United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Richard Salkin, the former attorney for the Board of
Education of Hackensack, New Jersey, brings this Section 1983
action against Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse
(“Labrosse”); Hackensack School Board Members
Frances Cogelja (“Cogelja”), Lance Powell
(“Powell”), and Carlos Velez
(“Velez”); campaign manager Wendy Martinez
(“Martinez”); Vision Media Marketing
(“Vision”) and its principal Philip Swibiniski
(“Swibiniski”); the Hackensack Public School
District (“HPSD”); and the City of Hackensack
(“the City”). Plaintiff alleges that during the
2018 campaign for three open positions on the HPSD school
board, Defendants defamed Plaintiff and made statements about
his performance and political affiliations that resulted in
his constructive discharge from his position in violation of
the First Amendment.
matter comes before the Court upon two motions to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure12(b)(6) filed by
the City, HPSD, Cogelia, Powell, and Velez (“Moving
Defendants”), ECF Nos.  and 
(“Motions”). There was no oral argument pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, the
Motions are GRANTED.
following facts are derived from the Amended Complaint, ECF
No. , and are accepted as true for purposes of the
served as attorney for the Board of Education of HPSD
(“BOE Attorney”) from 2005 to 2018. ECF No. 
¶ 15. During his tenure, the Board of Education
re-appointed Plaintiff annually through a non-political
process. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. According to
Plaintiff, the position of BOE Attorney is non-partisan, and
Plaintiff did not “serve any significant role in policy
making.” Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Instead, his
role focused on “handling labor matters; representing
HPSD with regard to grievances; advising staff members;
handling personnel issues; representing HPSD in contractual
issues and tuition issues; the bidding processes for vendors,
and; the enforcement of HPSD policies.” Id.
¶¶ 19-20. For this work, Plaintiff was compensated
$150 per hour from 2005 to 2017 and $160 per hour from 2017
to 2018. He billed HPSD between $130, 000 to $153, 000 each
year. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. During his last year
of service, Plaintiff alleges he was paid approximately $13,
000 each month. Id. ¶ 59.
Plaintiff held the BOE attorney position, he expressed
political support for certain mayors, including former
Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa and local Hackensack council
members that supported Zisa. Id. ¶¶ 29-30.
In 2013, Defendant Labrosse was elected mayor of Hackensack,
defeating those for whom Plaintiff had previously expressed
support. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. While Plaintiff
alleges that he did not support Defendant Labrosse or the
other council members that were elected with him, Plaintiff
continued to serve in his role as BOE Attorney. Id.
years later in 2018, HPSD held an election for three
positions on its school board that precipitated the claims in
this lawsuit. Plaintiff alleges that while the school board
positions are “non-partisan” and
“non-political, ” id. ¶ 34,
Defendants Cogelja, Powell, and Velez (together, the
“Individual Defendants”) were “affiliated
with a ‘Labrosse Team' ” supported by the
current Hackensack mayor. Id. ¶ 38. During
their campaigns, Plaintiff's legal fees, his
responsibilities as BOE Attorney, and his relationship with
former mayors became the subject of campaign flyers and
social media posts. Specifically Defendant Martinez, the
Individual Defendants' campaign manager, requested
information from the City regarding Plaintiff's billable
hours and purchase orders for his legal services.
Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff alleges that the Individual
Defendants, either acting individually or through Defendants
Vision and Swibinski, issued several public statements in the
two weeks leading up to the April 17, 2018 elections that
were “false, malicious, and defamatory.”
Id. ¶ 40. These statements are detailed below.
April 5, 2018, the Individual Defendants issued a press
release “demanding that Plaintiff reimburse [the
Hackensack Public Schools] for a portion of his fees”
and stating that “Plaintiff raised his compensation by
50%, overbilled taxpayers by thousands of dollars,  broke
the state law . . . by working without a contract, ”
“increased [his compensation] from $95, 000 to $144,
000, ” and “believes he is above the law because
he actually controls the Board of Education through his
relationship with the Zisa family.” Id.
¶¶ 43-44 (the “Press Release”). In the
Press Release, Defendant Cogelja stated that Plaintiff had
“overbilled taxpayers by $13, 000” and “was
charging a higher rate than allowed.” Id.
¶ 45. Although Plaintiff received a letter the following
day from HPSD clarifying that the school district had not
overpaid him, id. ¶ 48, the information found
in the Press Release was reprinted on April 7, 2018 by
InsiderNJ.com. Id. ¶ 49.
next day, on April 8, 2018, the Individual Defendants
published the following statement on Facebook:
Did you know that School Attorney Richard Salkin (a longtime
Zisa family lawyer) and School Board President (and Zisa
candidate) Jason Nunnermacker have a blatant conflict of
interest involving hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Did you know that School Attorney Salkin has ruled that there
is ‘nothing wrong' with school employees doing
political work for Zisa candidates - on school time and on
Did you know that Salkin overbills the school district by
tens of thousands of tax dollars . . . ?
Id. ¶ 50 (the “Facebook Post”). The
complaint alleges that the substantive content of the
Facebook Post was “contemporaneously” reprinted
in a campaign advertisement by “Labrosse and the
Labrosse Team.” Id. ¶ 52. Finally, on
election day the Individual Defendants, Vision, or Swibinski
distributed a campaign flyer which stated:
Kick the Zisas Out of Our Schools!
The Board of Education has long been controlled by Jack and
Ken Zisa through School Attorney Richard Salkin and Board
President Jason Nunnermacker - two longtime Zisa family
cronies. Last year they allowed school employees to do
political work for Zisa city council candidates - on taxpayer
time and on school property. Nunnermacker's law firm
collected hundreds of thousands of dollars representing
Salkin's wife. At the same time, ...