Zennamo v. County of Oneida et al
DECISION & ORDER the Defendants motion to dismiss, Dkt. # 10 , is hereby GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is hereby GRANTED with respect to Plaintiffs claims brought against any municipal departments of Oneida County, fraud claims agai nst Defendant Rayhill, any claims brought pursuant New York Labor Law § 740, any claims for punitive damages raised against the County of Oneida and County of Oneida municipal departments and any individual Defendants sued in their official capa cities. The motion is hereby DENIED in all other respects. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate Defendants Office of the Oneida County Executive, Office of the Oneida County Public Defender, and Oneida County Attorneys Office. Plaintiffs motion for leave to file an amended complaint, Dkt. # 16 , is hereby DENIED. IT IS SO ORDERED. Signed by Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy on 9/19/22.(gmd, )
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
COUNTY OF ONEIDA, OFFICE OF
THE ONEIDA COUNTY EXECUTIVE,
ANTHONY J. PICENTE, JR., OFFICE
OF THE ONEIDA COUNTY PUBLIC
DEFENDER, FRANK J. NEBUSH, JR.,
ONEIDA COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE,
PETER M. RAYHILL,
DECISION & ORDER
Before the Court is Defendants’ motion to dismiss. See dkt. # 10. The parties
have briefed the issues and the Court conducted oral argument.
This cases arises out of Plaintiff Cory Zennamo’s employment with the Oneida
County Public Defender’s Office. See Complaint (“Cmplt.”), dkt. # 1, at ¶ 5. He worked
there from February 1, 2010 until July 27, 2020. Id. Plaintiff claims that, during this
employment, he “developed an exceptional reputation within the office, among the judges
before whom he practiced, and within the legal community as a whole.” Id. at ¶ 12.
Plaintiff took “on the most challenging cases when the need arose and worked up from the
City Courts section to handling the most violent and serious crimes.” Id. Defendant Frank
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Nebush, the Oneida County Public Defender, often “solicited trusted assistance from the
Plaintiff, requesting his representation for close friends or family members, for the
teaching of CLE courses and to handle matters that other attorneys were unable to
Plaintiff relates that attorneys in the Oneida County Public Defenders office are
bound by the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 1.6, “which requires
that client information and files be confidential and protected from the view of third
parties.” Id. at ¶ 13. Included in that conf identiality requirement is a mandate that
“servers, data and printer be separate and secure f rom other Oneida County departments
and department heads.” Id. Plaintiff further alleges that the Office employs a social
worker who obtains information directly from healthcare providers. Id. Such information,
Plaintiff contends, is subject to the protections of the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (“HIPAA”). Id. The Office, which represents criminal defendants, must
also keep client information separate “to avoid the impropriety of one single entity being
bound by commitments to multiple parties in a criminal action.” Id.
During Plaintiff’s employment, Judges, the District Attorney, clients, and treatment
providers all sent privileged information via email. Id. at ¶ 14. “Plaintiff understood this
email system to be secure from third party surveillance, accessible only by Nebush.” Id.
Plaintiff also believed that the server that stored “all files, discovery, attorney work product,
medical records, mental health records, social security numbers and other client-related
confidential information was digitally stored on a server hosted by Oneida County, but
which was allegedly secure from third party access, including the observation of any other
Oneida County department.” Id.
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Plaintiff was terminated on July 27, 2020. Id. at ¶ 15. He alleges that his
termination came “in retaliation for an email warning sent to Nebush voicing concern about
inappropriate and surreptitious access by the Office of the Oneida County Executive,
[Oneida County Executive, Defendant Anthony J.] Picente, [Oneida County Attorney,
Defendant Peter M.] Rayhill, and the Oneida County Attorney’s Office to digital client files,
attorney work product, and emails[.]” Id. Such content, Plaintiff claims, should have been
kept confidential. Id.
