The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.
This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Joseph Tauriello's motion for partial summary judgment or, in the alternative, for a preliminary injunction pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c), 56, and 65(a). Also before the Court is Defendants' motion to Compel Specific Performance of the April 6, 2004 Memorandum of Agreement between Plaintiff and Defendant, Township of Edison. Both motions are opposed. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED, summary judgement is GRANTED sua sponte for Defendants, and the Complaint is DISMISSED.
Plaintiff was appointed as an Edison Township (the "Township") police officer in 1987 and, pursuant to the relevant New Jersey statutes and a Collective Bargaining Agreement, he attained permanent status in his position. Through leadership positions including the presidency of his local Policemen's Benevolent Association, Plaintiff became an outspoken critic of the leadership and culture at the Edison police department. He cites a series of incidences between May 2000 and February 2003 as a pattern of departmental retaliation against him for this criticism. On May 23, 2003, Plaintiff was formally charged with insubordination and disrespect of his superiors pursuant to an April 2003 incident; after a hearing, he was found guilty and a tenday suspension was issued on September 19, 2003. He appealed the suspension on November 5, 2003.
On October 19, 2003, Plaintiff was involved in an off-duty incident in which he was accused of assault and filing a false report. On April 1, 2004, following psychological evaluations, Edison Police Chief, Edward Costello, Jr., requested that Plaintiff submit to involuntary retirement with a May 1, 2004 retirement date.
On April 6, 2004, Plaintiff, with attorney and union representation, and Edison Township entered into a Memorandum of Agreement ("MOA") which provided that the Township would apply for, and Plaintiff agreed to accept, an involuntary disability pension; if such a pension was denied, Plaintiff agreed to file for ordinary retirement. The terms of the MOA also required that Plaintiff withdraw his appeal of the May 23, 2003 disciplinary charge, and acknowledge that probable cause existed for all disciplinary charges. The Township agreed to dismiss any other charges against Plaintiff and to close all pending investigations and disciplinary matters.
Pursuant to the MOA, Plaintiff withdrew his appeal of the May 23, 2003 disciplinary charge and, on April 19, 2004, the Township filed an involuntary disability application on behalf of Plaintiff. On April 24, 2004, Plaintiff received a letter from the State of New Jersey Department of Treasury informing him of the Township's filing.
On June 11, 2004, the Township filed disciplinary charges against Plaintiff related to the October 2003 incident; Plaintiff's attorney responded to the charges by letter dated June 14, 2004 but did not at that point assert that the Township's charges breached the MOA. A hearing was never scheduled and these charges were not pursued by the Township.
By letter dated November 9, 2004, the Township was informed that Plaintiff's disability retirement was denied. On November 12, 2004, the Township informed Plaintiff in writing of this denial and requested that Plaintiff move to file for service retirement by November 19, 2004, pursuant to the MOA.
Plaintiff did not so file and in a December 2, 2004 letter, The Township informed Plaintiff that he was removed from payroll effective the same date. Plaintiff responded through his attorney in a December 30, 2004 letter that his removal from payroll was illegal and demanded immediate return to full pay status. This letter also asserted that the Township's filing of the June 11th disciplinary charges violated the MOA. Finally, Plaintiff stated that any application on his part for retirement benefits should not be seen as a waiver of his position that he was entitled to return of full pay status retroactive to December 2, 2004. To that end, on March 14, 2005, Plaintiff's retirement application was approved effective February 1, 2005.
On June 8, 2005, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in New Jersey Superior Court. On August 11, 2005, Defendants removed the Complaint to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
The Complaint holds Six Counts as follows:
Counts I and III are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Due Process violations related to his dismissal and free speech and association violations related to his activities at the Policemen's Benevolent Association; Counts II, IV and VI allege wrongful termination, breach of contract and negligence related to his termination; Count V alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Plaintiff seeks reinstatement to the Edison police force and compensatory damages including, but not limited to, back pay, punitive damages and fees.
Plaintiff filed his motion for partial summary judgment or, in the alternative, preliminary injunctive relief on December 2, 2005 alleging that, regardless of the MOA, he has a due process property interest in his employment precluding his removal without a hearing. He further seeks an order that he be reinstated with back pay until the final adjudication of this litigation.
Defendants filed their motion to compel specific performance of the MOA on December 2, 2005. The Court heard oral arguments on February 15, 2006 and on February 27, 2006 granted Defendant's oral application to amend their Answer to include a separate defense asserting that their entitlement to specific performance of the MOA renders the Complaint moot.
I. Standard for Summary Judgment ...