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Hartman v. Town of Stoughton

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

July 26, 2017

Michael J. Hartman
v.
Town of Stoughton et al

          Filed July 26, 2017

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          Michael D. Ricciuti, Justice

         Plaintiff Michael J. Hartman brings suit against the Town of Stoughton and the members of its board of Selectmen (collectively, the " Town"), alleging that he was not validly terminated from his position as Stoughton Town Manager and has been wrongfully prevented from performing his duties. Before the Court is Hartman's motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking to restrain and enjoin the Town from preventing Hartman from performing his duties as Town Manager unless and until he is dismissed from that position in accordance with Article 4, § C4-1, of the Town Charter.

         In consideration of the parties' memoranda of law and oral arguments, and for the reasons that follow, Hartman's motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED.

         FACTS

         The following relevant facts are alleged by Hartman or revealed in the records submitted by the parties, concerning which there appears to be no dispute.

         By an employment agreement dated October 30, 2012, Hartman was engaged for a three-year period to serve as Town Manager for the Town. By a subsequent employment agreement dated April 1, 2014 (" the 2014 Agreement"), Hartman's employment as Town Manager was extended until June 30, 2017.

         Section 3 of the 2014 Agreement set forth Hartman's term of employment as running from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017. Section 1 of the 2014 Agreement stated:

The Town Manager agrees to continue employment until June 30, 2017 . . . unless termination or resignation is effected as provided in Section 14 below. Should the Town fail to notify the Town Manager that the agreement will not be extended within six (6) months of the expiration of the Agreement, then the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect for another one (1) year term and all compensation and benefits shall remain in effect.

         Section 14 of the 2014 Agreement, entitled " Termination, " outlined the steps that Hartman agreed to follow to resign his position, but added " [n]otwithstanding any provision of this Agreement, the Town Manager shall serve at the will of the Board of Selectman and may be discharged from his employment in accordance with Section C4-1 of the Town Charter of Stoughton." In the event Hartman was discharged by the Town without cause, the Town was obligated to pay him six months' salary.

          Article 4, § C4-1, of the Town Charter, states:

The Town Manager shall serve at the will of the Selectman except that a vote of a majority, plus one, of the full membership of Selectmen shall be required to discharge him. In the event of a discharge, he may request a public hearing at which hearing the Selectmen must set forth their reasons for discharging him and he may respond to those reasons if he desires.

         On December 15, 2016, more than six months before the 2014 Agreement was to expire on June 30, 2017, the Selectman notified Hartman by letter that the 2014 Agreement would not be extended beyond June 30, 2017 (" December 2016 Notice"). The December 2016 Notice expressly added that, " [c]onsequently, please note that your employment with the Town will terminate on that date, unless sooner terminated by you or the Town in accordance with the Employment Agreement." Nothing in the letter suggested that Hartman was discharged, with or without cause. Indeed, the December 2016 Notice was the result of a meeting of the Board of Selectmen ...


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