Plaintiff alleges that Picente admitted at a July 24, 2020 meeting that he had
access to material on the Assistant Public Defender computer. Id. at ¶ 16. This material
included “files and emails which were obtained without said employee’s knowledge or
consent and without the knowledge or consent of Nebush.” Id. That meeting made clear
that Oneida County, the Office of the Oneida County Executive, Picente, Rayill, and the
County Attorney’s Office “had access to all files, folders and content on the Oneida
County Public Defender client server” and to emails sent by staff and attorneys at the
Public Defender’s Office. Id. Picente allegedly admitted that the Oneida County IT
department had accessed the emails and Public Defender files “for files pertaining to legal
practice outside of Oneida County Public Defender employment.” Id.
This “breach of confidential information” caused Plaintiff to email Nebush “with
supporting ethics rules and documentation on July 7, 2020, voicing concern.” Id. at ¶
17. Plaintiff expressed concerns about violations of Rule 1.6 and HIPAA. Id. Nebush
“heatedly criticized Plaintiff’s concerns and reused to [continue] the conversation
indicating he did not have time to deal with it right now.” Id. Plaintiff told Nebush that “he
would not sacrifice the integrity of his representation or his law license so that Oneida
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County, Picente, the Oneida County Attorney, Rayhill and the Office of the Oneida County
Executive could monitor confidential information.” Id. An hour later, Nebush sent an
email to Plaintiff that explained that the Public Defendant’s “system had not been
compromised.” Id. at ¶ 18. Nebush stated that “he would look into obtaining an encrypted
email system he had previously used when sending protected emails to expert witnesses.”
“Within an hour” of receiving this email, the Oneida County IT Department
contacted Plaintiff to inform him that his computer system had been compromised by a
virus and needed repair. Id. Plaintiff responded that he was not permitted to supply his
computer, but IT “insisted, explaining it would infect the entire Oneida County computer
network.” Id. Plaintiff responded that IT had permission only to fix the virus issue, and
could not “access client files or data because it was protected by attorney client privilege
and in some cases, HIPAA.” Id. Plaintiff’s computer “was sent away without Plaintiff’s
permission and analyzed by an unknown party, the details of which were delivered to the
Office of the Oneida County Executive, Pincente, Rayhill, and the Oneida County
Attorney’s Office.” Id.
The Office of the Oneida County Executive sent Plaintiff an email on July 26, 2020
“asking about letters of appearance, some draft documents, and other legal related
content” that the Office alleged “were on Plaintiff’s computer.” Id. at ¶ 19. Though the
County Executive had not included Nebush in the initial email, Plaintiff copied Nebush on
the response he sent on the evening of July 26, 2020. Id.
Around 2:51 p.m. on July 27, 2020, Nebush contacted Plaintiff to let him know that
the Office of the Oneida County Executive had told Nebush to terminate Plaintiff’s
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employment immediately. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff asked Nebush why he was terminated and
“Nebush indicated he was not aware and they did not inform him.” Id. Plaintiff pressed
Nebush about why Plaintiff, a highly successful attorney, would be terminated. Id.
Nebush “indicated he was instructed to do so by the Office of the Oneida County
Executive and intended to comply with the request.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that the Public
Defender’s Office has not terminated any attorneys in the office during Plaintiff’s
employment or after his termination. Id. at ¶ 21.
In August, 2020, Nebush filed a grievance against Plaintiff with the ethics
committee of the Fifth Judicial District. Id. at ¶ 22. He made “a number of false claims.”
Id. Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he matter was dismissed as unfounded.” Id.
Plaintiff’s Complaint raises five causes of action. Count One is a First Amendment
claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants retaliated against him for raising matters of public concern “regarding
unethical and inappropriate activities occurring within the Oneida County Public Defender
and the intentional advancement of said unethical actions by Defendants.” Id. at ¶ 24,
Plaintiff spoke on a matter of public concern and Defendants responded by firing him. Id.
Count Two raises essentially the same claim under Article 1, Section 8 of the New York
Constitution. Count Three raises claims against Oneida County, the Office of the County
Executive, Picente, and the Office of the County Attorney for a violation of Plaintiff’s
Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff contends that the search of his computer hard drive
without his permission violated his rights. Id. at ¶ 28. Count Four alleges that the County
of Oneida, the Office of the County Executive, Picente, and Rayhill engaged in fraud to
further their digital trespass and Fourth Amendment violations. Plaintiff contends that they
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falsely represented to him that he had a virus on his computer in order to obtain
confidential information secured on that computer. Id. at ¶ 30. Count Five alleges that
Defendants violated New York Labor Law § 740 when they terminated him for reporting
violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and HIPAA. Id. at ¶ 32.
