Pflaum v. Town of Stuyvesant et al

Filing 80

DECISION AND ORDER granting # 59 Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge Glenn T. Suddaby on 3/2/16. (lmw)(Copy served upon pro se plaintiff via regular and certified mail)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK _________________________________________ WILLIAM PFLAUM, Individually and as a Citizen, Resident and Taxpayer of Town of Stuyvesant, Plaintiff, v. 1:11-CV-0335 (GTS/DJS) TOWN OF STUYVESANT, Columbia Cty., N.Y.; and VALERIE BERTRAM, Individually and as Supervisor of Town of Stuyvesant, Defendants. _________________________________________ APPEARANCES: OF COUNSEL: WILLIAM PFLAUM Plaintiff, Pro Se1 3 Rybka Road Box 40 Stuyvesant Falls, NY 12174 BURKE, SCOLAMIERO, MORTATI & HURD, LLP Attorneys for Defendants 9 Washington Square, Suite 201 P.O. Box 15085 Albany, NY 12212-5085 BRYAN D. RICHMOND, ESQ. THOMAS J. MORTATI, ESQ. GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge DECISION and ORDER Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by William Pflaum (“Plaintiff”) against the Town of Stuyvesant (“Town”) and Valerie Bertram, Town Supervisor (“Bertram”) (collectively, “Defendants”), is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (Dkt. No. 59.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion is granted. 1 Although Plaintiff is currently proceeding pro se, the Court notes that he had counsel when preparing his response to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, no need exists to construe Plaintiff’s response with the special solicitude ordinarily afforded to pro se litigants. I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND A. Plaintiff’s Complaint As a result of the Court’s prior decisions (Dkt. Nos. 17, 26), Plaintiff’s sole remaining claim in this action is his First Amendment retaliation claim. More specifically, as articulated in his Complaint (which was drafted by Plaintiff, pro se, and therefore must be construed with special solicitude), that claim alleges three separate ways he was retaliated against for publicly criticizing Town officials.2 First, Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation for filing charges of ethical violations against Defendant Bertram, she (a) “collaborated with and supported” the Town’s Fire Chief to deny and/or threaten to deny fire protection to Plaintiff, (b) “supported and encouraged” various Town employees to “illegal[ly] revo[ke] . . . Plaintiff’s permit to operate his business,” and (c) “supported and encouraged” the Town Assessor’s “campaign to intimidate Plaintiff by linking [his] political speech [with his] real estate assessment.” (Dkt. No. 1, ¶¶ 20-23, 116 [Pl.’s Compl.].) Second, Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation for writing columns on his Internet blog regarding corruption among the Town’s public officials, the Town filed false criminal charges against him. (Id., ¶ 116.) Third, and finally, Plaintiff alleges that, in retaliation for criticizing Bertram, the Town Assessor, and the Town, the Town Assessor used his authority to raise taxes in order to intimidate Plaintiff into silence. (Id., ¶¶ 23, 39, 47, 116.) 2 The Court notes that, while it did not previously (i.e., in its prior decisions) liberally construe Plaintiff’s retaliation claim as arising under three separate theories, it does so now. The Court further notes that it has the power to address these two additional theories for each of two alternative reasons: (1) because Defendants moved for dismissal of Plaintiff’s retaliation claim in its entirety, Plaintiff has had sufficient notice and an opportunity to be heard with respect to the two theories in question; and (2) in any event, even if Plaintiff cannot be said to have had such notice and an opportunity to be heard, he filed his Complaint pro se and the Court finds the two theories to be so lacking in arguable merit as to be frivolous, see Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (recognizing that district court has power to sua sponte dismiss pro se complaint based on frivolousness notwithstanding fact that plaintiff has paid statutory filing fee). -2- B. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants request the dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 59.) In support of their motion, Defendants make the following four arguments. First, Defendants argue that there was no adverse action against Plaintiff in that there was no actual chilling of Plaintiff’s First Amendment speech or any other damages. (Dkt. No. 61, at 3-8 [Defs.’ Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendants argue that, in any event, any such adverse action was not motivated or substantially caused by Plaintiff’s First Amendment speech. (Id. at 5-6.) Third, in the alternative, Defendants argue that Bertram was not personally involved in any deprivation of fire protection services to Plaintiff. (Id. at 5, 8-10.) Fourth, and finally, Defendants argue that Bertram is entitled to qualified immunity. (Id.) C. Plaintiff’s Opposition Memorandum of Law Generally construed, Plaintiff makes five arguments in opposition to Defendants’ motion. First, Plaintiff argues that he engaged in protected speech by creating an Internet blog on which he publicly criticized Town officials and exposed their illegal activities. (Dkt. No. 65, at 3 [Pl.’s Opp’n Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that Town officials took adverse action against him by issuing noise violations against him with respect to loud dog barking on his property, retaining special prosecutors to pursue civil suits and criminal charges against him, encouraging harassment and extra-judicial threats against him, and treating him differently from other residents. (Id. at 4-5.) As a result, Plaintiff argues that he suffered a chilling effect on his blogging as well as monetary damages due to the expense required to oppose the Town’s retaliatory activities. (Id. at 6-8.) -3- Third, Plaintiff argues that the timing of these adverse actions, i.e., that they began after he created his blog, establishes the causal connection between his protected speech and the adverse actions. (Id. at 5.) Fourth, Plaintiff argues that Bertram is not entitled to qualified immunity because it was not objectively reasonable to believe that her actions did not violate Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. (Id. at 5-6.) According to Plaintiff, these actions consisted of (1) threatening to fire the Town’s Dog Control Officer if he did not serve Plaintiff with a criminal charge related to dog barking, and (2) retaining special prosecutors to pursue this charge against Plaintiff without first obtaining the Town’s approval. (Id. at 9.) Fifth, Plaintiff argues that municipal liability extends to the Town because of the actions of Bertram, the Town’s supervisor, and her position as a policymaker. (Id. at 8-9.) Finally, the Court notes that Plaintiff spends considerable time in his opposition papers arguing the merits of issues not raised by Defendants in their motion. For example, Plaintiff discusses the Town’s denial of his FOIL requests, the Town’s failure to respond appropriately to alleged vandalism of his property, and the sufficiency of the evidence that led to the issuance of noise violations related to dog barking. (See generally id., at 3-4, 6-9; Dkt. No. 67, ¶¶ 4, 14, 25, 27, 36, 56-107 [Pl.’s Decl.].) D. Defendants’ Reply Memorandum of Law In reply to Plaintiff’s opposition memorandum of law, Defendants make two arguments. First, Defendants argue that, because Plaintiff has not complied with Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) in his response to their statement of material facts, their statement of material facts should be deemed admitted. (Dkt. No. 74, at 2-6 [Defs.’ Reply Mem. of Law].) -4- Second, Defendants argue that the record is devoid of any admissible evidence that Bertram was personally involved in an alleged deprivation of fire protection services with regard to Plaintiff’s residence. (Id. at 6-7.) Furthermore, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that any adverse action was taken because he was never actually deprived of fire protection services and his subjective belief that the fire department may not respond to a fire at his residence is insufficient to create a genuine dispute of fact. (Id. at 7-8.) E. Statement of Material Facts 1. Plaintiff’s Failure to Comply with N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 7.1 Before reciting the material facts of this case, the Court must address Plaintiff’s response to Defendant’s Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts. Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court requires a party moving for summary judgment to submit a statement of material facts supported by specific citations to the record where those facts are established. N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The non-moving party’s subsequent response must mirror the moving party’s statement of material facts by (1) admitting and/or denying each of the moving party’s factual assertions in matching numbered paragraphs and (2) supporting any denials with specific citations to the record where the factual issues arise. Id. Importantly, “[t]he Court shall deem admitted any properly supported facts set forth in the [moving party’s] Statement of Material Facts that the [non-moving] party does not specifically controvert.” Id. This Court’s “Local Rule requirements are not empty formalities.” Bombard v. Gen. Motors Corp., 238 F. Supp. 2d 464, 467 (N.D.N.Y. 2002) (Munson, J.) (stating that “[t]he courts of the Northern District have adhered to a strict application of Local Rule 7.1[a][3]’s requirement on summary judgment motions”); accord, Cross v. Potter, 09-CV-1293, 2013 WL -5- 1149525, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2013) (McAvoy, J.). Indeed, the underlying purpose of this rule “is to assist the court in framing the issues and determining whether there exist any triable issues of fact that would preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Youngblood v. Glasser, 10CV-1430, 2012 WL 4051846, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2012) (Peebles, M.J.); see also N.Y. Teamsters Conference Pension & Ret. Fund v. Express Servs., Inc., 426 F.3d 640, 649 (2d Cir. 2005) (noting that “Rules governing summary judgment practice are essential tools for district courts, permitting them to efficiently decide summary judgment motions by relieving them of the onerous task of ‘hunt[ing] through voluminous records without guidance from the parties’”) (quoting Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 74 [2d Cir. 2001]). In the present case, Plaintiff has failed to respond appropriately to Defendants’ Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts. Specifically, Plaintiff has failed to admit and/or deny each of Defendants’ factual assertions in matching numbered paragraphs. Indeed, Defendants’ Rule 7.1 Statement contains 71 paragraphs of factual assertions, while Plaintiff’s 7.1 Response contains only 11 paragraphs. (Compare Dkt. No. 62 [Defs.’ Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 66 [Pl.’s Rule 7.1 Response].) Moreover, many of Plaintiff’s responses are conclusory in nature and/or contain legal arguments. The Court notes that, when he responded to Defendants’ motion, Plaintiff was represented by counsel. Accordingly, the Court will accept the factual assertions in Defendants’ 7.1 Statement as true to the extent that the evidence in the record supports these facts. See Davis v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 10-CV-0480, 2013 WL 375477, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 29, 2013) (Scullin, J.) (accepting the defendant’s statement of material facts as true where plaintiff neither admitted nor denied defendant’s factual assertions); Aktas v. JMC Dev. Co., Inc., 877 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 n.3 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (D’Agostino, J.) (accepting the third-party defendants’ -6- statement of material facts as true because the defendant/third-party plaintiff failed to respond to it in accordance with Local Rule 7.1[a][3]). 2. Undisputed Material Facts For purposes of this motion, the undisputed material facts are as follows. Gerald Ennis has served as the Zoning Enforcement Officer for the Town of Stuyvesant continuously since 2003. (Dkt. No. 62, ¶ 43 [Defs.’ Rule 7.1 Statement].) In this capacity, Mr. Ennis issued Plaintiff a Class 2 Home Occupation Permit in August, 2009. (Id., ¶ 44.) Under this permit, “[n]o unusual appearances, noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odors, heat, glare or electrical disturbances that exceed those normally produced by a resident shall be permitted.” (Id., ¶ 45.) Following the issuance of this permit, Mr. Ennis received numerous noise complaints from Plaintiff’s neighbors in regard to increasingly loud barking from dogs on Plaintiff’s property. (Id., ¶¶ 46-47.) Following an investigation into these complaints, Mr. Ennis concluded that Plaintiff’s “home dog kennel which housed up to 50 dogs at a time was producing noise levels that exceeded those normally produced by a resident and, accordingly, [Plaintiff] was in violation of his Permit.” (Id., ¶ 48.) On December 7, 2009, Mr. Ennis issued Plaintiff a notice of violation, which informed Plaintiff that the Town had received several complaints about the noise coming from his property and directed Plaintiff to remedy the violation by December 23, 2009. (Id., ¶ 49.) Subsequently, Plaintiff contacted Mr. Ennis and requested that his phone number be given to those who had complained with instructions that they contact Plaintiff directly when there are noise issues so he can rectify any problems. (Id., ¶ 50.) However, after a few months had passed, Plaintiff stopped answering his neighbors’ phone calls; and, as a result, his neighbors made new complaints to Mr. -7- Ennis. (Id., ¶ 51.) After receiving these complaints and personally observing the loud noise emanating from Plaintiff’s property, Mr. Ennis issued a second notice of violation to Plaintiff