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O'Rourke v. Hampshire Council of Governments

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 29, 2017

JOHN P. O'ROURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
HAMPSHIRE COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS; WILLIAM R. BARNETT, in his Official Capacity as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Hampshire Council of Governments; EILEEN STEWART, in her Official Capacity as Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Hampshire Council Of Governments; CAROL P. CONSTANT, in her Official Capacity as a member of the Executive Committee of the Hampshire Council of Governments; MICHAEL P. SARSYNSKI, JR., in his Official Capacity as a member of the Executive Committee of the Hampshire Council of Governments; GEORGE A. SYMBORSKI, in his Official Capacity as a member of the Executive Committee of the Hampshire Council of Governments; TODD D. FORD, in his Official Capacity as Executive Director of the Hampshire Council of Governments, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DEFENDANTS' CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NOS. 36, 39, 68)

          MARK G. MASTROIANNI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         John P. O'Rourke (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se, brings the present action against the Hampshire Council of Governments (“Council”) and the following members of its board in their official capacity: William R. Barnett, Eileen Stewart, Carol P. Constant, Michael P. Sarsynski, George A. Symborski, and Todd D. Ford (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff asserts federal, state, constitutional, and statutory claims arising from the Council's decision to terminate him from his position as Director of Electricity on August 19, 2013. Plaintiff and Defendants have filed cross motions for summary judgment.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants on December 26, 2014 after being terminated from his position as Director of the Council's Electricity Department (“Department”) without notice or a hearing. (See Dkt. No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges the following: (1) Defendants deprived him of his property rights and right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and analogous provisions of the Massachusetts constitution by terminating him without a hearing (Count I), (id. ¶¶ 61-65); (2) Defendants breached Plaintiff's employment contract by firing him without cause and in a manner inconsistent with the Council's Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual (“Personnel Manual”) (Count II), (id. ¶¶ 66-70); (3) Defendants violated Massachusetts's Open Meeting Law (“OML”) by improperly conducting closed sessions without affording Plaintiff the requisite procedural safeguards (Count III), (id. ¶¶ 71-72); and (4) Defendants conspired to violate Plaintiff's due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 (Count IV). (Id. ¶¶ 73-77.)

         On April 2, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Dkt. No. 15, Mot. to Dismiss.) Defendants argued: (1) Plaintiff's due process claims (Counts I and IV) must be dismissed “because Plaintiff was an employee at will and did not have a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment, ” (id. at 2); (2) Plaintiff's breach of contract claim (Count II) must be dismissed “because Plaintiff's employment agreement with the Council did not set out a definite term of employment and accordingly, was terminable at will, ” (id.); and (3) Plaintiff's OML claim (Count III) must be dismissed “because the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring such a claim.” (Id.) Plaintiff opposed the motion, (see Dkt. No. 20, Mem. in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss), and it was taken under advisement without a hearing. (See Dkt. No. 22.)

         In a published opinion, this court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Counts I, II, and IV, and dismissed Count III without prejudice.[1] See O'Rourke v. Hampshire Council of Govt's, 121 F.Supp.3d 264 (D. Mass. 2015). On February 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims (Counts I, II, IV). (Dkt. No. 36.) On March 11, 2016, Defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 39.)

         III. Factual Background

         The parties are familiar with the facts of the case, which are set forth in detail in this court's prior decision on Defendants' motion to dismiss and Judge Robertson's R&R. The court therefore begins its discussion with the standard of review.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper where a movant succeeds in demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A fact is material if it has the capacity to “sway the outcome of the litigation, ” Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008), and presents a genuine issue if it could persuade a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law where the nonmovant “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. In evaluating the facts adduced, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). “The standards are the same where . . . both parties have moved for summary judgment. ‘The court must rule on each party's motion on an individual and separate basis, determining, for each side, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the Rule 56 standard.'” Bienkowski v. Northeastern Univ., 285 F.3d 138, 140 (1st Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         An objecting party is entitled to de novo review of an R&R. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673-74 (1980).

         V. Analysis

         The court will adopt Judge Robertson's well-considered R&R in full despite Plaintiff and Defendants' objections, ...


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