Defendants then filed the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).
Defendants seek dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or
constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d
Cir. 2000). The Court may consult matters outside the pleadings in resolving a 12(b)(1)
motion. Id. “A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Id.
Defendants also seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief could be
granted, even if all factual allegations in the complaint were proved true. In addressing
such motions, the Court must accept “all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and
draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.” Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d
329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009). This tenet does not apply to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
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state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
Defendants raise several grounds for dismissal, which the Court will address in
Defendants first argue that, since the County has been named as a Defendant, any
claims against municipal departments are redundant and should be dismissed. Thus,
Defendants Office of the County Executive, Office of the Public Defender, and Office of
the County Attorney should be dismissed from the case. Plaintiff does not respond to this
The Court will grant the motion in this respect. “Under New York law, departments
that are merely administrative arms of a municipality do not have a legal identity separate
and apart from the municipality and, therefore, cannot sue or be sued.” Rose v. County of
Nassau, 904 F.Supp.2d 244, 247 (E.D.N.Y. 2012). Defendants Office of the County
Executive, Office of the Public Defendant, and Office of the County Attorney will be
dismissed from the case.
First Amendment Retaliation Claim
Defendants contend that Plaintiff has not alleged that he spoke as a private citizen
on a matter of public concern, and that his First Amendment retaliation claim should
therefore be dismissed. Even if he had spoken on a matter of public concern, Defendants
contend that Plaintiff has not alleged that his speech caused his firing and the claim
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should be dismissed on that basis.
“The Court has made clear that public employees do not surrender all their First
Amendment rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects
a public employee’s right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing
matters of public concern.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006). “The First
Amendment limits the ability of a public employer to leverage the employment relationship
to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as
private citizens.” Id. at 419. “So long as employees are speaking as citizens about
matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are
necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively.” Id.
“Whether public employee speech is protected from retaliation under the First
Amendment entails two inquiries: (1) ‘whether the employee spoke as a citizen on a
matter of public concern’ and, if so, (2) ‘whether the relevant government entity had an
adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the
general public.’” Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006)).
“Whether an employee’s speech addresses a matter of public concern is a question
of law for the court to decide, taking into account the content, form, and context of a given
statement as revealed by the whole record.” Lewis v. Cowen, 165 F.3d 154, 163 (2d Cir.
1999). A court is to “focus on the motive of the speaker and attempt to determine whether
the speech was calculated to redress personal grievances or whether it had a broader
public purpose.” Id. at 163-64. “‘To constitute speech on a matter of public concern, an
employee’s expression must ‘be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political,
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social, or other concern to the community.’” Gorman v. Rensselaer Cty., 910 F.3d 40, 45
(2d Cir. 2018)(quoting Jackler v. Byrne, 658 F.3d 225, 236 (2d Cir. 2011)). If the “speech .
. . ‘primarily concerns an issue that is personal in nature and generally related to the
speaker’s own situation, such as his or her assignments, promotion, or salary’” then the
speech “‘does not address matters of public concern.’” Id. (quoting Jackler, 658 F.3d at
236). The speech in question might “[hint] at some broader public purpose[,]” but
“retaliation against the airing of generally personal grievances is not brought within the
protection of the First Amendment by ‘the mere fact that one or two of [a public
employee’s] comments could be construed broadly to implicate matters of public
concern.’” Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 190 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Ezekwo
v. New York City Health & Hosp. Corp., 940 F.2d 775, 781 (2d Cir. 1991)). As such, “‘[a]
public employee may not transform a personal grievance into a matter of public concern
by invoking a supposed popular interest in the way institutions are run.’” Id. (quoting
Boyce v. Andrew, 510 F.3d 1333, 1343 (11 th Cir. 2007)). “The speaker’s motive is a
factor to consider but ‘is not dispositive in determining whether his speech addresses a
matter of public concern.’” Golodner v. Berliner, 770 F.3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Sousa v. Roque, 578 F.3d 164, 173 (2d Cir. 2009)).
The Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a claim that he suffered retaliation for
speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern. Plaintiff’s allegations, accepted as
true, indicate that he spoke on an issue that was not just a workplace grievance. He did
not speak to complain about how he was treated or about operations and decisions in the
workplace related to how employees perform their jobs. Plaintiff instead alleges that he
spoke on matters about which the public had a legitimate concern: the privacy of data
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about clients of the Public Defender’s Office and the ability of County officials to access
such material on computers that should have been kept separate from such officials. The
public certainly has an interest in whether the work product and confidential information
held by defense counsel could be accessed by the municipality prosecuting members of
Plaintiff has also alleged facts sufficient to support the other elements of a First
Amendment retaliation claim. “‘To survive a motion for summary judgment on a First
Amendment retaliation claim’ in the public employment context, ‘the plaintiff must present
evidence which shows ‘ that the speech at issue was protected,  that he suffered an
adverse employment action, and  that there was a causal connection between the
protected speech and the adverse employment action.’” Nagle v. Marron, 663 F.3d 100,
105 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Cotarelo v. Vill. of Sleepy Hollow Police Dept., 460 F.3d 247,
251 (2d Cir. 2006)). Once the plaintiff presents such evidence, “the defendant has an
opportunity to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have taken the
same adverse employment action even in the absence of protected conduct.’” Id. (quoting
Morris v. Lindau, 196 F.3d 102, 110 (2d Cir. 1999)).
Plaintiff has alleged that he had a superb reputation as a public def ender before
raising his concerns about the adequacy of protections for client data, and that only after
he raised these issues did Defendants begin to question his performance. He has alleged
he lost his job. He has also alleged a causal connection between his firing and his speech
on a matter of public concern. The Court will therefore deny the motion in this respect.
New York Constitutional Claim
Defendants also seek dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims brought pursuant to the New
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York Constitution. Defendants first argue that the Court should dismiss such claims
against the County pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because Plaintiff
failed to comply with the notice provisions contained in Section 50-e of the New York State
General Municipal Law. That law requires service of a notice of claim within ninety days
after the claim arises. Section 52 of the New York County Law has the same requirement.
Defendants argue that New York courts strictly construe these requirements and dismiss
claims that fail to comply.
“To enable authorities to investigate, collect evidence and evaluate the merit of a
claim, persons seeking to recover in tort against a municipality are required, as a
precondition to suit, to serve a Notice of Claim.” Brown v. City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d
389, 392 (N.Y. 2000). “The test of the notice’s sufficiency is whether it includes
information sufficient to enable the city to investigate the claim.” O’Brien v. Syracuse, 54
N.Y.2d 353, 358 (N.Y. 1981). A notice should “set forth, among other things, ‘the nature
of the claim,’ and ‘the time when, the place where, and the manner in which the claim
arose.’” Vargas v. City of New York, 105 A.D.3d 834, 836 (2d Dept. 2013) (quoting Brown,
95 N.Y.2d at 393). A notice meets the requirements when “‘the notice describes the
accident with sufficient particularity so as to enable the defendant to conduct a proper
investigation thereof and to assess the merits of the claim.’” Id. (quoting Palmer v. Society
for Seamen’s Children, 88 A.D.3d 970, 971 (2d Dept. 2011)). “T he New York Court of
Appeals has held that the notice of claim provisions of the General Municipal Law § 50-I
are applicable to a cause of action for ‘constitutional torts’ in violation of the New York
State Constitution.” Pratt v. Indian River Cent. Sch. Dist., 803 F.Supp.2d 135, 146
(N.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing 423 S. Salina Steet, Inc. v. City of Syracuse, 68 N.Y.2d 474, 489,
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n.5 (N.Y. 1986)). While notice is required, “[t]he statute is remedial and should be
liberally construed.” Application of Charlemagne, 277 A.D. 689, 692 (1 st Dept. 1951).
