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Farneski v. County of Hunterdon

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 9, 2013

Jeffrey FARNESKI, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF HUNTERDON, Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor, The State of New Jersey, Patrick Barnes, and Daniel Hurley, Defendants.

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William J. Courtney, Law Offices of William J. Courtney, Flemington, NJ, for Plaintiff.

Robert J. Greenbaum, Greenbaum & Flanagan, LLC, Roseland, NJ, for Defendants County of Hunterdon and Daniel Hurley.

John R. Parker, Law Offices of John R. Parker, LLC, Flemington, NJ, for Defendants Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor and Patrick Barnes.

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

This matter arises from Plaintiff Jeffrey Farneski's suit against Defendants Hunterdon County, Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor (" HCPO" ), Patrick Barnes, and Daniel Hurley for violation of his civil rights and retaliation during his employment with HCPO. Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants HCPO and Barnes (Dkt. No. 70) and the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Hunterdon County and Hurley (Dkt. No. 71).[1] For the reasons discussed below, summary judgment will be granted in favor of the Defendants on all counts.

I.

For the purposes of these Motions, the Court resolves any factual disputes in favor of the Plaintiff, Jeffrey Farneski.[2] As the events discussed here span a period of over eight years, the Court will focus on only those facts relevant to the instant Motions.

Farneski has been working for the Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor (" HCPO" ) since November 10, 1986. (CSMF1 [3] ¶ 1) HCPO is an autonomous unit within Hunterdon County over which the County has some budgetary control. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office retains prosecutorial oversight of HCPO. (Hunterdon's Statement of Fact [4] 6)

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Farneski was promoted twice between 1986 and 1995, achieving the rank of Detective Sergeant. He is the longest serving detective in HCPO. (CSMF1 ¶ 2)

Defendant Patrick Barnes became the Prosecutor of Hunterdon County in 2003 and remained in that capacity until May 6, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 4) During his tenure, Barnes's behavior in the workplace was volatile and disruptive. He was prone to verbal outbursts and once punched a filing cabinet. ( Id. ¶¶ 5-6)

Barnes also had clear favorites in the office, which he demonstrated through his repeated references to " The Nine." ( Id. ¶ 9) The Nine consisted of a group of workers who Barnes felt were loyal to him and on whom he could rely. ( Id. ) Although it is not clear exactly who the Nine were, Defendant Hurley, Kristen Larsen, Linda Fabiano, Sam DeBella, Chelsea Barnes, and Ryan Neiber were likely included in this group. ( Id. ¶ 10) Barnes consistently indicated his preference for the Nine, telling them that they were the best and " fuck the rest." ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11) Barnes also appeared to have a particular attachment to Linda Fabiano and gave her preferential treatment. ( Id. ¶ 12) Farneski was not one of the Nine, and Barnes did not like Farneski. ( Id. ¶¶ 8-10, 13)

In 2004, Farneski reviewed Fabiano's time sheets and discovered that they showed that Fabiano had worked on days when she was not there. ( Id. ¶¶ 15-16) Farneski reported these falsifications to Ken Harding, who was Chief of Detectives at the time, and later reported the falsifications to Chief Frank Simonetta, who succeeded Harding in 2005. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-17) According to Farneski, he was instructed to ignore the falsifications and sign the time sheets. When he refused to do so, Barnes ordered that Farneski receive a formal reprimand. This reprimand indicated that Farneski had been unwilling to assist or cooperate with Fabiano. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19)

After the incident, Barnes promoted Fabiano to Detective Sergeant, the same rank as Farneski, and gave her some of Farneski's job duties. ( Id. ¶ 20) In September 2005, around the time he reported Fabiano's time sheets, Farneski was asked to prepare a memo about the investigation of a reported drug overdose. Barnes and Simonetta demanded that Farneski make changes to the memo that Farneski felt were both inaccurate and blamed him for his actions. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 22-24) According to Farneski, Simonetta threatened Farneski with termination unless he signed the memo. ( Id. ¶ 25) Soon after this incident, Farneski was denied a request for three days of vacation time. ( Id. ¶ 26) He was not aware of any such request being denied prior to that. ( Id. )

In June 2005, Farneski became aware that Fabiano and other investigators had made inappropriate comments about gay men in general and certain staff members in particular that were inadvertently recorded on a witness interview tape. After discovering that the evidence custodian had reported their comments, Fabiano decided to alter the tape before it was sent out in discovery. ( Id. ¶¶ 27-28) Believing that Fabiano's actions violated the County Harassment Policy and Attorney General Guidelines, Farneski reported the incident to Simonetta, who refused to accept the complaint. ( Id. ¶¶ 29-30)

Sometime after he reported the alteration, Farneski was transferred from the major crimes unit to the terrorism unit. ( Id. ¶ 31) Although it is unclear exactly when the transfer took place, it occurred before January 2007. (HCPO's Ex. N 131:17-20) Barnes created the terrorism unit, and it was important to him. ( Id. 125:13-15, 126:1-2)

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In late 2005 or early 2006, Barnes promoted Roy Aycock to Lieutenant when Farneski should have been promoted instead. ( Id. ¶ 20) At the time, Fabiano told Farneski, " If you only left me alone about my time sheets you wouldn't be in this position." ( Id. ¶ 21)

