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Theodore Connolly v. County of Hudson

June 20, 2011

THEODORE CONNOLLY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF HUDSON, ROBERT B. KNAPP, INDIVIDUALLY, AND JUAN M. PEREZ, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on motion for summary judgment by Defendant Juan M. Perez ("Perez") [docket entry 18] and cross-motions for summary judgment by Defendants Robert B. Knapp ("Knapp") [docket entry 19] and County of Hudson ("Hudson County") (collectively, "Defendants") [docket entry 23]. Plaintiff Theodore Connolly ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motions. The Court has opted to rule based on the papers submitted and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, this Court grants Defendants' motions for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Hatch Act. The remaining claims against the Defendants arise under New Jersey state law and the Court will dismiss them without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Thus, the portions of Defendants' motions for summary judgment dealing with Plaintiff's claims under state law will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

This action was initiated by Theodore Connolly after he was transferred from his position as a 911 Coordinator for Hudson County to a Communications Operator in the Kearny Jail. Plaintiff was employed as Coordinator until August 2008 when he took medical leave per the Family and Medical Leave Act due to his major depressive disorder and attempted suicide. Throughout Plaintiff's treatment during his leave, he discussed with his doctors his desire not to return to the Coordinator position. Subsequently, in February 2009, Plaintiff spoke to Hudson County Personnel Director, Patrick Shiel ("Shiel"), about his return to work at the expiration of his leave of absence. During that conversation Shiel informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff's psychiatrist, Dr. Finklestein, opined that Plaintiff should not return to work as a 911 Coordinator because the position was too stressful for Plaintiff to handle. Shiel informed Plaintiff that, based on his doctor's recommendation, he would not be restored to the Coordinator position and upon his return to work on March 16, 2009, Plaintiff was transferred to the Hudson County Corrections Department where he began work as a Communications Operator. Plaintiff contends that this transfer amounted to discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff also avers claims under the Hatch Act and similar laws regarding political activities. In connection with these claims, Plaintiff alleges that he was removed from his position as 911 Coordinator after he refused to sell ten tickets at Defendant Knapp's request for a political fundraiser for Defendant Perez. Furthermore, Plaintiff contends that Defendants Perez and Knapp engaged in political activities during working hours, coerced subordinates to support political candidates, and used Hudson County equipment in order to campaign and support Defendant Perez's campaign. Lastly, Plaintiff asserts common law claims of defamation and invasion of privacy against Defendant Knapp.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

"When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must show that, on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991)). "[W]ith 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." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). "[U]nsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). "A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial." Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001).

If the nonmoving party has failed "to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, . . . there can be 'no genuine issue of material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).

B. Discussion

1. Family and Medical Leave Act Claim Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a claim against Defendant Hudson County for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601. The Act's dual purposes are to "balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families" and "to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons." 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(1)-(2). To accomplish these goals, the FMLA contains two distinct types of provisions. The first, a series of prescriptive substantive rights for eligible employees, is often referred to as the "entitlement" or "interference" provisions. See Churchill v. Star Enters., 183 F.3d 184, 192 (3d Cir. 1999). Eligible employees are "entitled to a total of twelve workweeks of leave during any twelve-month period" if the employee has a "serious health condition." 29 U.S.C. ยง 2612(a)(1)(D). Furthermore, following a qualified absence, the employee is entitled to reinstatement to the former position or an equivalent one. 29 ...


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