Hartman v. City of Providence

Decision Date05 June 1986
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 85-0154-S.
Citation636 F. Supp. 1395
PartiesJanet A. HARTMAN, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF PROVIDENCE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island

Tillinghast, Collins & Graham, Steven E. Snow, Douglas A. Giron, Providence, R.I., for plaintiff.

Coia & LePore, George L. Santopietro, Providence, R.I., for defendant Cook.

Palombo & Piccirilli, Vincent J. Piccirilli, Joseph Sciacca, Providence, R.I., for defendant Cianci.

DeSimone & Leach, Herbert F. DeSimone, Jr., Providence, R.I., for defendant DeSimone.

Edward C. Clifton, City Sol., Faith A. LaSalle, Asst. City Sol., Anthony A. Giannini, Jr., Deputy Asst. City Sol., Providence, R.I., for all other defendants.


SELYA, District Judge.

Janet A. Hartman, the plaintiff herein, brought this suit in early 1985 against a variety of municipal defendants, viz., the city of Providence (City) and its Board of Park Commissioners (Board); Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., former mayor of Providence and quondam chairman of the Board; Bruce F. Melucci and Leila Mahoney, who were aides to Cianci during parts of the period in question;1 Frank A. Merlino, the City's personnel director; Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., whose variegated roles are described in the margin;2 Kay Owen, Sally DeSimone, Carmine A. Bucci, Beatrice Carter-Blackwell and Max E. Meller, all of whom were members of the Board during the times material hereto; and Merrick A. Cook, Jr., one-time superintendent (Superintendent) of the City's parks department (Department). All of the individual defendants, save only Paolino (see ante n. 2), were sued in both their official and individual capacities. The defendant DeSimone counterclaimed. But, inasmuch as these counterclaims were voluntarily dismissed by her during the trial, Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2), they need not be discussed in any detail. The court's jurisdiction is premised on the presence of federal questions, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, although pendent state law claims have also been asserted.

The case was tried to the court on seven different days from March 24, 1986 to April 14, 1986. On the fifth day of trial, after the plaintiff had rested, the court dismissed the plaintiff's state law tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress as unproven. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). Certain claims for punitive damages were stricken at the same time. Id. Following posttrial briefing, oral arguments were heard on May 6, 1986. Decision was reserved. This rescript comprises the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).


The origins of this suit date back to a failed marriage between the defendant Cianci and James W. Diamond. Cianci was first elected to the Providence mayoralty as a Republican in November of 1974; Democrats had held that office continuously since 1940, and Cianci's triumph marked the start of a new era in Providence politics. Approximately midway through his first term, Cianci appointed Diamond as Superintendent of the Department. Diamond took office on March 9, 1976.

The relationship between the two men was a vicissitudinary one; at times they were close allies, at other times they were at sword's point. As months and years marched on, the relationship became increasingly stormy. Cianci attempted on at least one occasion to remove Diamond from office, but the Superintendent was reinstated after a court battle.3

In late 1981, Diamond decided to reorganize the Department. In the course of this reshuffling, several new positions were created. One of these was the position of executive assistant to the Superintendent. There was no job description for this post and no search was conducted to fill it. Instead, Diamond tapped the plaintiff as his personal choice for the slot. Hartman had been active in Democratic politics and had worked for another municipal parks department, but she had never before worked for the City. (In point of fact, she was not a Providence resident.) The plaintiff was not hired for a fixed term.

Hartman's duties under Diamond's regime were never precisely defined. Diamond testified that she had been hired in order to "free my time to deal with more profitable things." He viewed Hartman as a "key" employee. She managed the Superintendent's office, took responsibility for many personnel matters, played a role in labor/management relations, handled certain fiscal and administrative chores, coordinated the work of the division chiefs, and performed a potpourri of other assignments. Although she retreated from the phrase at trial, the plaintiff described herself retrospectively in her curriculum vitae as the Department's "second in command;" that description was not technically accurate, but it was true as a practical matter. In any event, Hartman certainly served, in her own words, as Diamond's "adviser" and "liaison," and as a "conduit" en route to and from the Superintendent. Diamond was entirely satisfied with the plaintiff's performance.

