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Greer v. Mehiel

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 29, 2018

Steven E. Greer, Plaintiff,
v.
Dennis Mehiel, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge

         Pro se Plaintiff Steven E. Greer brings this suit against the company that owns his former apartment, the company that manages that apartment building, the Battery Park City Authority ("BPCA"), and several individuals associated with those entities. At this stage, two claims remain in Plaintiffs suit-a First Amendment retaliation claim and a First Amendment equal access claim. Before the Court are three motions for summary judgment: one from Plaintiff, one from a group of Defendants defined below as the Landlord Defendants, and one from a group of Defendants defined below as the BPCA Defendants. Also before the Court are requests by Plaintiff for sanctions and to "reinstate" two previously dismissed defendants, as well as several sealing requests from all parties. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment is denied, and Defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted. Plaintiffs other requests are also denied. The sealing requests are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff rented Apartment 35F in the building located at 200 Rector Place from 2002 through April 2014. Dkt. No. 381 (Rossi Decl.) ¶¶ L 5; Dkt. No. 373, Ex. 16 (Non-Renewal Notice); Dkt. No. 382 (L 56.1) ¶¶ 7-9.

         At all relevant times, Milford Management ("Milford") managed the property located at 200 Rector Place. L 56.1 ¶ 2; Rossi Decl. ¶¶ 1-2. Stephen Rossi is the Vice President and Director of Management Services for Milford. Rossi Decl. ¶ 1. Mariners Cove Site B Associates ("Mariners Cove"), where Howard Milstein is a partner, owns certain units in the building located at 200 Rector Place. Rossi Decl. ¶¶ 1-2. Janet Martin is involved in the management of properties that Milstein has an interest in. Rossi Decl. ¶ 2. Milstein, Rossi, Martin, Milford, and Mariners Cove comprise the "Landlord Defendants."

         The BPCA owns the land on which 200 Rector Place is located. See Rossi Decl. ¶¶ 54, 59-60; Dkt. No. 376 (Hyman Decl.) ¶ 5. The BPCA is a New York State public benefit corporation. See N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law § 1973(1). The membership of the BPCA consists of seven members, a majority of which constitutes "a quorum for the transaction of any business or the exercise of any power or function of the authority." N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law § 1973(1), (7). The members elect one of themselves as chairman, and the BPCA may delegate to one or more members, officers, agents, or employees "such powers and duties as it may deem proper." N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law § 1973(2), (7). The BPCA has the power to "acquire, lease, hold, mortgage and dispose of real property." N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law § 1974(3). Beginning June 20, 2012, Dennis Mehiel was the Chairman and CEO of the BPCA. Dkt. No. 375 (Mehiel Decl.) ¶ 1. At all times relevant to this litigation, Robert Serpico served as the Chief Financial Officer of the BPCA. Dkt. No. 374 (Serpico Decl.) ¶ 1. The Court refers to Serpico and the BPCA, together, as the "BPCA Defendants."

         In 2009, Plaintiff created a blog called BatteryPark.TV, where he published articles about the BPCA's activities. Dkt. No. 377 (BPCA 56.1) ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 394 (PI. Counter to BPCA 56.1) ¶ 9. According to one BPCA employee, Plaintiffs reporting angered Serpico, who told the BPCA staff that the blog was not credible and discouraged the staff from reading it. Dkt. No. 395, Ex. 16 (Ford Depo.) at 10:15-11:7.

         Serpico and Rossi sometimes met for lunch or coffee, including one such meeting during the fall of 2013. See Serpico Decl. ¶ 3; Rossi Decl. ¶¶ 61-63; Dkt. No. 395, Ex. 20 (Swanson Depo.) at 21:8-22:4.

         In a letter dated January 24, 2014, Milford informed Plaintiff that his lease would not be renewed and instructed him to vacate his apartment by April 30, 2014. Non-Renewal Notice. Plaintiff insists that there is no proof that he failed to pay rent, see, e.g., Dkt. No. 368 (PI. 56.1) ¶ 28, but there is evidence in the record that Plaintiff often submitted late payments or owed money on his apartment. See Greer Ex. T (Greer Checks); Dkt. No. 373, Ex. 25 (Spreadsheet); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 6 (7/2/12 Email from Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 7 (7/30/12 Email Rossi-Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 9 (9/27/12 Greer-Hill Emails); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 10 (12/6/12 Email from Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 11 (3/20/13 Greer-Hill Emails); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 12 (4/25/13 Email from Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 15 (5/16/13 Email from Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 16 (8/7/13 Email from Greer); Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 17; Dkt. No. 381, Ex. 20 (7/3/12 Greer-Rossi Emails). Though disputed, there is also some evidence that the Landlord Defendants took legal action against other tenants when they owed two months' rent or more. See L 56.1 ¶¶ 55, 58, 60; Dkt. No. 381, Exs. 34-43.

         When one BPCA employee asked Serpico "if [Serpico] had anything to do with Greer not getting his lease renewed, " Serpico, according to the employee, "visibly smirked, shrugged, " and did not answer the question. Swanson Depo. at 19:9-21, 24:7-20.