On January 12, 2006, Barnes and Farneski had an altercation. Barnes yelled at Farneski and hit Farneski's face with his head, leaving a visible red mark. ( Id. ¶¶ 35-41) In response to this incident, Farneski obtained an attorney, Brian Sige, who filed two formal complaint letters on Farneski's behalf. ( Id. ¶¶ 42-44) Farneski and his attorney had two meetings with Wally Stafford, an investigator in the Attorney General's office, to discuss the incident. No formal investigation resulted. ( Id. ¶¶ 46-47)

In July 2006, Farneski received a poor grade during his performance evaluation from his supervisor, Aycock. Farneski challenged the evaluation, and Barnes eventually ordered that it be changed to reflect a higher grade. ( Id. ¶ 67)

Farneski was promoted to Lieutenant in August 2007. Around that time, he began attending training at the FBI Academy,[5] which required him to spend several months out of state. ( Id. ¶¶ 47-48) When he returned, Farneski was given more responsibilities, including supervision over major crimes, narcotics, and sex crimes. ( Id. ¶ 49) Farneski continued to supervise these units until summer and fall of 2008.

In January 2008, HCPO fired Katherine Errickson, who was pregnant at the time. ( Id. ¶¶ 51-52) When she was fired, Errickson began experiencing physical discomfort and thought she was having contractions. Farneski went over to her to try to assist her, although it is not clear what he could have done. ( Id. ¶ 53) At this point, DeBella ordered Farneski to leave Errickson alone. ( Id. )

Errickson filed a lawsuit against HCPO, Barnes, and Hurley in June 2008, alleging discrimination and wrongful termination. ( Id. ¶¶ 55, 64) Farneski and Errickson were friends, and Farneski supported her lawsuit. He also told DeBella and Hurley that he would testify truthfully as a witness to the lawsuit and that they should have expected the lawsuit since they " fired a pregnant woman." ( Id. ¶¶ 55-56) Although Hurley believed that Farneski had given a deposition in the case, Farneski never did so. Nevertheless, Farneski was told to " stay out" of the suit. ( Id. ¶¶ 58-59)

After Farneski's conversation with Hurley and DeBella about the Errickson suit, Hurley, who became Chief of Detectives at HCPO in August 2008, (CSMF2 [6] ¶ 1) and Barnes excluded Farneski from daily operations and stopped talking to him. Farneski began to lose his supervisory positions, beginning with his removal from narcotics in summer 2008 and from sex crimes in August or September 2008. (CMSF1 ¶¶ 60-61) Around this time, he was moved to an office away from the departments he supervised, which at that time were fatal accidents (" FACT" ) and major crimes. (CMSF2 ¶¶ 16-17) Farneski also received a lower raise than other Lieutenants, which DeBella attributed to Barnes being angry with Farneski. (CMSF1 ¶ 62) Finally, Farneski applied for a promotion to

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Deputy Chief, which he did not get. The position remained vacant. ( Id. ¶ 63)

One of Farneski's co-workers, Aaron Lacey, described Hurley as a bully and a liar. He also stated that anyone " in the Farneski camp" would have problems with Hurley. (CSMF2 ¶¶ 2-3) Other co-workers also felt that Hurley was not always truthful and would retaliate against employees. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-6) At various times, Hurley sent Farneski emails questioning his authority, asked co-workers to lie about conversations they had with Farneski, prohibited him from going to union meetings, and put Farneski under surveillance. ( Id. ¶¶ 28-31)

In 2008, Michael Nugent began to experience harassment at HCPO in the form of photo-shopped images. ( Id. ¶¶ 7-8) Nugent reported the harassment to Farneski, who was Nugent's immediate supervisor and internal affairs officer. ( Id. ¶ 9) Farneski told Nugent how to report the harassment. ( Id. ¶ 10) Soon thereafter, Nugent filed a Notice of Claim alleging a hostile work environment under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination. In December 2008, Hurley ordered Farneski to " stop giving out legal advice" to Nugent. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10-11)

On August 10, 2009, Farneski reported a violation of grand jury procedure by Seana Pappas. Farneski learned that Pappas had allowed a college intern to attend a grand jury proceeding, which should have been confidential. ( Id. ¶¶ 20-21) Farneski reported the incident to Hurley, who was close with Pappas. ( Id. ¶¶ 13, 22; P.'s Ex. O) On August 11, 2009, in reply to an email from Pappas, Hurley informed her that Farneski had reported her actions. In the same email, he discussed the possibility of Pappas filing a sexual harassment complaint against Farneski. (CMSF2 ¶ 23; P.'s Ex. P) That day, Pappas prepared a memo detailing her sexual harassment claim against Farneski and sent it to Hurley. (CMSF2 ¶ 24) Hurley told Pappas how she could make a formal complaint and informed the Prosecutor of the claim. ( Id. ¶ 25; P.'s Exs. R, S) Pappas never filed a formal complaint, and no investigation resulted from the memo that she wrote. (CMSF2 ¶ 26) A memo was sent around clarifying HCPO's policy regarding grand jury proceedings, although it did not specifically address the problem of bringing non-law student interns into the proceedings. ( Id. ¶ 27)

