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Bhattacharya v. Rockland Community College

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 15, 2016



          Vincent L. Briccetti United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Robin Bhattacharya, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Rockland Community College and SUNY Rockland Community College Board of Trustees (collectively “RCC”); and the Rockland Community College Adjunct Faculty Association, Local 4896, NYSUT, AFT, AFL-CIO, and its president, Jerry Borreggine (collectively “the Faculty Association defendants”), alleging he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment Rights. Plaintiff also brings several claims under New York state law.

         Now pending are defendants' motions to dismiss the amended complaint (Docs. ##34, 39), and plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, and to file a late notice of claim. (Doc. #49).

         For the following reasons, RCC's motion is GRANTED, the Faculty Association defendants' motion is DENIED AS MOOT, and plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.


         In deciding the pending motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded allegations of the amended complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor.

         Plaintiff worked as an adjunct professor at RCC from 2009 through May 2015. In April 2015, five days before the final exam in a course plaintiff was teaching, “a group of about five students demanded that [plaintiff] provide them with all the test questions and answers in advance of the final.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 48). Plaintiff told the students he would not do so “under any circumstances.” (Id. ¶ 49).

         Shortly thereafter, the RCC Division Chair Cathy Roche showed plaintiff an anonymous letter she received from some of plaintiff's students, in which they complained about plaintiff's teaching methods. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50-51).

         Plaintiff alleges one or more of the students who were behind the anonymous complaint letter were the same student(s) who had requested exam questions and answers. In addition, plaintiff alleges some of these students “were flunking [the] course because of their own lack of effort as students, ” and that ultimately some of those students did fail the final exam. (Bhattacharya Dec'l ¶ 33).

         Plaintiff explained to Roche that he believed the students who submitted the anonymous complaint letter were “undoubtedly one (or more) of” the students who had asked for the final exam questions and answers. (Am. Compl. ¶ 52).

         According to plaintiff, Roche “appeared more concern[ed] that the students who wanted to cheat made a complaint, than about their efforts to cheat and their motive to make a false complaint after [plaintiff] refused to permit the cheating.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 55).

         Roche asked another RCC professor to investigate (the “investigating professor”) the anonymous complaint letter. Plaintiff alleges Roche knew the investigating professor “wished to take over . . . some or all of [plaintiff's] classes.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 69).

         During a meeting with plaintiff on May 14, 2015, the investigating professor allegedly told plaintiff “that his standards were ‘too high, ' noting that [plaintiff] had taught or was [also] teaching at colleges with higher academic standards than RCC.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 70).

         Plaintiff alleges the investigating professor “did not inquire about the students who sought to cheat, nor did he have any response to [plaintiff]'s statement . . . that the student or students who were likely complaining ‘were barely passing the class'” because of lack of effort on their part. (Am. Compl. ¶ 73).

         Plaintiff concluded the investigating professor was “condoning academic dishonesty.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 74). He alleges the investigation was “a baseless hatchet job designed to cause [plaintiff's] elimination from RCC for refusing to engage in academic dishonesty and refusing to allow cheating on the final examination.” (Id.).

         By letter dated August 27, 2015, RCC informed plaintiff his adjunct teaching contract would “not be continued beyond the Summer, 2015 term.” (Dranoff Dec'l Ex. E).[1]

         Other than the anonymous complaint letter at issue, during his period of employment with RCC, plaintiff had “no negative reviews from the students or from the faculty.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 16). Moreover, after plaintiff told his students about the anonymous complaint letter, he received “several unsolicited emails” from students voicing support for him and saying they did not agree with the complaint letter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 60).[2]


         I. Legal Standard

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court evaluates the sufficiency of the operative complaint under the “two-pronged approach” articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). First, plaintiff's legal conclusions and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are not entitled to the assumption of truth and are thus not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678. Second, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679.

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the allegations in the complaint must meet a standard of “plausibility.” Id. at 678. A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “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.” Id.

         II. First ...

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