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McAdam v. Suffolk County Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. New York

July 26, 2017

SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT, COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, TIMOTHY D. SINI in his official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          Law Offices of Christopher J. Cassar, P.C. Attorneys for the Plaintiff By: Christopher J. Cassar, Esq., Joseph John Karlya, III, Esq., Of Counsel

          Suffolk County Attorney's Office Attorneys for the Defendants By: Drew W. Schirmer, Deputy County Attorney


          ARTHUR D. SPATT United States District Judge

         This civil rights action was brought by the Plaintiff Christopher McAdam (the “Plaintiff”) against the Defendants County of Suffolk (the “County”), the Suffolk County Police Department (the “SCPD”), and the SCPD Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini (“Sini”) (collectively, the “Defendants”), alleging that they violated his constitutional due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 (“Section 1983”) and defamed him.

         Presently before the Court is a motion by the Defendants for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.” or “Rule”) 12(c) dismissing the complaint. For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion is granted in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Relevant Facts

         In June 2011, the Plaintiff sat for an open written competitive examination for entry into the SCPD. He received a passing grade; became an eligible candidate for the SCPD; and entered the SPCD Academy (the “Academy”) in July 2015.

         On July 18, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared for a physical fitness screening test at the Academy. The exam had three portions: sit-ups, push-ups, and a run. Each portion was timed, and the Plaintiff had to run a mile and a half, and complete a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups. The Plaintiff failed the sit-up portion of the exam, but was told that he could retake the exam at a later time.

         His second physical exam was scheduled for August 1, 2015, but the Plaintiff was permitted to delay it until August 26, 2015 with a note from his doctor.

         On August 26, 2015, the Plaintiff retook the physical exam under the supervision of Lieutenant Sweeney and Police Officer Santarpia. The Plaintiff claims that the supervising officers told him to complete the exam “out of order.” That is, there is a standard order of sit-ups, push-ups, then the run. However, the Plaintiff states that he was told to complete the test in some other order.

         On August 27, 2015, the Plaintiff was informed that the results from his exam the previous day were void because he completed the steps out of order. He was purportedly told that he could take the exam again.

         The next day, August 28, 2015, the Plaintiff took the physical exam a third time, and passed.

         Subsequently, he joined the Academy as a recruit with an expected graduation date of April 1, 2016.

         On November 20, 2015, the Plaintiff avers that he was “temporarily discharged from the Academy without a notice or hearing, ” because of “alleged impropriety [in] allowing him to complete the August 28, 2015 physical examination.” (Compl. ¶ 20).

         On November 24, 2015, the Plaintiff filed suit (the “State Action”) in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against the County, the SCPD, the Suffolk County Department of Civil Service, and the Police Commissioner (the “State Action Defendants”). He sought a preliminary injunction pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 6301, asking that the Court enjoin the State Action Defendants from temporarily discharging him, and therefore permit him to complete his training. The action was also brought pursuant to Article 78 of the N.Y. C.P.L.R. (“Article 78”). The Plaintiff alleged that the decision to terminate him was arbitrary, capricious, unfair, and an abuse of discretion. He sought to be reinstated to his position, along with back pay and benefits.

         On November 25, 2015, Justice John Bivona of the New York State Supreme Court, Nassau County, signed the Plaintiff's Order to Show Cause, and directed the State Action Defendants to show cause why the Plaintiff's requested relief should not be granted.

         Thereafter, the Plaintiff was reinstated and completed his training at the Academy. His expected graduation date was April 1, 2016.

         On March 29, 2016, applying New York State common law, Justice Arthur Pitts (“Justice Pitts”) of the New York State Supreme Court issued a decision and order denying the Plaintiff's requested relief. Determining how to analyze the Plaintiff's claims, Justice Pitts stated:

The proper test to be applied is whether there is a rational basis for the administrative order. [Colton v. Berman, 21 N.Y.2d 322, 329, 234 N.E.2d 679, 681 (N.Y. 1967)][.] “It is well settled that a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the board or body it reviews unless the decision under review is arbitrary and unreasonable and constitutes an abuse of discretion[.]” [Diocese of Rochester v. Plan. Bd. of Town of Brighton, 1 N.Y.2d 508, 520, 136 N.E.2d 827 (N.Y. 1956)][.] A county's civil service commission is afforded wide discretion in determining the fitness of candidates for appointment. Such discretion is particularly necessary in hiring police officers, to whom higher standards of fitness and character may be applied[.] [] [S]ee[] Havern v. Senko, 210 A.D.2d 480, 481, 620 N.Y.S.2d 470 ([N.Y.App.Div.] 1994)[]. A court should not interfere with the discretion of the civil service commission in determining the qualifications of candidates for police officer unless the decision is irrational and arbitrary so as to warrant judicial intervention[.] [][S]ee[] [id.]; Matter of Shedlock v. Connelie, 66 A.D.2d 433, 414 N.Y.S.2d 55 ([N.Y.App.Div.] 1979), aff'd, 48 N.Y.2d 943, 42 N.Y.S.2d 95, 401 N.E.2d 217; Matter of Metzger v. Nassau [Cty.] Civ. Serv. Comm., 54 A.D.2d 565, 386 N.Y.S.2d 890 ([N.Y.App.Div.] 1976))[;] [][] Ressa v. [Cty.] of Nassau, 224 A.D.2d 534, 638 N .Y.S .2d 158 ([N.Y.App.Div.] 1996)[][.]

(Defs.' Ex. 4 at 5). Justice Pitts found that the decision to terminate the Plaintiff was not arbitrary and capricious, or an abuse of discretion. He so ruled because a county's civil service commission is granted wide latitude in determining the qualifications of candidates for police officer; the Director of Personnel of the Suffolk County Department of Civil Service (the “Director”) stated in an affidavit that the department has a policy of granting only one re-test, and the Plaintiff was impermissibly given two re-tests; and the Director further stated that the Plaintiff was given “an unexplained additional twenty-five days . . . after other candidates were given their re-test opportunity on August 1, 2015.” (Id. at 6). Therefore, because the State Action Defendants gave reasons for the Plaintiff's dismissal, Justice Pitts found that his dismissal was not arbitrary or capricious.

         On March 30, 2016, two days before his scheduled graduation date, the Plaintiff was permanently dismissed from the SCPD. The Plaintiff claims that he was not afforded notice or a hearing prior to his discharge.

         On June 10, 2016, Justice Pitts dismissed the Plaintiff's Article 78 proceeding against the County and the SCPD. (Defs.' Ex. 5).

         B. The Relevant Procedural Background

         The Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on November 11, 2016. The complaint specifies three causes of action: deprivation of federal constitutional due process in violation of Section 1983; deprivation of state constitutional due process; and common law defamation. As the Plaintiff did not specify in his complaint whether his due process claims were procedural or substantive, the Court will assume that he has brought claims for both causes. The Defendants filed an answer on December 30, 2016.

         On January 20, 2017, the Defendants filed the instant motion for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). The Defendants attached six exhibits to their motion: a declaration in support of the Defendants' motion from the Defendants' counsel; the instant complaint; the Defendants' answer in the instant case; the signed Order to Show Cause and the Plaintiff's petition and supporting documents from the State Action; Justice Pitts' March 29, 2016 decision denying the ...

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