on April 26, 2010. (Id., ¶¶ 52-53.) In response, Plaintiff advised Mr. Ennis that he would erect a sound barrier to remedy the issue. (Id., ¶ 54.) According to Mr. Ennis, he waited “some time” for Plaintiff to erect, or apply for a permit to construct, a sound barrier but neither action was taken. (Id., ¶¶ 55-56.) After continuing to receive noise complaints, Mr. Ennis issued a third notice of violation to Plaintiff on August 9, 2010. (Id., ¶ 56.) On the same day, Mr. Ennis met with Bertram and the Town Attorney to discuss the noise issue on Plaintiff’s property. (Id., ¶ 57.) The Town Attorney advised Bertram that Mr. Ennis had the authority to revoke Plaintiff’s home occupation permit if he determined that Plaintiff was in violation of the permit’s conditions. (Id., ¶ 37.) As a result, Bertram advised Mr. Ennis that he may revoke Plaintiff’s permit if he determined that the permit’s conditions had been violated. (Id., ¶ 38.) Later that same day (August 9, 2010), Mr. Ennis made the decision to revoke Plaintiff’s permit and notified Plaintiff of that fact. (Id., ¶¶ 39, 59.) Neither Plaintiff’s statements concerning various issues in the Town nor his postings on various Internet sites had any bearing on the decision to revoke Plaintiff’s permit. (Id., ¶¶ 40, 61.) Plaintiff testified at his deposition that the basis for his claim that he was deprived of fire protection services is that, “in 2011, or perhaps late 2010,” a local fire department chief, Steve Montie, posted an online statement that Plaintiff should move out of town. (Id., ¶ 14.) Plaintiff testified that the post was made in response to one of his earlier posts on a local town Internet forum; in Plaintiff’s post, he had complained of alleged ethical violations committed by Bertram. -8- (Id., ¶¶ 15-16.) The alleged post by Mr. Montie states in its entirety as follows: William, How much more of this are you going to do ? ? ? ? You are wasting more tax payer dollars than its worth. Man up correct your problems and move on, or better yet move out. S (Id., ¶ 19.) The author of this post is not identified by name but only by the email address; and, as indicated above, the post is signed only as “S.” (Id., ¶ 18.) Plaintiff testified that the statements in the alleged post amounted to a threatened denial of fire department services because “the fire chief told me I should move out of town, which makes me wonder if there was a fire at my house would he come.” (Id., ¶ 20.) However, Plaintiff testified that no one has ever told him that the fire department would not respond if there was a fire at his house. (Id., ¶ 22.) In addition, Plaintiff testified that there are two distinct fire departments in the Town, Stuyvesant Company 1 and Stuyvesant Company 2, which divide their responses to emergency calls in the Town geographically. (Id., ¶ 23.) Steve Montie is the Chief of Stuyvesant Company 1 and a different chief controls Company 2. (Id., ¶ 25.) Plaintiff’s property is located in the geographic area covered by Company 2. (Id., ¶ 24.) According to Bertram, she did not “in any way direct any fire department to deprive or threaten to deprive [Plaintiff] of fire services.” (Id., ¶ 33.) Finally, Plaintiff testified that there was “never” a time that he did not publicize or speak out against some issues based upon any actions by the Town and the alleged efforts to silence him did not work. (Id., ¶ 26.) In fact, following the alleged actions by the Town, Plaintiff did -9- more blogging and increased his “political activities against the Town.” (Id., ¶ 27.) With respect to his business, Plaintiff testified that, despite losing his business permit in August, 2010, he continued to operate his business uninterrupted without a permit as he had before it was issued in 2009. (Id., ¶ 29.) Accordingly, there was no interruption to Plaintiff’s business as a result of his home business permit being revoked. (Id., ¶¶ 28, 30.) II. STANDARD GOVERNING A MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, summary judgment is warranted if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the [record] evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). As a result, “[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture and speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact.” Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). As the Supreme Court has famously explained, “[the non-moving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). As for the materiality requirement, a dispute of fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movign party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. In addition, “[the moving party] bears the initial responsibility of informing the district -10- court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the . . . [record] which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e). However, when the moving party has met this initial burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), (e). Where the non-movant fails to deny the factual assertions contained in the movant’s Rule 7.1 Statement of Material Facts in matching numbered paragraphs supported by a citation to admissible record evidence (as required by Local Rule 7.1[a][3] of the Court’s Local Rules of Practice), the court may not rely solely on the movant’s Rule 7.1 Statement; rather, the court must be satisfied that the citations to evidence in the record support the movant’s assertions. See Giannullo v. City of N.Y., 322 F.3d 139, 143, n.5 (2d Cir. 2003) (holding that not verifying in the record the assertions in the motion for summary judgment “would derogate the truth-finding functions of the judicial process by substituting convenience for facts”). III. ANALYSIS A. Whether Plaintiff Suffered an Adverse Action After carefully considering the matter, the Court answers this question in the negative for the reasons set forth in Defendants’ memorandum of law and reply memorandum of law. (Dkt. No. 61, at 3-8 [Defs.’ Mem. of Law]; Dkt. No. 74, at 6-8 [Defs.’ Reply Mem. of Law].) To those reasons, the Court adds the following two points. As this Court noted in its prior decisions, in order to state a claim for retaliation under the First Amendment, “a plaintiff must prove (1) his conduct was protected by the First Amendment, -11- (2) the defendants’ actions were motivated or substantially caused by the exercise of that right, and (3) defendants’ actions effectively ‘chilled’ the exercise of plaintiff’s First Amendment right.” Pflaum, 937 F. Supp. 2d at 303 (citing Dillon v. Morano, 497 F.3d 247, 251 [2d Cir. 2007]). “In cases ‘involving criticism of public officials by private citizens,’ the Second Circuit has generally ‘impose[d] an actual chill requirement for First Amendment retaliation claims[,]’ i.e., a requirement that the plaintiff allege and ultimately prove an ‘actual chill’ of his First Amendment rights.” Hafez v. City of Schenectady, 894 F. Supp. 2d 207, 221 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (D’Agostino, J.) (quoting Gill v. Pidlypchak, 389 F.3d 379, 381 [2d Cir. 2004]). “To establish this element, it is not enough for the plaintiff simply to show that he changed his behavior in some way; he must show that the defendant intended to, and did, prevent or deter him from exercising his rights under the First Amendment.” Hafez, 894 F. Supp. 2d at 221. “However, ‘where the retaliation is alleged to have caused an injury separate from any chilling effect, such as a job loss or demotion, an allegation as to a chilling effect is not necessary to state a claim.’” Id. (quoting Puckett v. City of Glen Cove, 631 F. Supp. 2d 226, 239 [E.D.N.Y. 2009]); see also Brink v. Muscente, 11-CV-4306, 2013 WL 5366371, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2013) (noting that, in private citizen cases, “various forms of concrete harm have been substituted for the ‘actual chilling’ requirement”). First, it is clear from Plaintiff’s deposition testimony that there was no actual chilling of his protected speech as a result of Defendants’ actions. As discussed above, Plaintiff admitted that he increased his political activities and continued to publicize his opinions against the Town in the face of its alleged efforts to silence him. “Where a party can show no change in his behavior, he has quite plainly shown no chilling of his First Amendment right to free speech.” -12- Curley v. Vill. of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 73 (2d Cir. 2001); see also Singer v. Fulton Cty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 120 (2d Cir. 1995) (finding no chilling effect where, after an arrest, the plaintiff continued to publish his newspaper through which he criticized the village government); Spear v. Town of W. Hartford, 954 F.2d 63, 67 (2d Cir. 1992) (finding no chilling effect where, after the filing of a lawsuit, the plaintiff continued to write criticizing editorials in the same manner as before the lawsuit). Second, to the extent that Plaintiff argues that he perceived the online post regarding the loss of fire protection as a real threat, he is still required to show that his perception was objectively reasonable, i.e., “that the defendant[s’] actions had some actual, non-speculative chilling effect.” Colombo v. O’Connell, 310 F.3d 115, 117 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1972) (holding that “[a]llegations of a subjective ‘chill’ are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm”). Plaintiff’s