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Goodmann v. Hasbrouck Heights School District

June 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pisano, District Judge


Plaintiff brought this action against defendant Hasbrouck Heights School District ("HHSD") for breach of contract, wrongful discharge and violation of due process arising from Plaintiff's termination from his position as a chemistry teacher. Plaintiff also brought a claim for violation of due process against Alan C. Stephens, a New Jersey Deputy Attorney General, who represented the New Jersey Department of Labor in proceedings in the New Jersey Superior Court relating to Plaintiff's claim for unemployment compensation. HHSD has counterclaimed in this action for attorneys fees, alleging this action is frivolous. HHSD also filed a third party complaint against Plaintiff's father, Arthur Goodmann, for intentional interference with a contractual relationship, fraud, contribution and indemnification based upon an email that Arthur Goodmann allegedly authored and sent to the school district that purported to be Plaintiff's resignation.

Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by HHSD and Third Party Defendant Arthur Goodmann. The Court decides the matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, HHSD's motion is granted in part and denied in part. In granting in part HHSD's motion, the Court dismisses all claims over which it had original jurisdiction and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims in this matter. Therefore, Plaintiff's complaint and HHSD's third party complaint are dismissed in their entirety. Third Party Defendant Arthur Goodmann's motion is dismissed as moot.

I. Background

This case arises from the termination of pro se*fn1 Plaintiff's employment in early 2003 as a teacher in the Hasbrouck Heights School District. Plaintiff, Adam Goodmann, was hired as a full-time chemistry teacher by HHSD in July of 2002. The parties entered into an employment contract dated July 25, 2002, pursuant to which Plaintiff was to teach in the district's public schools from September 1, 2002 through June 30, 2002. Certification of Donald T. Okner ("Okner Cert.") at Ex. D. This contract provided that either party could terminate the contract upon 60 days written notice. Id.

Shortly after signing the contract, Plaintiff commenced his preparation for the school year. Transcript of the Deposition of Adam Goodmann ("Goodmann Dep.") at 119 attached as Ex. C to Okner Cert. Plaintiff taught five high school chemistry classes at Hasbrouck Heights High School. Three of these classes were college preparatory, one was honors, and one was college chemistry. HHSD's Responses to Requests for Admissions in Plaintiff's Appendix at S12.

Peter O'Hare was the principal at the high school at which Plaintiff taught and was in charge of reviewing the performance of the faculty members. Id. at S22. Beginning in approximately November 2002, O'Hare discussed with Plaintiff the need for improvement in his teaching performance. O'Hare Dep. at 159. Areas for improvement included classroom management, connecting with students and questioning techniques. Id. According to O'Hare, these were common problems with new teachers who have difficulty getting started. Id.

In February 2003, Principal O'Hare conducted a "longitudinal observation" of Plaintiff's teaching performance, during which he spent 3 days observing Plaintiff in class. See Plaintiff's Appendix to Opposition Brief at F1-F3. In O'Hare's subsequent written evaluation dated March 5, 2003, O'Hare deemed Plaintiff's overall teaching performance as "unsatisfactory." Id. at F3. Plaintiff disputed the principal's assessment and prepared a written response to the evaluation dated March 6, 2003, in which Plaintiff commented on the observed classes and stated his belief that "these three lessons were successfully carried forward and were well received." Id. at F5.

On March 18, 2003, Plaintiff met with O'Hare to discuss the evaluation. The parties each have differing versions of what happened at this meeting. At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that O'Hare fired him at the March 18th meeting, allegedly telling Plaintiff that March 19th would be Plaintiff's "last day of work." Goodmann Dep. at 141. According to Plaintiff, he did not appear for work any day after March 19, 2003, because he believed his employment to be terminated after that date. Id. at 128-129. However, O'Hare testified that he simply advised Plaintiff at the meeting on March 18th that if Plaintiff's performance did not improve, Plaintiff would not be hired back for the following year. Deposition of Peter O'Hare ("O'Hare Dep.") at 160, attached as Ex. F to Okner Cert.

