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Jones v. City of Atlantic City

March 17, 2008

RODNEY JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendant City of Atlantic City's (the "City") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 10.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the City's motion.

I.

The factual background of this case is provided in an Opinion of the Court entered on December 19, 2007.*fn1 (Docket No. 13.) As a result of that Opinion, Defendant American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO Local 2303 was dismissed from the case. In addition, the Court dismissed Count One of Plaintiff's Complaint alleging breach of contract against the City. The City's present motion seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's two remaining claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) that the City deprived Plaintiff of his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights (Compl. Count III); and (2) that the City deprived Plaintiff of his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights (Compl. Count IV). The following additional facts are relevant to the City's motion.

The City initially hired Plaintiff as a "Truck Driver" on March 20, 2006. (Pl's Ex. A.) Less than one month later Plaintiff's job title was changed to a "Motor Broom Operator," and he received a six percent increase in his salary. (Pl's Ex. B.) The City terminated Plaintiff by letter on October 18, 2006, but did not provide him with an explanation as to the basis for his termination. (Df's Ex. B.) The primary dispute between the parties is whether Plaintiff was a "permanent employee," thereby providing him a property interest entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, or whether his appointment was merely "provisional," entitling him to no due process rights.

II.

"Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). "'With respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas, 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

III.

42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn2 provides a remedy for the deprivation of rights established by the Constitution or federal laws. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). "In order to establish a section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law."*fn3 Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff alleges that his procedural and substantive due process rights, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, were violated. The City argues that no such violations occurred as a matter of law. The Court will first address Plaintiff's procedural due process claim, and then it will discuss his substantive due process claim.

A.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." "One who has been dismissed from public employment must make two showings to establish that the dismissal violated [procedural] due process: (1) that the dismissal deprived him of a property or liberty interest, and (2) that the employer did not afford him adequate procedural protections in connection with the action."*fn4

Richardson v. Felix, 856 F.2d 505, 507 (3d Cir. 1988). "The 'property' interests protected by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment 'are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law-rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits.'" Id. at 507-08 (quoting Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)).

In arguing that Plaintiff did not have a property interest in his employment, the City looks to the New Jersey Civil Service Act (the "Act"), N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 11A:1-1 to 12-6, which governs public employment in the state of New Jersey. The Act establishes a principal department in the state's executive branch, known as the Department of Personnel ("DOP"), which serves to enforce the Act. Id. §§ 11A:2-1 to -2. In addition, the New Jersey Administrative Code ("NJAC") provides rules "to establish a personnel system that provides a fair balance between ...


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