         Despite the non-renewal notice, Plaintiff did not vacate his apartment by April 30, 2014. See BPCA 56.1 ¶ 13; PI. Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 13. Accordingly, Mariners Cove began an eviction proceeding against Plaintiff. See PI. 56.1 ¶ 46. In response to an email from Plaintiff warning Defendants not to delete any emails, Serpico emailed Rossi on May 28, 2014, and asked, "Is [Plaintiff] now evicted? Where is he living?" Dkt. No. 374, Ex. 1 (5/28/14 Serpico Email).

         Plaintiff was ultimately evicted from his apartment in the spring of 2016. Dkt. No. 184, Ex. D (Housing Court Decision).

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff regularly harassed and bothered BPC A employees and Battery Park City residents. See, e.g., BPCA 56.1 ¶ 14. Plaintiff denies those accusations and emphasizes that any alleged misconduct occurred after Plaintiffs lease was not renewed. PI. Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 14. However, there is evidence that the BPCA Defendants were aware of at least one incident in which Plaintiff acted antagonistically before January 2014. See Dkt. No. 373, Ex. 11 (March 11, 2013 Email) (detailing an incident in which a woman called the police because Plaintiff was yelling at her and trying to videotape her).

         Plaintiff attended the BPCA board meeting held on June 9, 2015. BPCA 56.1 ¶¶ 40-42; PL Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 41. At the end of the meeting, the BPCA board transitioned to an executive session, which was closed to the public. See BPCA 56.1 ¶ 43; PI. Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶¶ 41-42. However, Plaintiff refused to leave the meeting room. BPCA 56.1 ¶ 44; PL Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 43. Kevin McCabe, Mehiel's Chief of Staff, asked Plaintiff to leave the room and advised Plaintiff that if he did not leave the police would be called. BPCA 56.1 ¶¶ 44-48; PL Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 47. Plaintiff then left the room. PL Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 48.

         After the June 9, 2015, board meeting, Mehiel decided to exclude Plaintiff from the BPCA offices, including future BPCA board meetings, to ensure safety and minimize disruptions. Mehiel Decl. ¶¶ 13-15; see also Dkt. No. 373, Ex. 3 (McCabe Depo.) at 32:24-33:3 (McCabe stating that Mehiel directed security to ban Plaintiff from BPCA offices because of Plaintiffs "abusive and disruptive behavior"); Dkt. No. 376, Ex. 13 (6/9/15 Email from Mehiel) (instructing security to exclude Plaintiff from the BPCA office because of his "[c]onsistent hostile behavior"). According to Mehiel, the BPCA could have reviewed that decision but chose not to. Mehiel Decl. ¶ 16. Instead of attending the July 29, 2015 BPCA board meeting, Plaintiff was allowed to watch a live video feed of the meeting in a building several blocks away from the BPCA main offices. See Mehiel Decl. ¶ 14; BPCA 56.1 ¶ 56; PL Counter to BPCA 56.1 ¶ 50.

         On August 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this action. Dkt. No. 1. He filed a Second Amended Complaint on November 4, 2015. Dkt. No. 85 (SAC). Plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights. Specifically, he claimed that the nonrenewal of his lease, which led to his ultimate eviction, was the result of a conspiracy by the Landlord Defendants and the BPCA, Mehiel, and Serpico to retaliate against Plaintiff for his blog. See SAC ¶¶ 42-43, 64. In addition, Plaintiff claimed that the BPCA, Mehiel, and Serpico unlawfully excluded him from the July 2015 board meeting. See SAC ¶¶ 68-73. Plaintiff initially sought an order enjoining Defendants from evicting him. See SAC ¶ 36; Dkt. No. 2. On February 24, 2016, the Court denied Plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining the then-ongoing eviction proceedings in state court. Dkt. No. 138.

         Defendants filed motions to dismiss, Dkt. Nos. 102, 114, which the Court granted in part and denied in part on September 30, 2016, [1] see Dkt. No. 177. Relevant here, the Court granted a motion to dismiss the retaliation claim against Mehiel but denied the motion to dismiss that claim against the Landlord Defendants, the BPCA, and Serpico. See Dkt. No. 177 at 6. The Court also granted a motion to dismiss the second claim-unlawful exclusion from the board meeting-against Mehiel and Serpico but allowed the claim to continue against the BPCA. See Dkt. No. 177 at 6. Accordingly, at this point, Plaintiff has two remaining claims: (1) a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants BPCA and Robert Serpico (the "BPCA Defendants") and Defendants Mariners Cove Site B Associates, Howard Milstein, Steve Rossi, Janet Martin, and Milford Management (the "Landlord Defendants"), and (2) a First Amendment equal access claim against the BPCA.

         The Landlord Defendants and the BPCA Defendants each move for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 371, 379. Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 366.

         II. MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. Legal Standard

         A party is entitled to summary judgment only if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ramos v. Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc.,687 F.3d 554, 558 (2d Cir. 2012). In reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment, courts construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Id. "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a ...


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