Milner-Koonce v. Albany City Sch. Dist.

Decision Date13 October 2022
Docket Number1:21-CV-1271,(LEK/CFH)
PartiesSAMANTHA C. MILNER-KOONCE, Plaintiff, v. ALBANY CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., o Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York

Samantha C. Milner-Koonce Albany, New York Plaintiff pro se

Christian F. Hummel U.S. Magistrate Judge
I. Background

Plaintiff pro se Samantha C. Milner-Koonce (plaintiff) commenced this action on November 29, 2021, with the filing a complaint and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). See Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”); Dkt. No. 2. In a Report-Recommendation and Order dated May 12, 2022, the undersigned: (1) granted plaintiff's IFP application; (2) ordered that plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) retaliation claim and Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) claim against defendant Albany City School District (School District) proceed; (3) recommended that plaintiff's claims against the School District for discrimination under the ADA, Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), and Title VII, and state law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim be dismissed without prejudice and with leave to amend; and (4) recommended that the claims against defendant Honeywell Law Firm be dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend. See Dkt. No. 5. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report-Recommendation and Order, see Dkt. No. 7, and on June 29, 2022, Senior District Judge Kahn adopted the Report-Recommendation and Order in its entirety. See Dkt. No. 9. Presently before the Court is plaintiff's amended complaint for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Dkt. No. 10 (“Am. Compl.”).

II. Initial Review of Amended Complaint
A. Legal Standard

Section 1915[1] of Title 28 of the United States Code directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). It is a court's responsibility to determine that a plaintiff may properly maintain his complaint before permitting him to proceed with his action.

Where, as here, the plaintiff proceeds pro se, “the court must construe his [or her] submissions liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Kirkland v. Cablevision Sys., 760 F.3d 223, 224 (2d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). This does not mean the Court is required to accept unsupported allegations that are devoid of sufficient facts or claims. Although detailed allegations are not required at the pleading stage, the complaint must still include enough facts to provide the defendants with notice of the claims against them and the grounds on which these claims are based. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Pro se litigants are “not exempt . . . from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law[.] Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation omitted). Ultimately, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility 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 (citation omitted).

Pleading guidelines are set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Fed. R. Civ. P.). Specifically, Rule 8 provides that a pleading which sets forth a claim for relief shall contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “The purpose . . . is to give fair notice of the claim being asserted so as to permit the adverse party the opportunity to file a responsive answer, prepare an adequate defense and determine whether the doctrine of res judicata is applicable.” Flores v. Graphtex, 189 F.R.D. 54, 55 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Rule 8 also requires the pleading to include “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction” and “a


Further, Rule 10 provides in pertinent part that:

[a] party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances. A later pleading may refer by number to a paragraph in an earlier pleading. If doing so would promote clarity, each claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence - and each defense other than a denial - must be stated in a separate count or defense.

FED. R. CIV. P. 10(B). THIS SERVES THE PURPOSE OF “PROVIDING] AN EASY MODE OF IDENTIFICATION FOR REFERRING TO A PARTICULAR PARAGRAPH IN A PRIOR PLEADING[.] Flores, 189 F.R.D. at 55 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A complaint that fails to comply with the pleading requirements “presents far too [] heavy [a] burden in terms of defendants' duty to shape a comprehensive defense and provides no meaningful basis for the Court to assess the sufficiency of their claims.” Gonzales v. Wing, 167 F.R.D. 352, 355 (N.D.N.Y. 1996). The Second Circuit has held that [w]hen a complaint does not comply with the requirement that it be short and plain, the court has the power, on its own initiative . . . to dismiss the complaint.” Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). However, “[dismissal . . . is usually reserved for those cases in which the complaint is so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well disguised.” Id. (citation omitted). If dismissal is warranted and the plaintiff is pro se, the court generally affords the plaintiff leave to amend the complaint. See Simmons v. Abruzzo, 49 F.3d 83, 86-87 (2d Cir. 1995).

B. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Plaintiff's amended complaint is nearly identical to her original complaint, with the only cognizable differences being (1) she describes her disabilities and a workplace incident that resulted in her needing to take medical leave, and (2) she names individual defendants and does not explicitly name the School District as a defendant. See Am. Comp. at 2-7. In summary, plaintiff contends that Kaweeda Adams, the Superintendent of the School District; Lori McKenna, the “Assistant Superintendent of Middle School”; Matthew Petrin, a Human Resources Administrator; Andrea West, a Human Resources Assistant Administrator; and William Rivers, the Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School Principal discriminated and retaliated against plaintiff because of her numerous disabilities and her use of medical leave. See id. at 2. Plaintiff asserts that on May 17, 2018, to separate students during a fight, plaintiff was forced to hold a door closed using her hands, back, buttocks, and left shoulder, hip, and foot. See id. at 3-4, ¶ 7. Plaintiff states that she suffers from anxiety, depression, a blood clot disorder, and shoulder, back, neck, and knee impairments. See id. at 4-7, ¶¶ 9-26. Plaintiff seeks “general damages,” punitive damages, and payment for “all filing fees, services and or other fees associated with the filing of this claim.” Id. at 40-41. Plaintiff asserts (1) discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under the ADA; (2) a Title VII discrimination claim; (3) an FMLA claim; (4) a GINA claim; (5) discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”); and (6) parallel claims under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHR”). See Id. at 1, 36.[2] In plaintiff's list of defendants, she does not name Albany City School District and lists only the individual defendants. Am. Compl. at 2. However, plaintiff lists the individual defendants' addresses as the School District, she repleads factual allegations directly against the School District, and she seeks, in part, [g]eneral damages, for the failure to act, intervene, and or regulate, the bullying, harassment, pain and suffering plaintiff endured during the 2020-2021 school year under the supervision of principal Rivers and at the hands of Albany City School District[.] Id. at 40, ¶ 184 (emphasis omitted). Given the special solicitude afforded to pro se plaintiffs, the undersigned construes plaintiff's amended complaint as against the five-named individual defendants and the School District. As such, the Clerk of Court is ordered to reinstate the School District as a defendant on the docket.

C. Analysis[3]
1. ADA Retaliation Claim and FMLA Claim against the School District

Following initial review of plaintiff's original complaint, Judge Khan adopted the undersigned's Report-Recommendation and Order and ordered that plaintiff's ADA retaliation claim and FMLA claim proceed. See Dkt. No. 9 at 12; see also Dkt. No 5 at 30. Plaintiff has sufficiently realleged the supporting facts for both claims in her amended complaint; therefore, the undersigned need not address those claims against the School District already permitted to proceed. The undersigned makes no determination on the merits of either claim.

2. Title VII Claim

Plaintiff states that [t]his is a civil action seeking judgment relief and/or damages brought pursuant to the Employment Discrimination Act, Title VII...

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