Kadri v. Groton Board of Education et al
ORDER granting 17 Motion to Dismiss. The court affords Kadri the opportunity to file an amended complaint no later than May 12, 2014.In the absence of filing an amended complaint, the court directs the Clerk to terminate the matter.SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 4/22/2014. (Malone, P.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
GROTON BOARD OF EDUCATION,
KIRSTEN HOYT, ALISHA STRIPLING,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
April 22, 2014
RULING RE: DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 17)
Plaintiff Paul Kadri (“Kadri”) brings this suit against Defendants Groton Board of
Education (“Board”), Kirsten Hoyt (“Hoyt”), Alisha Stripling (“Stripling”), and Beverly
Washington (“Washington”) (collectively, “Defendants”1). Kadri alleges defendants
violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and his First Amendment rights
of access to courts and free association. He also alleges defamation under the laws of
the State of Connecticut. See Complaint (“Compl.”) at ¶ 1 (Doc. No. 1). Specifically,
Kadri brings claims against the Board and Hoyt under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of
his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 15, 18. He brings claims
against the Board for violation of his First Amendment rights of access to the courts and
free association. Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22, 25. Kadri also brings defamation claims against
Stripling and Hoyt. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.
Kadri withdrew all claims against Washington on February 23, 2014 (Doc. No. 32), and
the court subsequently granted Kadri’s Motion on March 18, 2014 (Doc. No. 35). As such, all
further references to “Defendants” do not include Ms. Washington.
Before the court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (“Def.’s MTD”) (Doc. No. 17).
Defendants argue that Kadri’s Complaint has failed to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted. Def.’s MTD at 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
To resolve a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine
whether a plaintiff has stated a legally-cognizable claim by making allegations that, if
true, would show he is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 557 (2007) (interpreting Rule 12(b)(6), in accordance with Rule 8(a)(2), to require
allegations with “enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief’” (quoting
Rule 8(a)(2)). The court takes the factual allegations of the complaint to be true, Hemi
Group, LLC v. City of New York, 559 U.S. 1, 5 (2010), and from those allegations,
draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, Fulton v. Goord, 591 F.3d 37, 43
(2d Cir. 2009).
To survive a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
The plausibility standard does not impose an across-the-board, heightened fact
pleading standard. Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213 (2d Cir. 2008). The
plausibility standard does not “require a complaint to include specific evidence [or]
factual allegations in addition to those required by Rule 8.” Arista Records, LLC v. Doe
3, 604 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2010); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)
(holding that dismissal was inconsistent with the “liberal pleading standards set forth by
Rule 8(a)(2)”). However, the plausibility standard does impose some burden to make
factual allegations supporting a claim for relief. As the Iqbal Court explained, it “does
not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and
conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.
Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual
enhancement.” 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotations omitted). Under the
Second Circuit’s gloss, the plausibility standard is “flexible,” obliging the plaintiff “to
amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification
is needed to render the claim plausible.” Boykin, 521 F.3d at 213 (citation omitted);
accord Arista Records, 604 F.3d at 120.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Kadri filed his Complaint on August 13, 2013. In the Complaint, Kadri alleges
multiple violations by the Board, Hoyt, and Stripling in connection with his termination as
Superintendent of Groton Public Schools in early 2013.
Groton Public Schools hired Kadri as Superintendent in 2008 and extended his
contract three times, most recently in September 2011. Compl. at ¶¶ 8-9. On May 4,
2012, the Board notified Kadri that it had received a complaint about his conduct, and
voted, on May 7, 2012, to conduct an investigation. Id. at ¶ 15. Pending the results of
the investigation, Kadri was placed on paid administrative leave. Id. Following the
conclusion of the investigation, Kadri was “dismiss[ed] . . . by way of a letter dated
September 2012.” (“September 2012 Letter).2 Id. at ¶ 18. The letter listed three
reasons for the Board’s consideration of Kadri’s termination: (1) “[i]nsubordination
against the rules and orders of the [B]oard”; (2) “moral misconduct”; and (3) “other due
and sufficient cause.” Id. Each of these reasons references a ground for termination in
Kadri’s employment contract with the Board. Id.
