Sullivan v. Cossette et al
ORDER denying 19 Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Signed by Judge Stefan R. Underhill on 8/2/2013. (Carter, J.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
BRIAN SULLIVAN, et al.,
No. 3:13cv621 (SRU)
JEFFRY COSSETTE, et al.,
RULING ON PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
The plaintiffs, Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston (collectively, the “plaintiffs”), both
officers with the Meriden Police Department (the “Department”), brought this consolidated
action against Police Chief Jeffry Cossette (the “Chief”) and several other Department
employees (collectively, the “defendants”) alleging, inter alia, that the defendants engaged in
First Amendment retaliation and other due process violations after the plaintiffs attempted to
expose malfeasance within the Department. Before the court is the plaintiffs’ motion for
preliminary injunction, which seeks to enjoin the defendants from conducting a Loudermill
hearing concerning internal complaints filed against the plaintiffs by fellow officers. For the
reasons that follow, the plaintiffs’ motion (doc. # 19) is DENIED.
The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint (doc. # 24), as well as the
affidavits and other materials submitted in support of the plaintiffs’ motion (doc. # 19), and are
assumed true for the limited purposes of this motion.
The plaintiffs are employed full-time as police officers in Meriden, Connecticut. In April
2011, the plaintiffs sent a letter to Meriden’s City Manager complaining of various abuses by the
Chief, his deputy, and other officers within the Department. Specifically, the letter contained
allegations of disparate treatment, nepotism, and a conspiracy to cover up incidents of excessive
force involving the Chief’s son, Evan Cossette. Those allegations eventually sparked
independent investigations by the City, the State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of
On May 2, 2011, after the Department became aware of the letter and the allegations it
contained, defendant John Williams, a union steward, sent emails to Department personnel
urging those who felt falsely accused to file internal affairs complaints against the plaintiffs for
untruthfulness. Multiple complaints were filed, but the Chief, in derogation of Department
policy, failed to forward copies of those complaints to the plaintiffs for their review. Instead, the
Chief allowed the internal filings to accumulate, and eventually leaked the complaints to the
press. That, in turn, left the plaintiffs to learn of the complaints for the very first time through
newspaper accounts. According to the plaintiffs, the Chief’s mishandling of the internal
complaints undermined their ability to defend themselves effectively, and ultimately constituted
a violation their procedural due process rights.
As part of its investigation into the internal complaints filed against the plaintiffs, the
Department has now scheduled a Loudermill hearing for August 8, 2013. Generally speaking, a
Loudermill hearing is a pre-disciplinary procedure to determine “whether there are reasonable
grounds to believe that the charges against the employee are true and support the proposed
action.” Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 545-46 (1985). Fearing that an
unfavorable outcome at the hearing will result in their termination, the plaintiffs have moved to
temporarily enjoin the Loudermill hearing during the pendency of this litigation.
“District courts may ordinarily grant preliminary injunctions when the party seeking the
In November 2012, Evan Cossette was indicted on charges of civil rights violations and
obstruction of justice. He was convicted on those charges in early June 2013.
injunction demonstrates (1) that he or she will suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief,
and (2) either (a) that he or she is likely to succeed on the merits, or (b) that there are sufficiently
serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, and that the
balance of hardships tips decidedly in favor of the moving party.” Moore v. Consolidated
Edison Co. of New York, Inc., 409 F.3d 506, 510 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted).
Injunctive relief, however, “is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be
granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.” Mazurek v.
Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (emphasis and citation omitted). District courts enjoy wide
discretion in determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction, see Green Party of N.Y. v.
N.Y. State Bd. of Elections, 389 F.3d 411, 418 (2d Cir. 2004), but in the absence of a showing of
irreparable harm, injunctive relief must be denied. Rodriguez v. DeBuono, 175 F.3d 227, 233
(2d Cir. 1999). Moreover, where there is “an adequate remedy at law, such as an award of
money damages, injunctions are unavailable except in extraordinary circumstances.” Moore,
409 F.3d at 510.
Applying that standard, I conclude that the plaintiffs are not entitled to the injunctive
relief they seek. As an initial matter, the plaintiffs fail to explain how any harm, let alone
irreparable harm, would result from the Loudermill hearing itself. By definition, a Loudermill
hearing is designed to protect—not harm—employees in the plaintiffs’ position by ensuring them
an opportunity to be heard before they are subjected to disciplinary action. See Loudermill, 470
U.S. at 545-46; see also Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 579 (1975) (noting that due process
requires, at a minimum, “some kind of notice and some kind of hearing”). At a Loudermill
hearing, the plaintiffs will be able to present their defense to the claims of misconduct made
against them and to raise their complaints about the failure to follow procedural rules with
respect to those claims. Although the plaintiffs may prefer to have those issues decided first in
federal court, they will not be harmed by the scheduled administrative hearing, which is not itself
a form of discipline. Simply put, there is no basis on the present record to enjoin a predisciplinary hearing that may vindicate the plaintiffs’ position and provide them a measure of the
relief they seek in this case.
Moreover, even if, after the hearing is complete, the plaintiffs are indeed subjected to
disciplinary action up to and including termination, those types of employment-related injuries—
which, in most cases, can be remedied by back pay, money damages or reinstatement—are
generally insufficient to warrant preliminary injunctive relief.2 See Guitard v. United States
Sec’y of Navy, 967 F.2d 737, 742 (2d Cir. 1992) (“[T]he injuries that generally attend a discharge
from employment—loss of reputation, loss of income and difficulty in finding other
employment—do not constitute the irreparable harm necessary to obtain a preliminary
injunction.”) (citing Sampson v. Murray, 415 U.S. 61, 89-92 (1974)); Savage v. Gorski, 850 F.2d
64, 68 (2d Cir. 1988) (stating that the harm of retaliatory discharge was “plainly reparable”
because “reinstatement and money damages could make appellees whole”). That is particularly
so where, as here, allegations of retaliatory discharge are brought by government—rather than
In limited circumstances, retaliatory discharge may constitute irreparable injury if, for
example, the movant has demonstrated that his or her termination would deter other employees
from exercising their First Amendment rights or intimidate others from providing testimony in
support of the movant’s case. See Holt v. Continental Group, Inc., 708 F.2d 87, 91 (2d Cir.
1983) (“A retaliatory discharge carries with it the distinct risk that other employees may be
deterred from protecting their rights . . . or from providing testimony for the plaintiff in her effort
to protect her own rights. These risks may be found to constitute irreparable injury.”); see also
Moore, 409 F.3d at 512 (noting that “a retaliatory discharge may in some cases intimidate
witnesses and thereby inflict irreparable harm,” but concluding that no such risk was presented in
that case). Here, however, the plaintiffs have not alleged that other employees would be deterred
from exercising their rights or that any witnesses in this case would be intimidated from
testifying on the plaintiffs’ behalf. Thus, the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate irreparable harm on
this narrow basis.
private—employees, because courts apply “a particularly stringent standard for irreparable injury
in government personnel cases.” Moore, 409 F.3d at 512 n.6 (internal quotation omitted). For
these reasons, the plaintiffs cannot meet the threshold requirement of demonstrating irreparable
harm, and preliminary injunctive relief is therefore unavailable.3
In sum, the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction (doc. # 19) is DENIED.
It is so ordered.
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut, this 2nd day of August 2013.
/s/ Stefan R. Underhill
Stefan R. Underhill
United States District Judge
Because I am able to conclude that preliminary injunctive relief is unavailable based on
the paper record alone, an evidentiary hearing is not required. See Charette v. Town of Oyster
Bay, 159 F.3d 749, 755 (2d Cir. 1998).
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