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Yourga v. City of Northampton

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 18, 2018

CITY OF NORTHAMPTON, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the court on a motion by plaintiff Jonathan Yourga (“Plaintiff”) for leave to amend his complaint (“Plaintiff's Motion”). The defendants oppose the motion. The court heard argument from the parties on October 1, 2018, and, for the reasons set forth below, DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for leave to amend his complaint on the ground of futility.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint in the Superior Court Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court. On October 6, 2016, the defendants removed the case to this court and responded to the initial complaint by a motion to dismiss (Dkt. Nos. 1, 7). On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint which was subject to a renewed motion to dismiss by the defendants (Dkt. Nos. 17, 20). The presiding District Judge's Memorandum and Order Regarding Defendants' Motion to Dismiss summarized the factual allegations in the amended complaint as follows:

Plaintiff began working at [Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School] fulltime as an instructor in the automotive department in 1993. During 2014, his employment was governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the Trustees and the Northampton Association of School Employees, Unit D, which was in effect from July 1, 2013 through June 20, 2016. Pursuant to the CBA, Plaintiff had a three year term of employment during the period covered by the CBA and could not “be disciplined, receive a written reprimand, be reduced in rank or salary, suspended or terminated without just cause.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 10 (quoting the CBA).)
In the spring of 2014, a female student complained to a school staff member that Plaintiff favored male students and had invited a male student, rather than the complaining student, to attend an out-of-school event. Though Plaintiff had previously taken a female student to a similar event, he was placed on paid administrative leave on April 8, 2014 solely on the basis of that one complaint. Although the complaint concerned gender bias, rather than a safety or criminal issue, Jeffrey Peterson, the School's Superintendent, involved the School's Director of Security, Kevin Brown (“Brown”), in the investigation and gave Brown access to Plaintiff's confidential personnel file. Plaintiff's confidential personnel file contained information about Plaintiff's receipt in 2006 of a 1985 Pontiac Parisienne. The owner had offered the car for free in the local paper and Plaintiff had responded. At the time, questions arose about whether the owner intended to give the car to Plaintiff personally or for the use of the [S]chool. A previous superintendent had investigated the incident, found no wrongdoing, and documented that finding in Plaintiff's confidential personnel file. In 2011, Plaintiff again personally accepted a vehicle. Due to its condition, that vehicle, a 1998 Nissan Altima which had been owned by a teacher at the School, was unsuitable for acceptance as a donation by the School.
On May 1, 2014, Brown and other administrators interviewed Plaintiff. During this interview Plaintiff was asked about matters unrelated to the gender bias complaint that was the stated basis for the investigation. He was not asked about his acceptance of vehicles in either 2006 or 2011. The following day, Brown, referring to Plaintiff, told another school administrator, “I think we got him.” Less than a week later, on May 7, 2014, Brown contacted a Northampton Police Department detective and reported as larcenies Plaintiff's 2006 receipt of the 1985 Pontiac and 2011 receipt of the 1998 Nissan. The Northampton Police Department (the “NPD”) obtained a search warrant and executed it, unannounced, at 8:25 pm on Friday May 21, 2014. They seized the 1998 Nissan. In communications with the NPD, Peterson and Brown made statements to the effect that Plaintiff had “been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation by the school regarding conduct with female teachers and students.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) The statements were recorded in a police report and reported in the media. Plaintiff was eventually charged with two counts of felony larceny. The case went to trial and Plaintiff was found not guilty as to both charges in January of 2015, though the charge related to the 2006 vehicle transfer was found to be barred by the statute of limitations.
Two days after the NPD executed the search warrant, Peterson, citing the larceny investigation, issued a notice suspending Plaintiff without pay, effective May 28, 2014. Under the CBA, Plaintiff had a right to grieve his suspension and a grievance meeting was scheduled for June 3, 2014. Peterson pressured Plaintiff to resign rather than pursue his grievance, insinuating that a resignation would better protect Plaintiff's retirement benefits. Plaintiff resigned his position the day before the grievance meeting.

Yourga v. City of Northampton, No. 16-cv-30167-MGM, slip op. at **2-4 (D. Mass. Mar. 10, 2017).

         Plaintiff's amended complaint contained 28 counts, of which one, Count II, is relevant to Plaintiff's present motion. Count II, brought against the Trustees of the School and the City of Northampton, alleged a violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 (“Section 1983”) (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 65-73). As a basis for liability, Plaintiff alleged that the Trustees failed to monitor and control Peterson and that this failure amounted to a custom and policy that resulted in harm to Plaintiff and deprived him of his constitutional right to due process, the protection of his reputation, his right of privacy, and protection from malicious prosecution (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50, 66-67). The presiding District Judge dismissed Count II against the Trustees and the City on the ground that Plaintiff had “failed to allege facts demonstrating, or providing a reasonable basis to infer, [that] the Trustees made. . . a deliberate choice with respect to their oversight of Peterson in the spring of 2014.” Yourga, No. 16-cv-30167-MGM, slip op. at 10.

         Plaintiff did not file a proposed second amended complaint with the instant motion. Instead, Exhibit A to Plaintiff's Motion sets out an unnumbered count, either to replace Count II or to be added as an additional count to the amended complaint, stating claims against the Trustees and the City of Northampton for violation of Section 1983. The defendants oppose Plaintiff's Motion on the grounds, inter alia, of futility (Dkt. No. 121).

         III. Discussion

         1. Stand ...

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