Kadri’s employment contract entitled him to appeal a termination decision to the
Board, but Kadri instead, through his attorney, requested a hearing before an
independent arbitrator because he was concerned the Board’s review would not be
impartial. Id.; Groton Board of Education and Paul Kadri Arbitration Agreement,
October 25, 2012 (“Arbitration Agreement”) at ¶ C.3 On October 25, 2012, Kadri signed
There is some dispute about the September 2012 Letter. First, Kadri disputes whether
the September 2012 Letter, filed as Exhibit C to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, is in fact the
same letter discussed in his Complaint. Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Opposition to
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Opp.”) (Doc. No. 26) at 6. In his Motion to Dismiss, Kadri
notes that Exhibit C is a letter dated September 10, 2012, while the Complaint makes reference
only to a letter dated “September 2012.” Id. However, Kadri’s Complaint alleges that, in the
letter, the Board gave three reasons for (consideration of) termination, and these three reasons
are identical to the ones in the September 2012 Letter in Exhibit C. Compl. at ¶ 18; September
2012 Letter at 1. Given the September date and overlapping content of the letter referenced in
the Complaint and that in Exhibit C, the court finds that these letters are one and the same.
Additionally, Kadri maintains the September 2012 Letter served to terminate his
employment, while the Defendants assert the letter informed Kadri that his employment was
under review. Compl. at ¶ 18; Def.’s MTD at 12. Exhibit C of the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
states, “[t]his letter is to notify you [Kadri] . . . that termination of your Contract is under
consideration.” September 10, 2012 Letter at 1. While the court is required to accept all factual
allegations in the complaint as true, the court “may consider any . . . statements or documents
incorporated into the complaint by reference . . . and documents possessed by or known to the
plaintiff and upon which [he] relied in bringing the suit.” ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund,
Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). By discussing the September 2012 Letter (and its
contents) in his Complaint, Kadri has incorporated this document by reference, and the court
may therefore consider it. From the letter, Kadri was not terminated by way of the letter, and the
letter served to inform Kadri that the Board was considering his termination and the reasons
therefore. September 2012 Letter.
As with the September 2012 Letter, Kadri, in discussing the terms of the Arbitration
Agreement in his Complaint, see Compl. at ¶ 19, has incorporated that Agreement by reference,
and the court may therefore consider it in this Ruling.
the Arbitration Agreement with the Board, and both parties “agree[d] to submit the
present dispute to arbitration.” Id. at ¶ 1. Under the agreement, the arbitrator’s decision
was “final and binding.” Id. at ¶ 2.
Arbitration hearings were held over a three-month period in late 2012 and early
2013. Compl. at ¶ 21. The arbitrator interviewed nine Board witnesses, which
generated hundreds of pages of testimony and exhibits. In the matter of the arbitration
between Groton, CT., Board of Education and Paul [Kadri], Arbitration Decision and
Award, March 4, 2013 (“Arbitration Decision”) at 37.4 While the arbitrator noted that
Kadri “is a strong, committed administrator, . . . he has been an abusive, insensitive
supervisor.” Id. The arbitrator upheld Kadri’s termination. Id. at 43 (“The Board of
Education has demonstrated that Paul [Kadri] has engaged in conduct sufficient to
justify termination under Section 9(C) of his contract of employment.”).
Kadri alleges he was denied adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard
throughout his termination proceedings, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s
right to due process. Compl. at ¶¶ 15, 18. He claims he was placed on paid
administrative leave without “adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard” and that
after receiving the September 2012 Letter, the Board “refused to permit [him] adequate
opportunity to rebut the charges, and failed to provide him with timely notice of the
Kadri’s termination is the central issue in this suit, and the arbitrator’s findings are an
integral part of the termination proceedings. As such, the court finds that the Arbitration
Decision, in addition to being cited in the Complaint, see Compl. at ¶21, was also a document
“known to the plaintiff and [something] upon which [he] relied in bringing the suit.” ATSI
Commc'ns, 493 F.3d at 98. Furthermore, because the arbitrator’s findings are final and binding
on the parties, Kadri is precluded from disputing any of the factual findings in the decision. See
Matusick v. Erie Cnty. Water Auth., 11-1234, 2014 WL 700718, at *12 (2d Cir. Feb. 25, 2014)
(“The factual findings supporting the hearing officer's ultimate conclusion—that [Plaintiff] had
indeed committed the charged conduct . . . precluded [Plaintiff] from arguing otherwise at trial.”