subjective belief that the online post constituted a real threat, without more, is insufficient to demonstrate an actual chilling effect on his First Amendment rights. Indeed, as discussed above in Point I.E.2. of this Decision and Order, Plaintiff admitted that no one had told him that the fire department would not respond if there was a fire at his house. Moreover, a different fire chief than the one who allegedly authored the online post is responsible for responding to fire calls in the location of Plaintiff’s residence. B. Whether There Was a Causal Connection Between Plaintiff’s Speech and Any Adverse Action After carefully considering the matter, the Court answers this question in the negative for the reasons set forth below. -13- To establish the second element of his First Amendment retaliation claim, “plaintiff must provide specific proof of defendants’ improper motivation with either circumstantial or direct evidence.” Media All., Inc. v. Mirch, 09-CV-0659, 2011 WL 3328532, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2011) (D’Agostino, J.) (citing Curley, 285 F.3d at 73). “Circumstantial evidence includes close temporal proximity between plaintiff’s speech and the alleged retaliatory act.” Mirch, 2011 WL 3328532, at *5. “Regardless of the presence of retaliatory motive, however, a defendant may be entitled to summary judgment if he can show dual motivation, i.e., that even without the improper motivation the alleged retaliatory action would have occurred.” Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 287-88 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 [1977]). “Plaintiff has the initial burden of showing that an improper motive played a substantial part in defendant’s action. The burden then shifts to defendant to show it would have taken exactly the same action absent the improper motive.” Scott, 344 F.3d at 288. 1. Revocation of Plaintiff’s Business Permit In denying Defendants’ underlying motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, this Court held that Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a concrete harm through the loss of his business permit, and consequently, the loss of business income, as a result of Defendants’ alleged retaliatory actions. Pflaum, 937 F. Supp. 2d at 308. Having carefully reviewed the record, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Defendants’ alleged improper motive. Specifically, with respect to the revocation of his business permit, the undisputed facts establish that the Town received complaints regarding -14- the noise emanating from Plaintiff’s property. Plaintiff was given two3 noise violations over the course of approximately one year and ample opportunity to rectify the problem. (Dkt. No. 67, Attach. 5.) Because the noise problem and complaints continued, Mr. Ennis revoked Plaintiff’s permit.4 Even if Plaintiff were able to establish that an improper motive played a part in this decision, it is clear to the Court that, under these circumstances, the revocation would have still occurred. Indeed, Plaintiff challenged the decision to revoke his permit in appeals made to the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals and in two actions filed in New York State Supreme Court. (Dkt. No. 67, Attachs. 1 & 2.) Although Plaintiff was successful in his state court actions, those decisions were based, in part, upon the Town’s failure to follow proper procedure, rather than the merits of the Town’s decision. (Id.) 2. Criminal Charges Plaintiff has also failed to demonstrate an improper motive with respect to his claim that he received false criminal charges in retaliation for comments on his website about corruption among public officials. Plaintiff relies on the temporal proximity of these charges with a meeting he had with Bertram and his filing of an Article 78 petition in New York State Supreme 3 As discussed above, Plaintiff was actually given three noise violations. However, because his permit was revoked on the same day that he received the third violation, the Court will disregard the third violation for purposes of this analysis. 4 The Court notes that Plaintiff spends considerable time in his opposition papers disputing the sufficiency of the evidence and procedures that were followed that led to the issuance of noise violations. (See generally Dkt. No. 67, ¶¶ 56-95 [Pl.’s Decl.].) However, this Court is not the proper forum for that dispute. Furthermore, to the extent that the New York Supreme Court observed that there appeared “to have been a disproportionate amount of time and money spent on [the noise violation] notice,” and that the records did not “reveal a real issue with dog-barking,” those observations are not binding upon this Court. (Dkt. No. 67, Attach. 