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Mawhinney v. Bennett

June 22, 2010

EDMUND K. MAWHINNEY AND MICHAEL V. FRANCESCO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KEVIN A. BENNETT, INDIVIDUALLY, DOMENIC CAPPELLA, INDIVIDUALLY: AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE ATLANTIC CITY BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR AND/OR ASSISTANT: BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR, AND THE ATLANTIC CITY VULCANS, ATLANTIC CITY CHAPTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACK PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY, AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiffs, Edmund K. Mawhinney and Michael V. Francesco (or, collectively "plaintiffs"), filed a complaint in this Court against Kevin A. Bennett, a captain of the Atlantic City Fire Department and the President of the Atlantic City Chapter of the Vulcans Organization; Domenic Cappella, the Business Administrator and, later, the Assistant Business Administrator for the City of Atlantic City; the City of Atlantic City ("City"); and the Atlantic City Vulcans ("Vulcans"), a chapter and member of the International Association of Black Firefighters. Relevant to this Opinion, plaintiffs allege in their complaint that Bennett tortiously interfered with their economic advantages and defamed them.

Bennett has moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against him. For the reasons set forth below, Bennett's Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiffs set forth a federal civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state law claims in accordance with New Jersey law. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal civil rights claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Further, this Court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' related state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff, Edmund Mawhinney, was a firefighter with the

Atlantic City Fire Department ("ACFD") from August 29, 1979 until September 19, 2006. At the time of his termination in September 2006, Mawhinney held the rank of captain. Plaintiff, Michael Francesco, has been a firefighter with the ACFD since April 28, 1998 and currently holds the rank of captain. Plaintiffs are Caucasians.

On December 30, 2005, plaintiffs each filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, naming as a defendant, among others, the City. In their respective complaints, plaintiffs maintained that they were the targets of disciplinary actions and other adverse treatment because they recommended disciplinary action against Ricky Williams, an African-American firefighter with the ACFD, who purportedly violated ACFD rules and regulations.

On May 7, 2007, several months after he had been terminated from his job, Mawhinney filed an amended complaint in the Superior Court, adding Bennett and Williams as defendants. In the amended complaint, Mawhinney claimed that Bennett and Williams brought frivolous charges of racial discrimination against him, resulting in his wrongful termination. Mawhinney also alleged that "[a]ny charge[s] against Bennett or Williams were dismissed, without investigation, because of their race," and, again, that Williams had never been disciplined for his infractions. On the contrary, Mawhinney averred that an African-American city official, responsible for investigating allegations made against him, "influenced and/or misrepresented the testimony of witnesses she interviewed in order to reach a racially motivated pre-determined conclusion of guilt against Mawhinney based on the charges made by Williams."*fn2

Plaintiffs' state court actions were settled, respectively. However, on July 3, 2008, plaintiffs jointly filed a complaint in this Court. In response, the City and the Vulcans filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against them. On January 11, 2010, the Court granted the City's motion based on the entire controversy doctrine, but denied the Vulcans' request that the Court refrain from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over related state law claims.

Following the submission of the City's and the Vulcans' motions, Bennett moved for dismissal of all claims against him. The following facts are germane to plaintiffs' federal action and the disposition of the present matter.

A. Edmund K. Mawhinney

On September 19, 2006, Mawhinney was terminated as a result of accusations of racism made by Bennett and Williams. A week later, he appealed the termination to the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL"), averring that any allegations of racial misconduct were false. Several of the disciplinary charges against Mawhinney were subsequently dismissed by the OAL judge.

In December 2007, the City and Mawhinney agreed to enter into a settlement whereby the City would dismiss all disciplinary charges against Mawhinney, reinstate him, make payment of back pay and benefits totaling $199,148.44, and allow for his retirement with an application for pension and the provision of health care coverage for him and his wife. The parties agreed that the settlement agreement was to remain confidential and that it would be presented to City Council for final approval on December 28, 2007.

Prior to the City Council meeting, Bennett contacted a local radio station and, while on the air, disclosed the terms of the settlement agreement and restated his accusations of Mawhinney's racist conduct. In response, Mawhinney filed a complaint with the ACFD, outlining Bennett's behavior and noting that it constituted a violation of both the settlement agreement and the ACFD's rules and regulations.

On December 28, 2007, Bennett left the firehouse to attend the City Council meeting at which the settlement agreement between Mawhinney and the City would be addressed. Although Bennett was not authorized to leave his workplace and did not secure proper relief, he received only a minor disciplinary action in the form of a reprimand. At the City Council meeting, Bennett attempted to persuade the Council to reject the settlement agreement because Mawhinney had committed a racist act. In support of his advocation, Bennett rallied a group of African-Americans, including Vulcans, to attend the meeting, and displayed and discussed a confidential document which purportedly featured the City's conclusion that Mawhinney had committed a racist act. In addition, ...


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