(emphasis in original)). The court will thus consider the Arbitration Decision and its factual
findings in this Ruling.
charges against him.” Id. He also alleges that, by submitting the dispute to arbitration,
he was “forc[ed] . . . to relinquish his rights to turn to the courts for relief” in violation of
“both his First Amendment right of access to the courts and his Fourteenth Amendment
right to due process of law.” Id. at ¶ 20. He further alleges that Hoyt and Stripling made
defamatory statements about him, claiming Hoyt “declared openly in the presence of
others that she did not believe [Kadri] should remain superintendent of the Groton
[S]chools [and] . . . openly called into question his fitness to lead the school district.” Id.
at ¶ 12. He claims that Stripling made a claim to the Human Resources Director and
the Board “that he had discriminated against her on account of her pregnancy and had
engaged in conduct that constituted sexual harassment and had otherwise been
abusive to her and to others.” Id. at ¶ 13. Kadri also alleges that the Board’s actions
after his termination denied him his First Amendment right to free association. Id. at ¶¶
The court first addresses Kadri’s allegation that he did not receive “adequate
notice and an opportunity to be heard” before being placed on paid administrative leave.
Compl. at ¶ 15. It is well established that “[a]n employee who continues to be paid
cannot sustain a claim for deprivation of property without due process even if relieved
from job duties.” Thomas v. Bd. of Educ. of City Sch. Dist. of City of New York, 09-CV5167 SLT RLM, 2011 WL 1225972, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2011) (internal quotations
and citations omitted) (collecting cases); see also O'Connor v. Pierson, 426 F.3d 187,
199 (2d Cir. 2005) (“[N]o court has held that an employee on fully paid leave has been
deprived of a property right merely by virtue of being relieved of his job duties.”);
MacFall v. City of Rochester, 495 F. App'x 158, 160 (2d Cir. 2012) ((holding that
“plaintiffs . . . identified no property interest to which they had a legitimate claim of
entitlement . . . . [because they] have at all times retained their full normal salary”)
(internal quotations and citations omitted)). Kadri’s Complaint alleges he was placed on
paid leave. Compl. at ¶ 15. Therefore, Kadri has failed to state a claim against either
the Board or Hoyt for deprivation of his right to due process under the Fourteenth
Amendment while being placed on administrative leave.
Kadri also alleges that, after receiving the September 2012 Letter, the Board
“refused to permit [him] adequate opportunity to rebut the charges, and failed to provide
him with timely notice of the charges against him.” Compl. at ¶ 18. According to the
September 2012 Letter, the letter served to “notify [Kadri] . . . that termination of [his]
Contract [was] under consideration.” September 2012 Letter at 1. The letter gave the
specific reasons under the terms of the contract, as well as a detailed explanation of the
complaints against Kadri. Furthermore, after reviewing the September 2012 Letter and
the terms of his contract, Kadri—through his attorney—opted not to appeal his
termination decision to the Board, but to request “appeal of [the Board’s] decision [to] a
one-member arbitration panel.” Compl. at ¶ 19; see Arbitration agreement at ¶ C. He
signed the Arbitration Agreement on October 25, 2012, and hearings proceeded over a
three-month period from November 2012 to January 2013. Compl. at ¶ 21. After the
hearings concluded, each side was given an opportunity to submit briefs. Arbitration
Decision at 3.
“In order to prevail on a Section 1983 claim for violation of the procedural due
process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, the plaintiff must show (1)
that he possessed a protected liberty or property interest; and (2) that he was deprived
of that interest without due process.” Jackson v. Roslyn Bd. of Educ., 652 F. Supp. 2d
332, 338 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).