2, at 6.) Setting aside the fact that the observations constitute dicta, Defendants have submitted admissible record evidence demonstrating that Mr. Ennis acted upon complaints made to him by residents of the Town, which Plaintiff has failed to properly dispute. -15- Court. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that he began an Internet blog on or about January 1, 2011, and in that blog reported on what he perceived to be the illegal activities of Town officials. (Dkt. No. 67, ¶ 15 [Pl.’s Decl.].) For example, on January 1, 2011, Plaintiff wrote about the alleged inflation of billable time by the Town Attorney that was spent on work paid for by the Town. (Id. at 65:8-11.) Around the same time, Plaintiff met with Bertram to discuss his discovery of specific instances of corruption by public officials, including the alleged inflation of billable work by the Town Attorney. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 62:13-15; 64:9-15 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.].) On January 15, 2011, a few days after this meeting occurred, Plaintiff was issued a criminal summons for the offense of “habitual loud barking,” in violation of N.Y. Local Law § 1. (Id. at 61:19-22; Dkt. No. 68, Attach. 7 [Criminal Summons]; Dkt. No. 67, ¶ 15 [Pl.’s Decl.].) Plaintiff testified at his deposition that the Town Attorney went to great lengths to research the Local Law that he was charged under and assisted one of Plaintiff’s neighbors in drafting an affidavit upon which the criminal summons was based. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 65:17-21 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.]; Dkt. No. 67, ¶ 107 [Pl.’s Decl.].) Plaintiff argues that he is the first Town resident to be charged under this section of the Local Law. (Dkt. No. 67, ¶¶ 100, 106 [Pl.’s Decl.].) Finally, Plaintiff argues that Bertram retained outside counsel to pursue this charge against him, which was later dismissed. (Dkt. No. 67, ¶¶ 5, 19, 21 [Pl.’s Decl.]; Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 57:16-18 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.].) Thereafter, in October 2011, Plaintiff filed an Article 78 petition in New York State Supreme Court challenging the Town’s denial of Plaintiff’s FOIL requests. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 67:7-12 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.].) Plaintiff sought disclosure of the information in the FOIL requests to substantiate his belief that Town officials were engaging in illegal activities. (Dkt. -16- No. 67, ¶¶ 43-44 [Pl.’s Decl.].) One week after commencing that action, Plaintiff received a second criminal summons for the same offense related to loud dog barking. (Dkt. No. 68, Attach. 7 [Appearance Ticket]; Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 56:16-19; 67:7-12 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.].) Plaintiff testified that he had “almost no dogs” on his property in October 2011. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 7, at 67:8-10 [Pl.’s Dep. Tr.].) According to Plaintiff, that charge was neither dismissed nor withdrawn, but “vanished.” (Id., at 57:19-58:9.) While Plaintiff’s allegations may plausibly suggest that an improper motive played a role in the charges brought against him, Defendants have submitted admissible record evidence that establishes otherwise. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 17.) Specifically, the criminal information in question is signed by one of Plaintiff’s neighbors, Frederick Platt, and states, in part, that “my complaint is that the dogs at Glencadia Dog Camp exhibit ongoing habitual barking/howling at any given time of day or night. This has been an issue since the Fall of 2009.” (Id.) Furthermore, an affidavit filed by Wes Powell, the Town’s Dog Control Officer, states that he received repeated complaints from Mr. Platt throughout 2010, culminating in the noise complaint that served as the basis for the criminal charge. (Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 16, ¶¶ 3-5 [Powell Aff.].) Mr. Powell states that the complaint was written by Mr. Platt in his presence and that no Town official directed Mr. Powell to serve Plaintiff with the criminal summons. (Id., ¶¶ 7-10.) Conversely, Plaintiff has not submitted any admissible record evidence supporting his claim that the Town Attorney (who is not a party) played any role in the charge being filed against him or that he is the only resident to have ever been charged under this section of the Local Law. Similarly, Plaintiff’s contention that the Town pressured Mr. Platt to file a complaint against him (Dkt. No. 67, ¶ 7[Pl.’s Decl.]) is