Defendants argue that the notice of claim fails to put them on notice of any alleged
New York constitutional violation. Defendants point to the Notice of Claim that Plaintiff
filed, which states that:
This claim is for the financial damages and losses of Cory Zennamo arising out of
an unlawful termination, First Amendment violations of the United States
Constitution, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, fraud, fraud in the inducement, lost
wages, wage and hour violations, failure to adequately notify of termination of
benefits, Whistleblower retaliation, digital trespass, libel and slander, effectuated by
Oneida County, its agents and servants, on or about July 27, 2020.
While Defendants acknowledge that failing to specifically reference the New York
Constitution is not necessarily fatal to the claim, they argue that none of the facts alleged
in the Notice “mention any facts that could possibly suggest” such a claim.
Plaintiff’s description of the acts giving rise to his claim, Defendants insist, does not
provide any allegations that would support his New York Free Speech claim. The
The incident occurred around 2:00 PM on Monday, July 27, 2020, when Cory
Zennamo was wrongly terminated from his employment with the Oneida County
Public Defender’s Office in violation of the First Amendment and Whistleblower
retaliation protection. Upon termination while obtaining final payout, information
made it clear that the County had refused to pay wages to Zennamo as owed for
work 35 hours and overtime in violation of the New York State labor laws.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s claim in this respect should be dismissed because he has
not “generally [pled] in his Notice of Claim a free speech violation under the New York
State Constitution or facts that would suggest such a cause of action should result in a
similar ruling dismissing such claims.” Plaintiff has thus failed to comply with notice
provisions in New York law, Defendants claim, and this cause of action should be
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The Court will deny the motion in this respect as well. Plaintiff’s notice, related
above, described the incident giving rise to his claim in sufficient detail for the Defendants
to understand the events that gave rise to that claim, and to investigate whether
Defendants violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights by retaliating against him for speaking
on a matter of public concern. This is especially so because he clearly provided notice of
claim for a Section 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim, and the parties agree that the
standard for New York and federal claims on the issue are the same.
The Defendants further argue that, even if the Court does not conclude that
the Plaintiff’s Notice of Claim was insufficient, the standard for a New York Constitutional
claim is the same as a First Amendment retaliation claim under the United States
Constitution. Defendants contend that the Court should dism iss the New York
Constitutional claims for the same reason that the Court should dismiss the federal claims.
The Court will deny the motion in that respect for the reasons stated above.
Fourth Amendment Claim
Defendants next argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s Section 1983
Fourth Amendment claim because Plaintiff lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in
material stored on his work computer. The County had clear warnings on log-in about the
lack of privacy in such County-issued devices, and Plaintiff cannot claim he had any sort
of an expectation of privacy that would implicate the Fourth Amendment.
“‘The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches
conducted by the Government, even when the Government acts as an employer.’”
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Leventhal v. Knapek, 266 F.3d 64, 72-73 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Nat’l Treasury
Employees Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665 (1989)). W hen the government is
involved in a search as an employer, “the Fourth Amendment’s protection against
‘unreasonable’ searches is enforced by ‘a careful balancing of governmental and private
interests.’” Id. (quoting New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985)). “A public
employer’s search of an area in which an employee had a reasonable expectation of
privacy is ‘reasonable’ when ‘the measures adopted are reasonably related to the
objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of’ its purpose” Id. (quoting
O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 726 (1989)).
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim must fail because he did
not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information on his computer.
Defendants seek to apply four factors stated in In re Asia Glob. Crossing, Ltd., 322 B.R.
247, 257 (Bank. S.D.N.Y. 2005), in evaluating whether Plaintiff had a reasonable
expectation of privacy in his work devices. Defendants point out that district courts in this
Circuit have applied that test, including some in the Northern District. The test applies four
(1) does the corporation maintain a policy banning personal or other objectionable
use, (2) does the company monitor the use of the employee’s computer or e-mail,
(3) do third parties have a right of access to the computer or e-mails, and (4) did
the corporation notify the employee, or was the employee aware, of the use and
Defendants contend that applying this test demonstrates that Plaintiff did not have a
legitimate expectation of privacy in his devices. As to the first factor, Defendants point to
the Oneida County Information Technology Acceptable Use Policy (“AUP”) to demonstrate
that the County has a policy banning personal or other objectionable use. That policy,
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Defendants claim, also demonstrates that the County monitors personal use. The policy
also permits Oneida County to access an employee’s computer and emails, satisfying the
third factor. As to the fourth factor, Defendants argue that employees are reminded every
time they log in that the County monitors use of devices.