Taking Kadri’s allegations as true—including the documents listed above that the
court reads as part of the Complaint—the court concludes that Kadri has been given
adequate due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court in Mathews v.
Eldridge stated that the “essence of due process is the requirement that a person in
jeopardy of serious loss (be given) notice of the case against him and opportunity to
meet it. All that is necessary is that the procedures be tailored, in light of the decision to
be made, to the capacities and circumstances of those who are to be heard, to insure
that they are given a meaningful opportunity to present their case.” 424 U.S. 319, 34849 (1976) (internal quotations and citations omitted). As detailed above, Kadri was
given adequate notice of the consideration of his termination and the reasons therefore
and, through the arbitration proceedings, had been given ample “opportunity to present
[his] case.” Id. at 349.
Furthermore, the Court in Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill articulated the
process due to employees prior to termination. According to the Court, due process
requires that an employee5 receive “(1) oral or written notice of the charges against him,
(2) an explanation of the employer's evidence, and (3) an opportunity to present his side
of the story, before termination of employment.” Holmes v. Town of E. Lyme, 866 F.
Supp. 2d 108, 122 (D. Conn. 2012) (quoting Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470
U.S. 532, 543 (1985)). The pre-termination hearing provides “an initial check against
mistaken decisions—essentially, a determination of whether there are reasonable
grounds to believe that the charges against the employee are true and support the
The employees in Loudermill, like Kadri here, were also school district employees.
proposed action.” Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 545–46. As evidenced by the September
2012 Letter and the subsequent arbitration proceedings, Kadri has been given notice,
explanation, and an opportunity to present his case. The Arbitration Decision also
carefully detailed the arbitrator’s findings, assuring there were “reasonable grounds,” Id.
at 546, for the Board’s termination decision. Kadri has failed to state a claim against the
Board and Hoyt because, even taking the allegations of the Complaint as true, the
procedure afforded to Kadri following his receipt of the September 2012 Letter and
subsequent arbitration proceedings complies with the process due him under the
Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.6
Kadri further alleges violation of his First Amendment rights to access to the
courts and free association. Compl. at ¶¶ 20, 22, 25. Kadri contends that agreeing to
arbitration “forc[ed him] . . . to relinquish his rights to turn to the courts for relief[,]” and
that his subsequent ban from school property upon his termination “affect[ed] his right to
vote and to associate freely with other townspeople.” Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22. The court does
Kadri has not cited, nor has the court found, any case law supporting the
contention that arbitration agreements are an unconstitutional violation of the First
Amendment right of access to the courts. Kadri was not “forced” to sign an agreement,
as he, with the aid of a lawyer, requested the arbitration in lieu of the procedure
The court also notes that Kadri’s due process rights were not violated through the
submission of the termination proceedings to arbitration. Though Kadri contends that by
submitting the dispute to arbitration, he was “forc[ed] . . . to relinquish his rights to turn to the
courts for relief” in violation his due process rights, Compl. at ¶ 20, he was in fact denied no
such rights. Under his employment contract, he was entitled to appeal any termination decision
to the Board, but—with the aid of an attorney—Kadri requested independent arbitration instead.
Compl. at ¶ 19. Kadri was not forced into this decision, and, per the terms of the Arbitration
Agreement, the decision would be “final and binding.” Arbitration Agreement at ¶ 2.
provided for in his contract. Id. at ¶ 19; see Arbitration Agreement at ¶ C. Furthermore,
although “[t]he constitutional right of access is violated where government officials
obstruct legitimate efforts to seek judicial redress,” Whalen v. Cnty. of Fulton, 126 F.3d
400, 406 (2d Cir. 1997), the Board has not obstructed Kadri in seeking redress. To the
contrary, the Board accommodated Kadri’s request to independently arbitrate the
dispute instead of following the provisions of the original employment contract. As
discussed above, see supra at 9, Kadri was given adequate notice and opportunity to
present his side of the case in an appropriate forum and was denied no rights to which
he was otherwise entitled or had not himself voluntarily surrendered.
