff resigned on February 6, 2014 "after facing intolerable work conditions for almost a year." Id. at ¶ 69.

In the Complaint, Plaintiff states that throughout 2013 he was repeatedly informed that the DEC "was going to find a way to terminate him." Id. at ¶ 65. The Complaint states that Defendant Laime stated that NYSDEC was going to fire Plaintiff "one way or another." Id. at ¶ 66. Further, Defendant Heinrich "made comments that [P]laintiff would have plenty of time' to work at the Sheriff's office after [P]laintiff is suspended." Id. at ¶ 67. Finally, Defendant Lapinski stated, "if [P]laintiff fights the termination and is successful at arbitration, that she would make a call to her friends in the Inspector General's office and have them follow [P]laintiff around until they find a reason to terminate [him]." Id. at ¶ 68.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff raises four[5] separate causes of action: (1) a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants in their individual capacities[6] brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, and Article I, § 9 of the New York State Constitution; (II) a Due Process constructive discharge claim against Defendants in their individual capacities brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, and Article I, § 6 of the New York State Constitution; (III) discrimination based on Plaintiff's disability and status as a victim of domestic violence against Defendants in their individual capacities brought pursuant to § 296 of the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"); and (IV) discrimination based on Plaintiff's disability against the DEC brought pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). See Dkt. No. 13 at 10.

Defendant's motion to dismiss seeks dismissal of the action in its entirety. See Dkt. No. 9-9 at 4.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6)

When a party moves to dismiss a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), "the movant is deemed to be challenging the factual basis for the court's subject matter jurisdiction." Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Watkins, 11 F.3d 1573, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). For purposes of such a motion, "the allegations in the complaint are not controlling... and only uncontroverted factual allegations are accepted as true...." Id. (internal citations omitted). Both the movant and the pleader are permitted to use affidavits and other pleading materials to support and oppose the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). "Furthermore, jurisdiction must be shown affirmatively, and that showing is not made by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting it.'" Gunst v. Seaga, No. 05 Civ. 2626, 2007 WL 1032265, *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2007) (quoting Shipping Financial Services Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998)); see also State Employees Bargaining Agent Coal. v. Rowland, 494 F.3d 71, 77 n.4 (2d Cir. 2007) (holding that, in a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court "may resolve disputed factual issues by reference to evidence outside the pleadings, including affidavits").

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the party's claim for relief. See Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). In considering the legal sufficiency, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the pleading and draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. See ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This presumption of truth, however, does not extend to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). Although a court's review of a motion to dismiss is generally limited to the facts presented in the pleading, the court may consider documents that are "integral" to that pleading, even if they are neither physically attached to, nor incorporated by reference into, the pleading. See Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002)).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a party need only plead "a short and plain statement of the claim, " see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), with sufficient factual "heft to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief[, ]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (quotation omitted). Under this standard, the pleading's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level, " see id. at 555 (citation omitted), and present claims that are "plausible on [their] face, " id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief."'" Id. (quoting [ Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955). Ultimately, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, or where a plaintiff has "not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the[ ] complaint must be dismissed[, ]" id. at 570.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Section 1983 imposes liability for "conduct which subjects, or causes to be subjected' the complainant to a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws." Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 370-71 (1976) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Not only must the conduct deprive the plaintiff of rights and privileges secured by the Constitution, but the actions or omissions attributable to each defendant must be the proximate cause of the injuries and consequent damages that the plaintiff sustained. See Brown v. Coughlin, 758 F.Supp. 876, 881 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (citing Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 100 S.Ct. 553, 62 L.Ed.2d 481, reh. denied, 445 U.S. 920, 100 S.Ct. 1285, 63 L.Ed.2d 606 (1980)). As such, for a plaintiff to recover in a section 1983 action, he must establish a causal connection between the acts or omissions of each defendant and any injury or damages he suffered as a result of those acts or omissions. See id. (citing Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, 439 U.S. 410, 99 S.Ct. 693, 58 L.Ed.2d 619 (1979)) (other citation omitted).

C. Conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

"To prove a § 1983 conspiracy, a plaintiff must show: (1) an agreement between two or more state actors or between a state actor and a private entity; (2) to act in concert to inflict an unconstitutional injury; and (3) an overt act done in furtherance of that goal causing damages.'" Benitez v. Ham, No. 9:04-CV-1159, 2009 WL 3486379, *18 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2009) (quoting Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 72 (2d Cir. 1999)). A violated constitutional right is a natural prerequisite to a claim of conspiracy to violate such right. See Malsh v. Austin, 901 F.Supp. 757, 763-64 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (citation omitted). Thus, if a plaintiff cannot sufficiently allege a violation of his rights, it follows that he cannot sustain a claim of conspiracy to violate those rights. See id.; see also Friends of Falun Gong v. Pacific Cultural Enterprise, Inc., 288 F.Supp.2d 273, 279 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) (citations omitted); Curley v. Village of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 72 (2d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

To withstand a motion to dismiss, the conspiracy claim must contain more than "conclusory, vague or general allegations of conspiracy to deprive a person of constitutional rights[.]'" Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 862 (2d Cir. 1997) (quotation omitted); Shabazz v. Pico, 994 F.Supp. 460, 467 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (holding that a mere allegation of conspiracy with no facts to support it cannot withstand a motion to dismiss). Specifically, the plaintiff must provide some factual basis supporting a "meeting of the minds, " such as that the defendants "entered into an agreement, express or tacit, to achieve the unlawful end[;]" the plaintiff must also provide "some details of time and place and the alleged effects of the conspiracy.'" Warren v. Fischl, 33 F.Supp.2d 171, 177 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (quoting Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 100 (2d Cir.1993)).

In the present matter, the Court will address the alleged conspiracy claims while addressing the merits of the underlying causes of action.

D. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1985 Claims

Section 1985 allows an injured party to recover damages, "[i]f two or more persons... conspire... for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, [the injured party] of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges... of the laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (2013). To ...


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