Walker v. NYS Justice Ctr. for the Prot. of People With Special Needs, 18-cv-7757 (NSR)

Decision Date08 October 2020
Docket Number18-cv-7757 (NSR)
Citation493 F.Supp.3d 239
Parties Kerry WALKER, Plaintiff, v. NYS JUSTICE CENTER FOR the PROTECTION OF PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, Denise Miranda, its Executive Director, and Louis P. Renzi, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Michael David Diederich, Jr., Law Office of Michael David Diederich Jr., Stony Point, NY, for Plaintiff.

Jane R. Goldberg, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY, for Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

NELSON S. ROMÁN, United States District Judge:

Plaintiff Kerry Walker ("Walker" or "Plaintiff") commenced the instant action on August 26, 2018. (See Complaint ("Compl."), ECF No. 1.) In this action, Plaintiff alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985 for employment discrimination and violations of equal protection and due process against Defendants NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs; Denise Miranda, its Executive Director; and Louis P. Renzi (together, "Defendants").1 Plaintiff also brings related claims under state law. Plaintiff's allegations primarily pertain to the Justice Center's procedures, which Plaintiff alleges are constitutionally deficient and used by Defendants in a racially discriminatory manner.

Before the Court is DefendantsMotion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (See ECF No. 24.) For the following reasons, Defendantsmotion to dismiss is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Allegations

The following facts are derived from the Complaint and are taken as true and constructed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff for the purposes of this motion. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ; Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc. , 834 F.3d 220, 230 (2d Cir. 2016).

A court is generally confined to the facts alleged in the complaint for the purposes of considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6). Cortec Indus. v. Sum Holding L.P. , 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991). A court may, however, consider documents attached to the complaint, statements or documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, matters of which judicial notice may be taken, public records, and documents that the plaintiff either possessed or knew about, and relied upon, in bringing the suit. See Kleinman v. Elan Corp. , 706 F.3d 145, 152 (2d Cir. 2013).

a. Plaintiff's Employment at Greystone

Plaintiff became an employee of Greystone Programs, Inc. ("Greystone") in 2012, as a "Direct Support Professional" (DSP). (Compl. ¶¶ 2,10.) She was assigned to Greystone's "Universal IRA" facility in Wappinger's Falls, New York in or around March 2013. (Id. ¶ 11.) She identifies as an "Afro-American woman from Jamaica, the West Indies." (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff claims that Greystone, "aided by a racially biased resident ... falsely and in bad faith reported to the Justice Center that Plaintiff had committed abuse and neglect at its facility." (Id. 14, 26–41.)

b. The Justice Center's Statutory and Regulatory Framework

The Justice Center is an agency within the New York State Executive Department authorized to investigate incidents of neglect, abuse, or injury of persons with disabilities or special needs receiving services in facilities or provider agencies. See N.Y. Exec. Law § 550 et seq. ; N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 492(1). The Justice Center is authorized to maintain a statewide vulnerable persons’ central register ("VPCR"), and procedures for the investigation of allegations of reportable incidents of neglect, abuse, or injury. See N.Y. Exec. Law § 553(1)(a) ; N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 492. Within sixty days of the VPCR accepting a report of an allegation of abuse or neglect, the Justice Center must report the findings of is investigation in the VPCR. N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 493(1). If the Justice Center substantiates the report of abuse or neglect, it must categorize the report into one or more of four categories. Id. § 493(4).2

In addition to receiving and investigating reports of incidents, the Justice Center represents New York State in all administrative hearings and proceedings concerning the discipline of state employees charged with having committed abuse or neglect. N.Y. Exec. Law § 553(1)(c).

The Justice Center must notify the subject of the report of its findings, and if the report is substantiated, must notify the subject of their right to request that the report be amended. N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 493(3)(c). Within 30 days after being notified of a substantiated report, the subject may request that the VPCR amend the findings of the report. Id. § 494(1). If the subject requests amendment, the Justice Center's administrative appeals unit conducts a review of the report. 14 NYCRR § 700.5. If the administrative appeals unit declines to amend the findings after conducting its review, the subject may request a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") to determine "whether the findings of the report should be amended on the grounds that they are inaccurate or inconsistent with the provisions in this article." N.Y. Soc. Serv. § 494 ; 14 NYCRR §§ 700.6 - 700.11. At the hearing, the Justice Center must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the conduct occurred. N.Y. Soc. Serv. § 493[3][a][l] ; 14 NYCRR §§ 700.6 [b]. At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative law judge issues a report and recommendation setting forth his or her determination of the issues based on the evidence presented at the hearing. 14 NYCRR § 700.12.

The administrative law judge's report and recommendation and the hearing record are then sent to the Justice Center's executive director or his or her designee to make a final determination. Justice Center regulations require the Executive Director or her designee to make a final determination of an ALJ's report and recommendation in writing and embodied in an order. If this final determination conflicts with the ALJ's report and recommendation, then the Executive Director is required to state her reasons in the order. See 14 NYCRR 700.13. This final determination does not have to adhere to the ALJ's findings of fact or credibility, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See , e.g. , Roberts v. New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs , 152 A.D.3d 1021, 1024-25, 59 N.Y.S.3d 554 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep't 2017). The order "shall contain notice of the right to seek review of the order pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules." See 14 NYCRR 700.13(b).

c. The Justice Center's Investigation of Plaintiff

Plaintiff alleges that there was "no plausible reason" for the Justice Center and its hearing officer to believe the Greystone residents’ accusations. (Compl. ¶ 41.) With respect to the Justice Center's procedures in general, Plaintiff recites a litany of alleged due process violations. (See id. ¶¶ 20–21, 50–64.) Plaintiff alleges that the Justice Center processes deprive a subject of meaningful notice prior to determination, and that its notification to the subject's employer "brands" the subject. (Id. ¶¶ 52–53.) The employer then uses the Justice Center's determination to justify the termination of the subject's employment. Id. As to Plaintiff's charges, Plaintiff claims that she was not afforded a timely hearing. (Id. ¶ 56.)

Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that (1) the Justice Center and its "hearing officers" aid and abet racial bias, acting as a "de facto hatchet man and facilitator of employer discrimination" (id. ¶¶ 16–25); and (2) the "hearing officer's job, as employee of the Justice Center, appears to be to serve as a rubber stamp, ... [and] that part of their job is to justify the Justice Center's existence ...." (Id. ¶¶ 22, 64, 72.) Plaintiff specifically targets the actions of Defendant Louis Rezni ("Renzi"), the Justice Center administrative law judge ("ALJ") who presided over her report. (Id. ¶¶ 67–71.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Denise Miranda ("Miranda"), the Justice Center's Executive Director, was involved in the alleged constitutional violations. (Id. ¶¶ 74–78.)

LEGAL STANDARD
I. 12(b)(6)

To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). Factual allegations must "nudge [a plaintiff's] claim from conceivable to plausible." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A claim is plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts which allow the court to draw a reasonable inference the defendant is liable. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. To assess the sufficiency of a complaint, the court is "not required to credit conclusory allegations or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations." Rothstein v. UBS AG , 708 F.3d 82, 94 (2d Cir. 2013). While legal conclusions may provide the "framework of a complaint," "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678–79, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

II. 12(b)(1)

A claim is subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate it pursuant to statute or constitutional authority. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) ; Makarova v. United States , 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a district court may refer to evidence outside the pleadings. See Kamen v. American Tel. & Tel. Co. , 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986). Plaintiff bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject matter jurisdiction of the claim asserted. Robinson v. Overseas Military Sales Corp. , 21 F.3d 502, 507 (2d Cir. 1994).

III. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

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