Farrell v. Smithtown Union Free Sch. Dist.

Decision Date12 January 2022
Docket NumberCV 20-0450 (JMA)(AYS)
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)



Before the Court, on referral from the Honorable Joan M. Azrack, is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), on the grounds that the Amended Complaint fails to state a federal claim upon which relief may be granted and that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. For the following reasons, this Court respectfully recommends that Defendant's motion be granted and that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint be dismissed in its entirety.


Plaintiff Howard T. Farrell III, also known as Tommy Farrell (Plaintiff or “Farrell”), is an individual with mental disabilities that cause significant limitations to his general comprehension, including inter alia, a total inability to read and write. (Am. Compl., Docket Entry (“DE”) [18], ¶ 1.) Plaintiff also suffers from physical disabilities that limit his mobility. (Id.)

Since childhood, Plaintiff has experienced significant neurological problems, requiring special education along with medical and psychological treatment and counseling, as well as the services of a social worker to facilitate his day to day living challenges. (Id. ¶ 14.) These neurological impairments limit Plaintiff's ability to read and write or to comprehend or analyze more than an extremely limited amount of simple information. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Despite his disabilities, Plaintiff was employed as a custodian by Defendant, Smithtown Union Free School District (Defendant or the “District”), for more than twenty years. Prior to his termination in 2017 Plaintiff suffered a work-related physical injury for which he filed a worker's compensation claim with the New York State Worker's Compensation Board. (Id. ¶ 17.) Throughout his employment, Plaintiff's performance was always rated at least “satisfactory” by Defendants, if not commendable. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges, however, that as a result of his mental disabilities, Defendant discriminated against him with respect to: (1) his scheduling requests and/or the taking of medical leave; (2) the scheduling of his employment hours; (3) the assignment of his job responsibilities; (4) his seeking work-related promotions; and, (5) the consideration and rejection of his application for disability retirement benefits by the New York State and Local Retirement System. (Id.)

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that throughout his employment, Defendant utilized Plaintiff's mental disability as a means to attempt to force him to resign his custodial position and ultimately to terminate him. (Id. ¶ 22.) For example, Plaintiff made repeated verbal requests - either himself or through his union representative or family members - to accommodate his disabilities by scheduling him to work daytime hours. (Id. ¶ 24.) In alleged response, Defendant would change Plaintiff's hours to day shifts and then switch him back to night shifts shortly thereafter, notwithstanding the documentation provided by Plaintiff and concerns expressed by his social worker and family members as to his disabilities affecting his ability to work at differing hours. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Plaintiff alleges that this treatment continued throughout his employment. (Id. ¶ 25.)

In 2015, Plaintiff suffered a work-related injury that resulted in his becoming physically disabled and having to take a leave of absence from work. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff alleges that, despite being aware that he could not read, the District repeatedly sent him only written correspondence advising him of his rights and imposing on him obligations to serve written requests, knowing that he cannot write. (Id. ¶ 28.) Such correspondence took place in February, March and December of 2016. Specifically: (1) in February 2016, Plaintiff was advised that he would be charged vacation time for his absence for the month of February 2016, (Kleinberg Decl., dated Mar. 15, 2021, Ex. D, DE [25-4]); (2) in March 2016, Plaintiff was advised that the District would be commencing his one-year leave of absence for his work-related injury and that he would be terminated as of February 7, 2017, (Kleinberg Decl., Ex. B, DE [25-1]); and, (3) in December 2016, Plaintiff was advised that the District would seek to terminate him at the next Board of Education meeting on January 24, 2017 due to his absence from work for more than one year, in accordance with Section 71 of the New York Civil Service Law, (Kleinberg Decl., Ex. C, DE [25-2]). The District terminated Plaintiff's employment on January 24, 2017. (Id.)[1]

Plaintiff alleges that between 2017 and 2019, the District verbally led him to believe that he had to wait until after the conclusion of his worker's compensation claim (for the physical disability sustained during his employment) before he could exercise his rights to claims for either wrongful termination, discrimination based on mental disability, or to collect his disability retirement benefits. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 31.) According to Plaintiff, the District did so while simultaneously sending conflicting written correspondence directly contradicting what was being communicated to Plaintiff verbally. (Id. ¶ 32.)

On March 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed his New York State Article 15 disability retirement application, which was within ninety days of the conclusion of his worker's compensation action. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) On or about July 19, 2019, Plaintiff received correspondence from the New York State and Local Retirement System denying his application for retirement benefits as untimely. (Id.; Kleinberg Decl., Ex. E, DE [25-5].)

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in September 2019. (Am Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff commenced the within action on January 27, 2020. (DE [1].) On November 30, 2020, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a right to sue letter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8; DE [17].) Plaintiff thereafter amended his Complaint, with leave of the Court, on December 29, 2020.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains the following causes of action: (1) disability discrimination, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; (2) intentional infliction of discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) promissory estoppel, pursuant to New York State law; (4) disability discrimination, in violation of the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296; and, (5) prima facie tort, pursuant to New York State law. The Amended Complaint requests both compensatory and punitive damages.

On December 30, 2020, Defendant requested a pre-motion conference in anticipation of moving to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (DE [19].) In his letter filed in opposition to Defendant's request, Plaintiff advised the Court that he was voluntarily withdrawing his Section 1981 discrimination claim, as well as any claim for punitive damages. (DE [21].) Defendant was granted leave to file its motion and the within motion to dismiss was docketed on April 20, 2021.

Judge Azrack referred the motion to this Court for a report and recommendation on October 22, 2021. The Court now turns to the merits of the motion.

I. Legal Standards

A district court should dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) where the court “lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). When reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, “the court ‘must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint, but [the court is] not to draw inferences from the complaint favorable to plaintiff[].' Tiraco v. N.Y. State Bd. of Elections, 963 F.Supp.2d 184, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting J.S. ex rel. N.S. v. Attica Cent. Sch., 386 F F.3d 107, 110 (2d Cir. 2004)) (alteration in original). The Court may also “consider affidavits and other materials beyond the pleadings to resolve the jurisdictional question.” Ighile v. Kingsboro ATC, No. 16-CV-4294, 2018 WL 1970737, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 25, 2018) (citing cases).

Conversely, when considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept all factual allegations in the Complaint as true and to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Town of Babylon v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 699 F.3d 221, 227 (2d Cir. 2012). “To survive a motion to dismiss [pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Facial plausibility” is achieved when ‘the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements . . . are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (citation omitted); see also Twombly, 555 U.S. at 555 (stating that a court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, ” which state a claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679....

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