Spanierman v. Hughes

Citation576 F.Supp.2d 292
Decision Date16 September 2008
Docket NumberNo. 3:06CV01196(DJS).,3:06CV01196(DJS).
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
PartiesJeffrey SPANIERMAN, Plaintiff, v. Abigail L. HUGHES, Anne Druzolowski, and Lisa Hylwa, Defendants.

John R. Williams, New Haven, CT, for Plaintiff.

Jane B. Emons, Margaret Q. Chapple, Attorney General's Office, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

DOMINIC J. SQUATRITO, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Jeffrey Spanierman ("the Plaintiff') brings this action against the defendants, Abigail L. Hughes ("Hughes"), Anne Druzolowski ("Druzolowski"), and Lisa Hylwa ("Hylwa") (collectively, "the Defendants"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Now pending before the court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (dkt.# 31) pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ.P."). For the reasons that hereafter follow, the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (dkt.# 31) is GRANTED.

I. FACTS

On January 2, 2003, the State of Connecticut, Department of Education ("DOE") hired the Plaintiff to be an English teacher at Emmett O'Brien High School ("Emmett O'Brien") in Ansonia, Connecticut. At all times relevant to this case: (1) Hughes was employed by the DOE as the Superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School system, of which Emmett O'Brien is a part; (2) Druzolowski was employed by the DOE as the Assistant Superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School system; and (3) Hylwa was employed by the DOE as the principal of Emmett O'Brien. The Plaintiff was part of a union that had a collective bargaining agreement ("the Agreement") with the DOE. Under the Agreement, a teacher reaches tenure after completing four years of full-time service.

This case involves the Plaintiffs use of MySpace.com ("MySpace"), a website that allows its users to create an online community where they can meet people. MySpace can be used to share photographs, journals, and "interests" with mutual friends. People with MySpace accounts can create a "profile," to which they can link their friends, and the owner of the profile can either invite people to become friends, or other MySpace users can ask the owner of the profile to become friends with the owner of the profile. If the owner of a profile accepts another MySpace user as a friend, the friend's profile picture is posted on the profile owner's MySpace page, along with a link to the friend's MySpace profile. The owner of a profile can kick friends off his profile, deleting that friend's profile picture from the owner's profile page. In addition, a profile owner can completely block other MySpace users from viewing his profile page. The owner of a profile can post blogs on his own profile page, allow other MySpace users to post comments on his profile page, or post comments on other users' profile pages.

The Plaintiff originally began to use MySpace because students asked him to look at their MySpace pages. The Plaintiff subsequently opened his own MySpace account, creating several different profiles. One of his profiles was called "Mr. Spiderman," which he maintained on MySpace from the summer of 2005 to the fall of 2005. The Plaintiff has testified that he used his MySpace account to communicate with students about homework, to learn more about the students so he could relate to them better, and to conduct casual, nonschool related discussions.

Elizabeth Michaud ("Michaud") was a guidance counselor at Emmett O'Brien. In the fall of 2005, Michaud spoke with Francesca Ford ("Ford"), a teacher at Emmett O'Brien, who informed Michaud that the Plaintiff had a profile on MySpace. Michaud alleges that she also received student complaints about the Plaintiffs profile page. After her conversation with Ford, Michaud viewed the Plaintiffs "Mr. Spiderman" profile page, reviewing it for about a half hour. Michaud has testified that she was disturbed by what she saw on the Plaintiffs profile page. According to Michaud, the Plaintiffs profile page included a picture of the Plaintiff when he was ten years younger, under which were pictures of Emmett O'Brien students. In addition, Michaud stated that, near the pictures of the students were pictures of naked men with what she considered "inappropriate comments" underneath them. Michaud further testified that she was disturbed by the conversations the Plaintiff was conducting on his profile page. Michaud stated that the Plaintiffs conversations with Emmett O'Brien students were "very peer-to-peer like," with students talking to him about what they did over the weekend at a party, or about their personal problems. Michaud felt that the Plaintiffs profile page would be disruptive to students.

After viewing the Plaintiffs "Mr. Spiderman" profile page, Michaud spoke with the Plaintiff about his email communications with students about things that were not related to school, and suggested that he use the school email system for the purpose of educational topics and homework. Michaud also told the Plaintiff that some of the pictures on his profile page were inappropriate. After Michaud spoke with the Plaintiff, he deactivated the "Mr. Spiderman" profile page. The Plaintiff then created a new MySpace profile on October 14, 2005 called "Apollo68."

Ford subsequently discovered the Plaintiffs new profile page and informed Michaud of it. The Defendants also allege that Emmett O'Brien students complained to Ford about the Apollo68 profile. Michaud and Ford separately viewed the "Apollo68" profile and came to the conclusion that it was nearly identical to the "Mr. Spiderman" profile. The Plaintiff admits that the "Mr. Spiderman" profile and the "Apollo68" profile had the same people as friends and included the same types of communications.

Michaud reported the existence of the "Apollo68" profile page to her supervisor, Debbie Anderson, the Director of Guidance. Michaud was then told to report the situation to Hylwa and to make sure that the Plaintiff had union representation. In November 2005, Hylwa met with the Plaintiff, explained that there would be an investigation, and placed the Plaintiff on administrative leave with pay. The Plaintiff deactivated the "Apollo68" profile when he was placed on administrative leave.

Rita Ferraiolo ("Ferraiolo"), an Education Labor Relations Specialist with the DOE, was assigned to investigate the Plaintiffs MySpace profiles. During the investigation, Ferraiolo obtained a list of the friends associated with the "Apollo68" profile. She was able to match several of the friends' profiles with Emmett O'Brien students. Ferraiolo also obtained comments posted on the "Apollo68" profile page, comments made by the Plaintiff on other individuals' MySpace profile pages, and blog entries posed by the Plaintiff on his own profile page.

On January 13, 2006, Ferraiolo met with the Plaintiff, the Plaintiffs union representative, and Hylwa to discuss his MySpace activities. At this meeting, the Plaintiff had the opportunity to explain his MySpace profiles. On March 30, 2006, Hylwa sent a letter to the Plaintiff explaining that he had exercised poor judgment as a teacher. That same day, Druzolowski sent a letter to the Plaintiff informing him that the DOE would not renew his contract for the 2006-2007 school year. The Plaintiff then requested a hearing. Thus, on April 26, 2006, the Plaintiff and his attorney met with Hughes and Ferraiolo. The Plaintiff and his attorney were allowed to present evidence at this hearing. Despite the Plaintiffs efforts, Hughes ultimately agreed with Druzolowski's decision not to renew the Plaintiffs contract. The Plaintiff received his pay and benefits until the end of the summer of 2006, when his contract with the DOE for the 2005-2006 school year expired.

II. DISCUSSION

The Plaintiff has brought this action against the Defendants in their individual and official capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal protection. The Plaintiff also alleges that the Defendants violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Title 42, Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress ...."

42 U.S.C. § 1983. "[Section] 1983 `is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides `a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979)). "To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a federal right." Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir.1999).

The Defendants argue that all of the Plaintiffs claims fail as a matter of law. The court shall analyze the parties' arguments seriatim.1

A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

A motion for summary judgment may be granted, "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56.

Summary judgment is appropriate if, after discovery, the nonmoving party "has failed to make a sufficient showing on an...

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