The Court will deny the motion in this respect as well. Even considering the AUP
policy and practices that the Defendants provide, the Court finds that Plaintiff has
plausibly alleged that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Whatever the AUP
says, Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that:
Defendants Picente, Office of the Oneida County Executive, Oneida County and
the Oneida County Attorney conspired to unlawfully obtained [sic], search and
distribute private data of Plaintiff saved on a computer hard drive in violation of the
Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Said Defendants directed
members fo the IT Department to lie to Plaintiff about a ‘virus’ infecting Plaintiff’s
computer as a means to obtain said machine to search the same for protected
information and content created in the course of client representation in the Oneida
County Public Defender’s Office. Due to the protected nature of attorney client
speech and the legal and ethical requirements of attorneys in the State of New
York to protect client confidence, Plaintiff had a legitimate expectation of privacy in
the content of the computer system used in his employment through the Oneida
County Public Defender’s Office. Said Defendants employed a third party to
indiscriminately dump the entire contends of said computer system without a limited
scope to said search. Moreover, the search was not with the permission or
knowledge of Nebush. Plaintiff gave limited authority to the IT department to clear
the threat only and not to review or otherwise interact with any other files on the
system. The search was unlawful at its onset as the members of the IT department
were directed to induce Plaintiff to turn over the Computer, through fraudulent
representations, with lies about computer viruses and the potential for harm to
client data and the entire County network so that the Fourth Amendment rights of
Plaintiff could be violated.
Complt. at ¶ 28. Accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true, the existence of the AUP is not
dispositive on the issue of whether the Plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy in
the contents of his computer files. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants took steps to convince
him to provide them with a computer that he did not expect them to have access to. The
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Defendants allegedly did not use the AUP to get access to the computer, but instead
employed a ruse. Discovery will be necessary to determine whether Plaintiff’s expectation
of privacy was reasonable, and what role the AUP played in that expectation.
Defendants next argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s fraud claim, which
relates to the reasons he supplied Defendants with his computer. The fraud claim arises
out of an allegation that Defendants fraudulently induced him into turning over his workrelated computer. Defendants argue that this claim cannot lie because Plaintiff has not
alleged any violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and thus he cannot allege any
violation through fraudulent inducement. They do not cite any case law that relates to
fraudulent inducement or the relationship between fraudulent inducement and
constitutional violations. They do not mention the heightened pleading standard for fraud
under Rule 9(b). Even if the Court finds that Plaintiff stated a fraud claim, Defendants
argue that the claim should be dismissed against Rayhill because Plaintiff has not pled
any personal involvement for him on this claim. Plaintiff purports to respond to
Defendants’ arguments in this respect, but he does not explain how he has pled fraud nor
does he address the argument that Rayhill was not involved in any fraud claims.
Defendants argue that this failure to offer any substantive argument should cause the
Court to conclude that Plaintiff concedes the motion.1
Plaintiff’s fraud claim alleges:
The Court notes that Plaintiff’s briefing, despite failing to address the issue of
fraud, does argue that the Court should deny the motion with respect to Count Four, which
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Defendants Picente, Office of the Oneida County Executive, Oneida County and
the Oneida County Attorney direct[ed] the IT Department to fraudulently represent
a current danger regarding a potential virus on the Plaintiff’s computer system to
unlawfully obtain data secured on said system without the permission of Plaintiff.
Accordingly, the Defendants listed above directed members of the IT department to
make a material misrepresentation of fact regarding a virus on the Plaintiff’s
computer, knowing said representation was false while intending to induce the
Plaintiff to rely on [a] false statement of the IT Department. Due to the status of the
IT Department and the importance of keeping the client data on Plaintiff’s computer
safe from third parties who may attempt to improperly access said data, Plaintiff
justifiably relied on said representations when turning over the computer to his
Comptl. at ¶ 30.