On September 17, 2009, Farneski filed his initial Complaint in this suit against Barnes, Hurley, HCPO, Hunterdon County, and the State of New Jersey. ( Id. ¶ 32; Dkt. No. 1) After Farneski filed that Complaint, Hurley approached Lacey and Fabiano and asked them if they would file a formal complaint against Farneski stemming from comments Farneski made at a meeting about acceptable conduct during a homicide investigation. (CMSF2 ¶ 33) Lacey declined to do so. ( Id. ) Hurley also removed Farneski from his duties with FACT, and on November 1, 2010, Farneski no longer had supervisory duties in the major crimes unit. ( Id. ¶ 36) On December 31, 2010, Hurley ended his tenure as Chief of Detectives. ( Id. ¶ 35)

On July 11, 2011, Farneski reported to HCPO Chief of Detectives John Kuczynski that he was having marital difficulties with his wife, Julie Farneski. (HCPO's Statement of Facts [7] 2) On August 3, 2011, Farneski had an argument with his wife, which resulted in her calling the police and stating that Farneski was trying to kill her. ( Id. ¶ 39; HCPO's Statement of Facts 3) Julie Farneski had also hidden

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Farneski's service weapon. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 3) As a result of this incident, Farneski was placed on administrative leave pending a fitness for duty examination. ( Id.; CSMF2 ¶ ¶ 40-41) On August 10, 2011, Dr. Guillermo Gallegos, a forensic psychologist, examined Farneski and declared him not fit for duty, which, among other things, meant that Farneski could not carry a firearm. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 3; CSMF2 ¶ 41) On September 12, 2011, the Farneskis had another argument, which Farneski reported to HCPO. (CSMF2 ¶ 42) On October 6, 2011, Dr. Gallegos examined Farneski again and determined that he still was not fit for duty. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 3) The next day, Dr. Gallegos recommended that Farneski's personal firearms be removed. ( Id.; HCPO's Ex. H)

On October 11, 2011, Chief Kuczynski issued a written directive to Farneski ordering him to turn over his personal weapons to either HCPO or the State Police. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 4) Two HCPO detectives, Sergeant Rowe and Detective DeFilippis went to Farneski's home to deliver the order and collect his personal firearms and firearms purchase identification card. ( Id.; CMSF2 ¶ 44) Farneski told them that he would only turn over his weapons pursuant to a court order and, using profanity, ordered them off of his property. (CMSF ¶ 44) Farneski believed that it was voluntary that he comply with the order, and thus refused to do so. ( Id. ¶¶ 44, 49) After consulting with a union attorney, he turned in his personal firearms to the State Police the next day. ( Id. ¶ 44)

An internal affairs investigation was launched following this incident. ( Id. ¶ 46) The investigation found that Farneski violated HCPO rules and regulations for insubordination, conduct towards superior and subordinate officers and associates, obedience to laws and regulations, and criticism of official acts and orders. ( Id. ¶ 28; P.'s Ex. V 5) Farneski was charged with these violations and a hearing was held before Judge Richard Ganter, a Marlboro Township municipal court judge, on October 11, 2012 to resolve the charges. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 5) As of January 7, 2013, no decision had been issued.

After October 11, 2011, Farneski began going to counseling with Dr. Jeffrey Harrison. (CSMF2 ¶¶ 55-56) In February 2012, Dr. Harrison found that Farneski was not ready to return to duty. (HCPO's Statement of Facts 5) In May 2012, Farneski underwent a fitness for duty examination with Dr. Gallegos. (CMSF2 ¶ 59) At the examination, Dr. Gallegos indicated that he thought Farneski could return to work. ( Id. ) However, prior to Dr. Gallegos declaring Farneski fit for duty, Detective DeFilippis informed Dr. Gallegos that Farneski and Dr. Harrison had a personal relationship outside of their counseling relationship. Dr. Harrison denied the relationship to Dr. Gallegos on May 14, 2012. ( Id. ¶¶ 60-62) Around this time, Dr. Gallegos also obtained files from HCPO's internal affairs investigation surrounding the October 11, 2011 incident. On May 17, 2012, Dr. Gallegos reported that Farneski was not fit for duty. ( Id. ¶ 66; HCPO's Statement of Facts 5)

Farneski filed a Supplemental Complaint in this case on May 1, 2012. (Dkt. No. 55) On July 27, 2012, Farneski retained Dr. John Aylward to conduct a fitness for duty examination. Aylward found that Farneski was ready to return to duty and had no psychological or psychiatric issues that would impair his ability to work. (CSMF2 ¶¶ 68-69) Farneski remained on administrative leave and was not declared fit for duty until November 2012. He continued to receive pay during this period.

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At oral argument on January 7, 2013, Farneski's counsel represented that Farneski has been declared fit for duty and has returned to work. Although his personal firearms and firearms purchaser identification card have been returned to him, Farneski's duty firearm is being withheld pending completion of paperwork.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all fourteen counts of Farneski's ...


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