Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Police Officers’ Constitutional Claims

February 28, 2011 | Appeals | Insurance Coverage

Legal Bulletin

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has finally put an end to the wave of controversy that has surrounded the Village of Ocean Beach Police Department for the past few years. Back in 2007, several disgruntled ex-employees of the Ocean Beach Police Department commenced an action against the Village of Ocean Beach, the Ocean Beach Police Department, and various Village officials, claiming they were improperly terminated from their positions as temporary, seasonal police officers. The allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint read like a sordid novel, making this a highly publicized and carefully watched matter in the close-knit community located on Fire Island. Rivkin Radler attorneys Cheryl Korman, Merril Biscone and Evan Krinick represented the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach.

After the plaintiffs were not rehired for the position of temporary, seasonal police officers, they each commenced an action claiming they were unlawfully terminated without adequate process and in retaliation for reporting misconduct within the Ocean Beach Police Department and that their termination was in violation of their constitutional rights. Plaintiffs also claimed that certain derogatory statements made about them by the Police Chief violated their constitutional rights. The Village maintained the position that plaintiffs were simply disgruntled employees who were incensed that they were not asked back for their $20 an hour part-time/summer jobs as police officers and tried to make a “federal case” out of it.

Despite plaintiffs’ attempts during the discovery process to portray the Ocean Beach Police Department as a scandal-ridden police force that hired unqualified officers and allowed chaos and lawlessness to rule the day, the attorneys for the Village established that nothing could be further from the truth, and that these claims had no basis in reality, fact, or law. Judge Sandra Feurstein of the United States District Court agreed with the Village and granted the Village’s motion to dismiss each and every one of the claims contained in the plaintiffs’ complaint.

The Second Circuit affirmed the Judgment of the District Court finding that plaintiffs failed to establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, a Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment denial of dues process claim based upon property interest, or a Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment denial of due process claim based upon liberty interest.

After setting forth the elements of a First Amendment retaliation claim, the Second Circuit agreed with the Village that none of the allegations in the complaint established that plaintiffs were engaging in “constitutionally protected speech” at any relevant time and as such, failed to make out a First Amendment claim.

Additionally, the Second Circuit was persuaded by the arguments advanced by the Village that plaintiffs were not deprived of a protected property interest without due process of law. The Court agreed with the Village that the record established that plaintiffs were simply at-will, part-time, seasonal employees who had no basis for asserting any “entitlement” to continued or future employment with the Village. The Court accepted the Village’s claims that even if plaintiffs believed they would be re-hired because they had been hired in prior seasons, this subjective expectation of continued employment cannot be transformed into a legitimate claim of entitlement to future employment under New York State law.

Finally, the Second Circuit adopted the Village’s position that plaintiffs neglected to establish a deprivation of liberty rights. The Court agreed that plaintiffs were unable to produce any evidence demonstrating that “stigmatizing statements” concerning the reasons for them not being hired were ever made or that any such statements were significantly publicized.

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