The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff came to school and taught all of his classes on March 19, 2003, and did not return to work after that date. Goodmann Dep. at 129. During Plaintiff's absence from school during the period March 20, 2003 to March 27, 2003, O'Hare attempted to contact Plaintiff at home by telephone. See Deposition of Arthur Goodmann ("Arthur Dep.") at 21 attached to Okner Cert. at Ex. K. O'Hare was never able to reach Plaintiff, but rather spoke to Plaintiff's father, Third-Party Defendant Arthur Goodmann ("Arthur"), who resided with Plaintiff. Id. On one such call, Arthur advised O'Hare that Plaintiff was home but did not want to come to the phone. Id. According to O'Hare, he asked Arthur why Plaintiff was not coming to school and Arthur replied that Plaintiff was ill.*fn2

O'Hare Dep. at 98. O'Hare told Arthur that "he needed to have a chemistry teacher and he was anxious to have Adam come to school." Arthur Dep. at 21. O'Hare also advised Arthur that if Plaintiff wanted to resume teaching, he would have to bring in a doctor's note, id., presumably to excuse his absence, which, according to school attendance records, was recorded as sick leave. Okner Cert. at Ex. I.

HHSD's Superintendent of Schools, Joseph Luongo, also attempted to reach Plaintiff by phone during this time and spoke to Arthur as well. Arthur Dep. at 24. Like O'Hare, Luongo asked to speak to Plaintiff directly but was told by Arthur that Plaintiff did not want to speak to Luongo. Deposition of Joseph Luongo ("Luongo Dep.") at 63 attached to Okner Cert. at Ex. G. Luongo testified that he inquired when Plaintiff would be returning to work and discussed resignation and termination as options in the event Plaintiff did not return to work. Luongo Dep. at 64, 65-66. This is disputed by Arthur, who stated in a declaration that "Mr. Luongo made clear that it was not an option for my son to return to work." Declaration of Arthur Goodmann at ¶ 7, attached as Ex. 10 to Amended Complaint. Arthur also asserts that Luongo gave him an ultimatum with regard to Plaintiff's employment, namely, that Plaintiff could either resign or his employment would be terminated. Arthur Dep at 27-28. According to Arthur, Luongo told him that resignation "would be in [Plaintiff's] interests" as opposed to termination, which would "negatively affect his record." Arthur Dep. at 27.

On March 26, 2003, shortly after Luongo spoke to Arthur, Luongo received an email purporting to be Plaintiff's resignation from his teaching position. Okner Cert. at Ex. L. The email began "Dear Mr. Luongo"*fn3 and stated as follows: "I am resigning my position as Chemistry teacher at Hasbrouck Heights high school for personal reasons, effective immediately." The email is signed "Sincerely, Adam M. Goodmann." Id. Thereafter, Luongo drafted a resolution accepting Plaintiff's resignation to be voted on at the next meeting of the Board of Education. Luongo Dep. at 69. The resolution, Resolution No. 3-393-03, approving the resignation of Plaintiff as of March 26, 2003, was passed by the Board on March 27, 2003. Okner Cert. at Ex. N; Ex. 6 to Amended Complaint.

Allegedly unknown to Luongo at the time he received the resignation, the email purporting to be Plaintiff's resignation was actually drafted and sent by Arthur without the knowledge of Plaintiff. Arthur Dep. at 31. According to Arthur, he sent the email "in response to Mr. Luongo's suggestion that it would be in [his] son's best interest to resign because he would not have a termination on his record." Id. Arthur did not tell Plaintiff that he sent the email until "quite a while after" it was sent, "maybe weeks after." Id.

On April 7, 2003, Plaintiff sent a letter to Superintendent Luongo asking for "written confirmation of both [Mr. Luongo's] and Mr. O'Hare's action to fire [Plaintiff] from Hasbrouck Heights High School" and further asking to be "advise[d] of the date on which [Plaintiff's] employment was terminated." Ex. 5 to Amended Complaint. Luongo's letter in response to Plaintiff attached a copy of the email Luongo received and advised that Plaintiff's "resignation was accepted at the Board of Education meeting held on March 27, 2003." Ex. 6 to Amended Complaint.

On November 30, 2004, Plaintiff filed his complaint against HHSD alleging that he was terminated without proper notice and without a meaningful opportunity to contest the termination decision. The complaint alleged breach of contract, wrongful discharge and a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. On August 25, 2005, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint repeating the allegations set forth in his original complaint. On September 20, 2005, HHSD filed its Answer to the Amended Complaint, Third Party Complaint and Counterclaim. The Third Party Complaint brought against Plaintiff's father contains the following counts: (1) intentional interference with a contractual relationship; (2) fraud and deceit; (3) ...

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