The cauldron began to bubble in November of 1982. Cianci was reelected to his third term as mayor (this time, running as an Independent). At the same election, Providence voters adopted a new Home Rule Charter (Charter) which materially altered the contours of municipal government. The parties agree that, shortly after the election, Cianci convened a meeting of his most trusted counsellors at a posh Newport resort. The plaintiff insinuates that it was at this session that the plot to rid city government of Diamond and those loyal to him was hatched. The court credits Melucci's version of this confabulation: there was consideration of whether Diamond should be reappointed as Superintendent, and the consensus of the cadre did not favor his retention. There was absolutely no discussion of any purge of Diamond loyalists.

The Charter took effect in January 1983. Among its coterie of significant provisions, it refashioned the Board and vested in the Board supervisory authority over the City's public parklands and over the Department. Id. at § 1003. The Board, by law, was to comprise seven members: the mayor ex officio, four mayoral appointees, and two members "elected by the city council." Id. Cianci nominated the defendants Owen, DeSimone, Meller, and Carter-Blackwell. In addition, Paolino and Bucci sat as commissioners by designation of the Council. Of this array, only Bucci had previously been a member of the predecessor Board. Despite the fact that these appointments were generated within the political process, they were not frankly political in the pejorative sense. Owen, DeSimone, and Meller all testified in this case; all were public-spirited citizens who possessed excellent qualifications for service on the Board. All were truthful witnesses. And, the court has no reason to believe that Bucci (a former chairman of the Board in its previous incarnation) or Carter-Blackwell (who has since moved out of state) were of a different ilk.

At its organization meeting, the Board chose Cianci as its chair, Owen as vice-chair, and Carter-Blackwell as secretary. The mayor, apparently cognizant of competing demands upon his time, designated Mahoney as his emissary to the Board and the Department. See ante n. 1. Although Mahoney regularly attended meetings (even when Cianci was present) and served as a member of the Board's budget subcommittee, she had no vote at Board meetings either as Cianci's designee or in her own right.

Soon after taking office, the newly-constituted Board, as it was permitted to do under the freshly minted Charter (see Diamond v. Bucci, supra), declared the Superintendent's office to be vacant. Diamond was retained betimes as acting superintendent and a search to find a Superintendent was begun. Not surprisingly, Diamond was among the aspirants. During this interim period, Hartman continued to act as Diamond's executive assistant, and her role in the affairs of the Department was, for the moment, essentially unchanged.

While the search was ongoing, several other things occurred. Two are of particular note. The first was the emergence of a budding sense of insecurity within the Department. Fearing wholesale personnel changes, Hartman and several others undertook in early 1983 to organize a "defense fund" for park employees. (The evidence on this point was meagre; it is unclear how successful the effort was, and there is no credible proof that any defendant knew about it.) This apprehension manifested itself in another way as well: one of Hartman's fellow workers, Diane Marchetti, spearheaded an attempt to unionize certain supervisory employees of the Department. The court finds that the plaintiff played a minor role in this endeavor; that no defendant identified her in any prominent way with the plan; and that, in any event, the unionization initiative (which ultimately failed) was not a matter of any especial concern to the Board.

The second set of developments was of far greater overall importance. Cianci had run afoul of the law in the wake of a domestic imbroglio, and was eventually indicted. Diamond, who had become one of the mayor's most vocal critics, spoke out publicly against him on numerous occasions. Hartman accompanied Diamond on some of these excursions, although her role was essentially a passive and unobtrusive one. In June 1983, the plaintiff attended a (supposedly) secret meeting in Boston to begin to design a campaign to recall the mayor. The cabal did not remain hidden for long; there was credible evidence that Cianci's staff knew about the pow-wow within a matter of hours. There was nothing to show, however, that plaintiff's attendance at the meeting was revealed. In the aftermath of this session, a loosely-organized committee to foster recall began to take shape. The plaintiff, although undoubtedly in sympathy with the movement, was neither a leader of it nor otherwise publicly identified with it.

The pot came to a veritable boil in the fall of 1983. The defendant Cook emerged as the...

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