unsubstantiated. While the timing of the -17- charge may appear suspicious, the Town cannot control when its residents decide to file a complaint and, in light of the record evidence demonstrating that there was a preexisting noise problem on Plaintiff’s property, the complaint is unsurprising. Moreover, the fact that Plaintiff believes the Town shored up its criminal charge against him is of little, if any, materiality. Finally, because the second charge seemingly “vanished,” no documentation or evidence (other than the appearance ticket itself) has been submitted with respect to that charge. In any event, because the charge was never prosecuted, Plaintiff has failed to support his claim that he suffered any harm. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden in demonstrating an improper motive with respect to this charge. 3. Town Assessor Gleason Plaintiff claims that Town Assessor Howard Gleason (also not a party) threatened to raise his property taxes for engaging in political activities when Mr. Gleason hand delivered a letter to Plaintiff before a public meeting. (Dkt. No. 69, Attach. 18, at 3 [Letter from Pl. to Gleason]; Dkt. No. 67, ¶ 29 [Pl.’s Decl.].) The only evidence submitted with respect to this claim is not the original letter from Mr. Gleason to Plaintiff but letter correspondence from Plaintiff to Mr. Gleason. (Dkt. No. 69, Attach. 18, at 3 [Letter from Pl. to Gleason].) Plaintiff’s letter to Mr. Gleason, dated October 5, 2010, states that Plaintiff interpreted Mr. Gleason’s attempt to speak with him about tax filings before a town hall meeting as threatening in nature due to the “timing and manner of the interaction.” (Id.) This is because Plaintiff “had announced [his] intention to call for a referendum frequently and in many forums prior to appearing for the meeting.” (Id.) Furthermore, Plaintiff requested that, in order to “avoid the impression that you coordinate your tax-related activities with other people in government in order to intimidate free speech, please -18- do not present important information to me in such an information [sic] and unverifiable way.” (Id.) However, Mr. Gleason’s response to Plaintiff’s letter suggests that their interaction was not meant as a threat to raise Plaintiff’s taxes or “was in any way politically motivated.” (Dkt. No. 69, Attach. 18, at 4 [Letter from Pl. to Gleason].) More specifically, Mr. Gleason explains that he needed to re-assess Plaintiff’s property in light of the fact that Plaintiff was now running a kennel (business) on his property and decided to hand deliver his letter knowing that Plaintiff would be present for the town hall meeting. (Id.) Moreover, Mr. Gleason reassured Plaintiff that politics do not dictate how he performs his job and promised that all future communication will be transmitted through mail rather than in-person. (Id.) Plaintiff has failed to submit any additional evidence with respect to his tax assessment, that his taxes were improperly raised or that Mr. Gleason acted with a retaliatory animus.5 Similarly, no evidence has been submitted to substantiate Plaintiff’s claim that Bertram encouraged Mr. Gleason to use his authority as Town Assessor to intimidate Plaintiff. In sum, Plaintiff has wholly failed to satisfy his burden demonstrating that he suffered harm as a result of any action taken by Mr. Gleason and that Mr. Gleason acted with an improper motive. For all of these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to his First Amendment claim. Because the Court has 5 For example, with regard to this lack of additional evidence regarding retaliatory animus, Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence establishing that, even assuming Mr. Gleason knew of Plaintiff’s intent to engage in protected speech, the so-called “manner of the interaction” by Mr. Gleason (i.e., the hand delivery of the letter) was in fact unusual for Mr. Gleason given the date of the letter and the date of the public meeting. Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence that the so-called “timing . . . of the interaction” is significant, given his rather constant exercise of his First Amendment rights during the time in question. -19- reached this conclusion, it need not, and does not, consider the merits of Defendant Bertram’s alternative qualified immunity argument. ACCORDINGLY, it is ORDERED that Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 59) is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the Defendants and close this case. Dated: March 2, 2016 Syracuse, New York _________________________________ Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby Chief, U.S. District Judge -20-

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