In New York “in a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation, a plaintiff must allege ‘a
misrepresentation or a material omission of fact which was false and known to be false by
defendant, made for the purpose of inducing the other party to rely on it, justifiable
reliance of the other party on the misrepresentation, and injury.’” Mandarin Trading Ltd. v.
Wildenstein, 16 N.Y.3d 173, 178 (N.Y. 2011) (quoting Lama Holding Co. v. Smith Barney
Inc., 88 N.Y.2d 413, 421 (1996)).
Defendants do not discuss the law in this respect. Instead, they argue that,
because Plaintiff does not have a Fourth Amendment claim, he cannot have a fraud claim.
Since the Court has denied Defendants’ motion with respect to the Fourth Amendment
claim, the Court will also deny the motion with respect to the fraud claim. The Court
agrees with the Defendants, however, that Plaintiff has not alleged any conduct on the
part of Defendant Rayhill that amounted to fraud. The Court will grant the motion on this
claim with respect to Defendant Rayhill.
Labor Law § 740 Claim
Defendants next argue that Plaintiff’s claim brought pursuant to Labor Law § 740
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should be dismissed. That claim arises out of Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendants fired
him for raising concerns about improper access to confidential information that violated
the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Defendants point to the text of Labor Law § 740, which provides a cause of action
for an employee whose employer retaliates against him because that employee
“discloses, or threatens to disclose, to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or
practice of the employer that is in violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates
and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety.” N.Y.
Labor Law § 740(2)(a). Citing to New York case law, Defendants argue that a plaintiff
raising a claim under this law must point to a “substantial and specific danger to the public
health and safety” that he disclosed or threatened to disclose. Further, a plaintif f must
allege that there was “not only an actual, as opposed to a possible violation, but also an
actual and substantial present danger to the public health. Reasonable belief as a basis
for protection under Labor Law § 740 will not suffice.” Quoting Remba v. Federation
Empl. & Guidance Serv., 149 A.D.2d 131, 135 (1 st Dept. 1989).
Under the version of the Whistleblower statute in place at the time of the events
alleged in this case,2 New York courts have concluded “in order to recover under a Labor
As amended effective January 26, 2022, New York Labor Law § 740(2)(a) prohibits
retaliation against an employee who “discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or
to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer that the employee
reasonably believes is a violation of law, rule or regulation or that the employee
reasonably believes poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.”
N.L. LABOR LAW § 740(2)(a). This version permits a claim to go forward when an
employee reports a violation of a law, rule or regulation, whether or not there exists a
substantial risk to public health or safety. Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that he “identified
violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and HIPAA occurring within Oneida
Case 6:21-cv-00840-TJM-TWD Document 18 Filed 09/19/22 Page 19 of 22
Law § 740 theory, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that an actual violation occurred,
as opposed to merely establishing that the plaintiff possessed a reasonable belief that a
violation occurred[.]” Webb-Weber v. Community Action for Human Servs., Inc., 23 N.Y.
3d 448, 452 (N.Y. 2014). The plaintiff also must prove that the violation was “of the kind
that ‘creates a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.’” Id. at 453
(quoting Remba, 76 N.Y.2d at 802). That version of the statute “ma[de] it quite clear that
it was meant to protect only the reporting of a specific kind of illegal activity, namely, one
that creates and presents a substantial and specif ic danger to the public health and
safety.” Leibowitz v. Bank Leumi Trust Co., 152 A.D.2d 169, 175 (2d Dept. 1989) (internal
quotations omitted). In the medical context, for instance, a Whistleblower Act claim does
not lie when a defendant’s “alleged wrongdoing may have presented a danger to the
health or safety of the individual patient, but did not threaten the health and saf ety of the
public at large.” Kern v. DePaul Mental Health Servs., 152 A.D.2d 957, 957-58 (4 th Dept.
1989); see also, Easterson v. Long Island Jewish Medical Center, 156 A.D.2d 636, 637
(2d Dept. 1989) (“Even assuming that the disclosure of the medical records was in
violation of the cited provisions of the Education Law and regulations, the defendant’s
alleged wrongdoing did not threaten the health or safety of the public at large.”); Coyle v.
