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Cocuzza v. Falco

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 27, 2017

JOHN COCUZZA, JACQUELIN MILLIEN, GREG ESPOSITO, STEFAN TCHOR, LARRY LANS, and MELISSA SEMINARA, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHERIFF LOU FALCO and COUNTY OF ROCKLAND, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Vincent L. Briccetti United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs John Cocuzza, Jacquelin Millien, Greg Esposito, Stefan Tchor, Larry Lans, and Melissa Seminara, bring this action against defendants Sheriff Lou Falco and the County of Rockland under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging political retaliation in violation of plaintiff's First Amendment rights.

         Before the Court is defendants' partial motion to dismiss the complaint as to plaintiffs Cocuzza, Esposito, Tchor, and Seminara pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. #17).

         For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

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

         BACKGROUND

         The following factual background is drawn from “the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint.” See DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010). For purposes of deciding the pending motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor.

         With the support of plaintiffs' union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association of Rockland County (“COBARC”), defendant Falco was elected Sheriff of Rockland County in November 2011.

         By 2015, many COBARC members no longer supported Sheriff Falco due to Falco's efforts to modify the collective bargaining agreement between COBARC and Rockland County. Indeed, several COBARC members, including plaintiffs Cocuzza, Millien, Tchor, Lans, and Seminara, publicly endorsed Falco's opponent, Richard Vazquez, in the 2015 election for Rockland County Sheriff.

         Nonetheless, Falco was re-elected in November 2015.

         Plaintiffs claim that following his re-election, Falco and his subordinates selectively enforced departmental policies against those who supported Vazquez. Plaintiffs allege they were disciplined for common practices long deemed acceptable, and even encouraged, by Falco and other supervisors. According to plaintiffs, supporters of Falco engaged in the same practices but were not disciplined. These practices included failing to provide supervision to inmates on suicide and precautionary watch, sleeping while on duty, and falsifying log book entries.

         Specifically, plaintiffs claim Falco selectively enforced long-ignored departmental policies against Cocuzza to pressure him to resign from his employment and to retaliate against him for his support for Vazquez. The charges brought against Cocuzza were based on conduct that took place between April 2015 and November 2015. However, at no point during this six-month period did Falco or any of his ranking subordinates advise Cocuzza of any job-related performance issue or deficiency. During his nearly thirteen years as a Rockland County corrections officer, Cocuzza had received satisfactory performance evaluations, which changed only after he became the president of COBARC and opposed Falco and his candidacy for reelection.

         In addition to bringing disciplinary charges against Cocuzza, Falco “importuned” the Rockland County District Attorney's Office to bring criminal charges against Cocuzza for the same conduct. (Compl. ¶ 26).

         On May 6, 2016, Cocuzza entered into a stipulation of settlement to resolve his disciplinary charges with the Office of the Rockland County Sheriff. The stipulation provided that Cocuzza resigned his position as a corrections officer and that he would simultaneously execute a general release, releasing defendants from all claims Cocuzza had or may have had against them. In consideration of Cocuzza's resignation and general release, the County agreed to drop the disciplinary charges against him, provide a neutral letter ...


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