Similarly, the court does not find that Kadri’s ban from school property “deprived
[him] of the right to vote, to attend public hearing, and to petition for redress of
grievances before his local government, in violation of the First Amendment.” Compl. at
¶ 25. The Supreme Court has noted that “[n]othing in the Constitution requires the
Government freely to grant access to all who wish to exercise their right to free speech
on every type of Government property without regard to the nature of the property or to
the disruption that might be caused by the speaker's activities.” Cornelius v. NAACP
Legal Def. & Educ. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 799-800 (1985).
Kadri has not cited, nor has the court found, any case law supporting the
proposition that the First Amendment guarantees access to school grounds. To the
contrary, courts have found no constitutional violation where individuals have been
banned from school property. See, e.g., Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir.
1999); Nowacki v. Town of New Canaan, 3:12-CV-01296 JCH, 2013 WL 785355 (D.
Conn. Mar. 1, 2013). In Nowacki, this court found no violation of the plaintiff’s First
Amendment rights to assembly, speech, and freedom to petition for redress of
grievances when he was denied access to school property by the New Canaan Board of
Education. Id. at *4-8. This court stated that “school officials ‘have the authority and
responsibility for assuring the parents and third parties conduct themselves
appropriately while on school property.’” Nowacki, at *4 (quoting Lovern v. Edwards,
190 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 1999)). Noting that schools are generally considered nonpublic fora, this court stated that “the government enjoys greater latitude . . . and may
limit access or content based on subject matter and speaker identity so long as the
distinctions drawn are reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and are
viewpoint neutral.” Nowacki, at *7 (quoting Byrne v. Rutledge, 623 F.3d 46, 54 (2d Cir.
2010)). Kadri’s Complaint fails to plausibly allege that his ban from school property was
not reasonable or viewpoint neutral.7 Because Kadri has also cited no authority
establishing a constitutional right to go onto school property, Nowacki, at *7, the court
finds the Board did not violate his First Amendment right to assembly by banning him
from school property upon his termination. This claim is thus dismissed.
Additionally, the court finds no violation of Kadri’s right to vote. In a similar case
in the Tenth Circuit, the court held that the plaintiff’s right to vote was not violated by
being banned from school property, because she “could have voted in person at the
County Clerk's office or through the mail, via absentee ballot.” McCook v. Spriner Sch.
Dist., 44 F. App'x 896, 911 (10th Cir. 2002). Kadri here may also do the same.
Kadri’s First Amendment right to petition for redress of his grievances has
similarly not been violated. In McDonald v. Smith, the Supreme Court stated that the
In his opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Kadri in fact concedes that the ban
was viewpoint neutral. Pl.’s Opp. at 25.
“right to petition is cut from the same cloth as the other guarantees of [the First]
Amendment.” 472 U.S. 479, 482 (1985). In Nowacki, this court noted that “[o]ne aspect
of the right to petition is the right of access to the courts, and the right to petition for
grievances may be exercised by filing a lawsuit and petitioning the courts for relief.”
Nowacki, at *8. As discussed above, see supra at 9-10, Kadri’s First Amendment right
of access to the courts was not violated through the Board’s actions: he was given full
opportunity to redress his grievances in an appropriate forum. For substantially the
same reasons stated above, see supra at 9-10, the court does not find that Kadri’s right
to petition was violated. This claim is dismissed.
Finally, Kadri’s state law defamation claims against Hoyt and Stripling are
dismissed because the court has dismissed all claims over which it has original
jurisdiction, and the interests of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the
litigants do not warrant review of these claims in this forum. See Nerney v. Valente &
Sons Repair Shop, 66 F.3d 25, 30 (2d Cir. 1995); Cunningham v. Lenape Reg'l High
Dist. Bd. of Educ., 492 F. Supp. 2d 439, 451 (D.N.J. 2007); 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3)
(“The district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under
subsection (a) if—(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original
jurisdiction. . . .”).
For the reasons stated above, the court GRANTS Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. No. 17). Because only one complaint has been filed in this matter, the court
affords Kadri the opportunity to file an amended complaint no later than May 12, 2014.
In the absence of filing an amended complaint, the court directs the Clerk to terminate
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 22nd day of April, 2014.
_/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
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