College of Westchester, Inc., 166 A.D.2d 722, 723-24 (2d Dept. 2018) (upholding
dismissal of whistleblower claim for failing to allege substantial and specific danger to
public health or safety where plaintiff alleged she had reported concerns that many
County to Nebush, his direct supervisor[.]” Complt. at ¶ 32. Under that version of the
statute, the Plaintiff likely would have stated a claim.
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college faculty were not qualified for their positions and that “admissions advisors were
improperly pressing students to enroll in advanced degree programs for which they were
not qualified.”); Klein v. Metropolitan Child Servs., Inc., 100 A.D.3d 708, 710 (2d Dept.
2012) (alleged conduct that “related mainly to alleged financial improprieties” did not
qualify for whistleblower protection).
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he “identified violations of the Rules of
Professional Conduct and HIPAA occurring within Oneida County to Nebush, his direct
supervisor[.]” Complt. at ¶ 32. These violations were related to information about clients
of the Public Defender’s Office and to improper accessing of such information by
unauthorized county employees. While that conduct may have been egregious and could
have been the subject of discipline from appropriate authorities, the Court must find that
Plaintiff has not alleged conduct that “creates a substantial and specif ic danger to the
public health or safety.” Webb-Weber, 23 N.Y.3d at 452. The conduct did not present a
significant risk of injury to the general public. Under the version of the Whistleblower
statute in place at the time, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim. The Court will grant the
motion in this respect.
Finally, Defendants argue that the law does not permit punitive damages against a
municipality or employees of a municipality sued in their official capacities. They seek
dismissal of any punitive damage claims brought against such Defendants. The Court
agrees and will grant the motion with respect to any claims for punitive damages brought
against the County or any Defendants sued in their official capacities. See New Windsor
Volunteer Ambulance Corps., Inc. v. Meyers, 442 F.3d 101, 122 (2d Cir. 2006)
Case 6:21-cv-00840-TJM-TWD Document 18 Filed 09/19/22 Page 21 of 22
(municipalities are immune from punitive damages, though municipal officials sued in their
individual capacities may be liable for such damages); Matter of Ken Mar Dev., Inc. v.
Department of Pub. Works of City of Saratoga Springs, 53 A.D. 1020, 1025 (3d Dept.
2008) (same under New York law).
Plaintiff’s Request to Amend
As part of his response to Defendants’ motion, Plaintiff included a “notice of
motion,” which purports to seek leave to amend the Complaint. See dkt. # 16-1. Local
Rule 15.1 provides that on a motion to amend or supplement a pleading the proponent of
such a motion “must attach an unsigned copy of the proposed amended pleading to its
motion papers. Except if the Court otherwise orders, the proposed amended pleading
must be a complete pleading, which will supersede the pleading sought to be amended in
all respects.” N.Y.N.D. L.R. 15.1. Plaintiff’s motion did not include this proposed
amended pleading. The motion also failed to follow the format and include the other
papers required by Local Rule 7.1. See N.Y.N.D. L.R. 7.1(b).
The Court will deny the motion for failure to follow the local rules. In any case, the
motion would be largely moot, as the motion was meant to include a statement about the
Notice of Claim. Neither party disputes that Plaintiff filed such a notice in a timely fashion.
The argument in this matter was about whether the notice was adequate. The Court has
resolved that issue.
For the reasons stated above, the Defendants’ motion to dismiss, dkt. # 10, is
hereby GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is hereby GRANTED
Case 6:21-cv-00840-TJM-TWD Document 18 Filed 09/19/22 Page 22 of 22
with respect to Plaintiff’s claims brought against any municipal departments of Oneida
County, fraud claims against Defendant Rayhill, any claims brought pursuant New York
Labor Law § 740, any claims for punitive damages raised against the County of Oneida
and County of Oneida municipal departments and any individual Defendants sued in their
official capacities. The motion is hereby DENIED in all other respects. The Clerk of Court
is directed to terminate Defendants Office of the Oneida County Executive, Office of the
Oneida County Public Defender, and Oneida County Attorney’s Office. Plaintiff’s motion
for leave to file an amended complaint, dkt. # 16, is hereby DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: September 19, 2022
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