By: Daily Record Staff//April 1, 2011
By: Daily Record Staff//April 1, 2011//
U.S. District Court, Western District of New York
Right of Privacy — Mental Health
Stout v. Town of Tonawanda Police Department
Background: Plaintiff David Stout commenced this action in New York State Supreme Court on Feb. 20, 2009. Stout, a retired police officer, alleges that the defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his disability and violated his constitutional right to privacy. Presently before the court are the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint and defendants’ motion to dismiss.
Stout was employed by the Town of Tonawanda Police Department from 1988 until 2008. In 2003, Stout was diagnosed with two mental health conditions. In 2007, Stout worked for Police Capt. Joseph Flanagan. Flanagan made public comments to Stout that Stout interpreted to be about his mental health. These comments became more regular in August of 2007 and included “you’re slipping downhill.” Flanagan regularly made these comments in the presence of other police department employees.
On Nov. 14, 2007, Stout met with Flanagan and three other officers in Flanagan’s office. Flanagan presented Stout with a Letter of Counsel that referred to a period of time spanning May through November 2007, and cited Stout for workplace incompetence for reasons including tardiness, mismanagement of time, allowing civilians behind the desk and using an improper entrance. Before that meeting, Stout had received no other disciplinary referrals. In the midst of the meeting, Flanagan said, “maybe your psych doctor should tell you you shouldn’t be wearing a badge anymore” in front of all the participants. In the months that followed that meeting, Stout spent one and a half days in a hospital for elevated blood pressure, remained on sick leave, and eventually retired from the police department.
Stout asserts two causes of action against the defendants. First, he alleges that the defendants discriminated against him on account of his disability in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law. Second, he claims that defendants violated his right to privacy when defendant Flanagan publicly commented on his confidential mental health status. The defendants argue that both causes of action should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Ruling: Stout alleged he was diagnosed and being treated for two mental health illnesses. He further alleged that Flanagan knew this and intentionally disclosed his conditions publicly. Thus, Stout adequately states a claim, according to the court. The defendants’ motion is therefore denied.
As to the qualified immunity claim, the court finds that Flanagan is not entitled to qualified immunity at this time. “Assuming the truth of Stout’s allegations, this court cannot find as a matter of law that Flanagan’s actions did not violate clearly established law. Furthermore, this court cannot find as a matter of law that it was objectively reasonable for Flanagan to believe that his conduct did not violate the law. Accordingly, Flanagan is not entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Stout’s §1983 claim at this juncture,” the court reasoned. The plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend the complaint is granted and the defendants’ motion to dismiss is denied.
Andrew P. Fleming of Chiacchia & Fleming LLP for the plaintiff; Matthew C. Van Vessem of Goldberg Segalla LLP for the defendants