Maymi v. Puerto Rico Ports Authority

Decision Date30 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-1157.,07-1157.
Citation515 F.3d 20
PartiesElaine MAYMI, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. PUERTO RICO PORTS AUTHORITY; Mr. Miguel Soto-Lacourt, Executive Director in his official and personal capacity; Maritza Valle, Assistant to the Executive Director in her official and personal capacity; Carmen Vanessa Davila, in her official and personal capacity, Defendants, Appellees, Raquel Marti-Ortiz; Conjugal Partnership Soto-Marti, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Susana I. Peñagaricano-Brown, Assistant Solicitor General, Department of Justice, with whom Salvador J. Antonetti-Stutts, Solicitor General; Mariana Negrón-Vargas, Deputy Solicitor General, and Maite D. Oronoz-Rodríguez, Deputy Solicitor General, were on brief, for appellees in their individual capacities.

Before TORRUELLA and HOWARD, Circuit Judges, and DELGADO-COLÓN,* District Judge.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Elaine Maymí filed this complaint against the Puerto Rico Ports Authority and various officials, alleging political discrimination and retaliation.1 She asserted claims under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986, as well as analogous provisions under Puerto Rico law. Upon motion by the defendants, the district court allowed summary judgment on all federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over Maymí's supplemental claims. Maymí now appeals. After careful consideration, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Background

Maymí, a member of the Popular Democratic Party ("PDP"), began her career with the Puerto Rico Ports Authority as an "Attorney II" in 1985. She was later promoted to an. "Attorney III," and in that capacity defended the Ports Authority in various legal proceedings. One of those suits was a 1993 civil claim filed by Maritza Valle, who asserted that the Ports Authority, then controlled by the New Progressive Party ("NPP"), engaged in political discrimination. The case was dismissed in 1996 with costs and attorneys' fees imposed on Valle. Undeterred, in 2000, Valle filed a second complaint alleging political discrimination and retaliation by the NPP.

In January 2001, the PDP gained control of the government. Miguel Pereira was appointed Executive Director of the Ports Authority and Maymí was appointed as Auxiliary Executive Director for. Administration, a trust position.2 Maymí alleges that after hearing of her appointment, Valle began directing criticism against her. In December 2001, Valle amended her complaint and added Maymí as a defendant, alleging that she was "an ally of the NPP administration to persecute and discriminate against her." Around that time, Pereira resigned as Executive Director and José Baquero was appointed Executive Director. Maymí continued in the same position.

In April 2003, Baquero resigned and Miguel Soto-Lacourt was appointed as the new Executive Director. Upon his appointment, Maymí submitted a letter offering to step down from her appointment, but expressing her interest in continuing in the position. She received no response and remained in the trust position. Soon after his appointment, Soto-Lacourt appointed Valle as his Executive Assistant and the two allegedly instructed Maymí to dismiss and remove employees who served in trust positions. Among those affected was Gerónimo Vázquez, acting Director of the General Services Office. According to Maymí, Soto-Lacourt stated that despite Vázquez's past performance and years of service, he wanted to remove him because of his affiliation with the NPP. Furthermore, in the course of that same conversation, Soto-Lacourt allegedly made reference to three secretaries who had also worked with the NPP administration and expressed his interest in replacing them with PDP members. Maymí explained that because the secretaries held career positions, they could not be discriminated against for political reasons. Soto-Lacourt allegedly expressed frustration with her explanation.

Soto-Lacourt then asked Maymí to draft a contract retaining the services of a consulting firm, Personnel Management Group, to review and amend the existing job classification plan. Soto-Lacourt allegedly stated that he was retaining the firm to create a new, more flexible plan in order to grant positions and increased salaries to those who "helped him and the PDP." Maymí drafted the service contract and the Personnel Management Group was retained. Despite her responsibility over human resources issues, she was excluded from all meetings concerning the new job classification plan.

On May 29, 2003, Maymí was informed that she was to be removed from her trust position and reinstated in her prior career position as an "Attorney III" hi the Legal Division. Soto-Lacourt allegedly explained that she was being demoted "because of the things we have previously discussed" which Maymí understood to refer to her opposition to his desire to remove NPP members from career positions.

Maymí's monthly salary decreased from $6,319 to $5,469 as a result of her reassignment. According to Maymí, Valle ordered her salary to be reduced further, below the salary for an "Attorney III," to $5,327 per month. On June 9, 2003, Carmen Vanessa Dávila was appointed as Auxiliary Executive Director of Administration (Maymí's former position) and executed Valle's salary reduction order. Maymí was allegedly also assigned inferior duties and denied other benefits and rights, including work schedule accommodations and the payment of her excess annual leave.

On October 31, 2003, Maymí filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, seeking compensatory and pecuniary damages and alleging violations pursuant to the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986. She also moved the Court to exercise its pendent jurisdiction regarding her state law claims. In August 2006, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment, concluding that, inter alia, Maymí had failed to establish any of her federal claims. Having dismissed the federal claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims.

II. Discussion
A. Standard of Review

On appeal, we review a district court's entry of summary judgment de novo. See Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir.2006). Summary judgment is appropriate only when the record reveals that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation. See Calvi v. Knox County, 470 F.3d 422, 426 (1st Cir.2006). "Once the moving party avers the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the nonmovant must show that a factual dispute does exist, but summary judgment cannot be defeated by relying on improbable inferences, conclusory allegations, or rank speculation." Ingram v. Brink's, Inc., 414 F.3d 222, 228-29 (1st Cir.2005). Accordingly, reversal is proper only if, after reviewing the facts and making all inferences in favor of the non-moving party (here, Maymí), the evidence on record is "sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor of either side." Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3d 731, 735 (1st Cir.1995), quoted in Coyne v. Taber Partners I, 53 F.3d 454, 456 (1st Cir.1995).

B. Political Discrimination and First Amendment Claims

In making a political discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the defendants deprived her of federally protected rights while acting under color of state law. Cepero-Rivera v. Fagundo, 414 F.3d 124, 129 (1st Cir.2005). In this case, Maymí's § 1983 claim is based on alleged violations of the First Amendment right to speech and, therefore, she must produce evidence that partisanship was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment action.3 See Jirau-Bernal v. Agrait, 37 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir.1994). In order to be redressable, the alleged adverse employment action must result "in conditions `unreasonably inferior' to the norm for that position." Rosario-Urdaz v. Velazco, 433 F.3d 174, 178 (1st Cir.2006) (quoting Agosto-de-Feliciano v. Aponte-Roque, 889 F.2d 1209, 1218-19 (1st Cir. 1989) (en banc)). If the plaintiff can over-come that hurdle, the burden then shifts to the defendants to demonstrate that they would have taken the same action for constitutional reasons. Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 286-87, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977).

1. Reassignment to Career Position

Generally, the First Amendment, as applied to the states and, in this case, Puerto Rico, through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the dismissal of a public employee solely on the basis of his or her political affiliation and beliefs. See Bd. of County Comm'rs, Wabaunsee County, Kan., v. Umbehr, 518 U.S. 668, 674-75, 116 S.Ct. 2342, 135 L.Ed.2d 843 (1996); Gómez v. Rivera Rodríguez, 344 F.3d 103, 109-10 (1st Cir.2003). One clear exception to this rule is in cases where political affiliation is an "appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 518, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980). Given the need for elected officials to have a group of leaders and top subordinates who are responsive to their policy goals, the focus of our inquiry is whether the dismissed employee was "in close working relationships with policymakers." Flynn v. City of Boston, 140 F.3d 42, 45 (1st Cir.1998) (recognizing...

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