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Chiaravallo v. Middletown Transit District

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 10, 2019



          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         This case arises out of Andrew Chiaravallo's (“Chiaravallo”) termination as the Administrator of Middletown Transit District (also known as “Middletown Area Transit” or “MAT”), which provides public transportation for the City of Middletown, Connecticut (“the City”). Chiaravallo alleges that the Mayor of Middletown, Daniel Drew (“Mayor Drew”), made various pre-termination defamatory remarks regarding Chiaravallo's purported mismanagement of MAT, which were later published in the media. He also alleges that Mayor Drew directed the MAT Board of Directors (“the Board”) to terminate Chiaravallo under the threat of not renewing the City's contract with MAT and withholding the City's funding of MAT. Chiaravallo was subsequently terminated by the Board.

         Based on those allegations, Chiaravallo commenced this lawsuit on August 13, 2018. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1). Chiaravallo asserts procedural due process claims (Counts Three through Nine) against the MAT and each member of the Board (“the MAT Defendants”). Chiaravallo also brings a procedural due process claim against Mayor Drew (Count One), as well as a defamation claim (Count Ten), an intentional interference with an advantageous business relationship claim (Count Eleven), and a false light invasion of privacy claim (Count Twelve). Lastly, Chiaravallo asserts a procedural due process claim against the City (Count Two).

         The MAT Defendants moved to dismiss those claims on September 12, 2018. See Doc. No. 21. Mayor Drew and the City (“the City Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss on October 10, 2018. See Doc. No. 27. On February 25, 2019, I held a motion hearing and granted the MAT Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts Three through Nine[1] and took the City Defendants' motion under advisement. See Doc. No. 49. For the following reasons, the City Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is designed “merely to assess the legal feasibility of a complaint, not to assay the weight of evidence which might be offered in support thereof.” Ryder Energy Distrib. Corp. v. Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 1980)).

         When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, and decide whether it is plausible that plaintiffs have a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Leeds v. Meltz, 85 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1996).

         Under Twombly, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” and assert a cause of action with enough heft to show entitlement to relief and “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 550 U.S. at 555, 570; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (“[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”). The plausibility standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal obligates the plaintiff to “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief” through more than “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks omitted). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless distinct from probability, and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id. at 556 (quotation marks omitted).

         II. Background

         During his time as Administrator of MAT, Chiaravallo oversaw MAT's vehicle fleet, financial obligations, and grant applications to various city, state, and federal agencies. Compl. ¶¶ 26-30. In 2016, MAT faced growing financial problems. Id. ¶¶ 32-34. On July 1, 2016, the State decreased MAT's funding by approximately $50, 000. Id. ¶ 34. The next fiscal year, beginning on July 1, 2017, the State reduced MAT's funding by another $80, 000. Id. ¶ 36. To address the decrease in funding, Chiaravallo sent an email to state Representative Joseph Serra on January 12, 2017, advising him that MAT did not have the funds necessary to operate its current service lines and that MAT would be forced to implement service reductions unless MAT received additional funding. Id. ¶ 39.

         In March 2017, Chiaravallo sent emails and letters to the Connecticut Department of Transportation regarding MAT's financial distress. Id. ¶ 42. On March 8, 2017, Chiaravallo met with Mayor Drew during an annual meeting on the City's budget. Id. ¶ 43. At the meeting, Chiaravallo advised Mayor Drew that MAT would be making service cuts if it did not receive additional funding. Id. Chiaravallo also advised Mayor Drew that he would be seeking funding from the State and not the City, to which Mayor Drew responded, “good job.” Id. On April 10, 2017, the City's Common Council held Budget Department Hearings with Mayor Drew and Chiaravallo present. Id. ¶ 45. At those meetings, Chiaravallo advised the City's Common Council and Mayor Drew that MAT had experienced funding cuts from the State and that raising fares had not made up those cuts. Id. ¶ 46. The Common Council, Mayor Drew, and the Board[2]were all allegedly aware of MAT's distressed financial condition by 2017. See id. ¶ 94.

         On May 12, 2017, Chiaravallo advised Mayor Drew that MAT would be implementing bus and van service cuts and that MAT intended to announce those cuts to the public in three days. Id. ¶ 48. In response, Mayor Drew accused Chiaravallo of mismanaging MAT. Id. ¶ 51. Chiaravallo alleges that Mayor Drew subsequently made the following communications regarding Chiaravallo's mismanagement.

         On June 9, 2017, Mayor Drew sent a letter to Chiaravallo which “falsely stated that [Mayor Drew] learned about MAT's service cuts after they had been made . . . when in fact [Mayor Drew] had been informed [earlier] on May 12, 2017 that bus and van service cuts would be made effective July 1, 2017, that Saturday evening bus and van service would be cut effective June 3, 2017, and that those cuts would be announced to the public on May 15, 2017.” Id. ¶ 53. The letter also accused Chiaravallo of failing to inform local officials of the financial challenges facing MAT and accused Chiaravallo of potentially violating federal law by implementing the anticipated service cuts. Id. ¶¶ 54-57. The letter was copied to numerous state and local government officials and was also published over the internet, on television, and in newspapers including the Hartford Courant, the Middletown Press, WTNH, NBC Connecticut, and the Yankee Institute. Id. ¶ 52.

         On June 23, 2017, Mayor Drew filed a formal complaint with the Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”), charging that Chiaravallo was responsible for violating federal law by implementing certain service cuts. Id. ¶ 58. Mayor Drew's complaint was publicly broadcasted in the Hartford Courant, the Middletown Press, and on the internet. Id.

         On June 27, 2017, Mayor Drew sent a letter to Chiaravallo and the Board demanding that the Board terminate Chiaravallo's employment. Id. ¶ 59. The letter accused Chiaravallo of mismanagement alleging that Chiaravallo failed to inform government officials about MAT's financial situation. Id. The letter stated in part:

         Although MAT is a separate entity entirely from the City, and the City has no management authority over MAT, we do have a contract with MAT and we spend substantial taxpayer dollars on MAT. Your contract is currently on my desk for renewal, along with the substantial appropriation that accompanies it. I will not sign the contract or release the funds until the following requirements are met:

• Mr. Chiaravallo will resign immediately;
• Mr. Lewis will terminate his consulting contract and any employment or contracting relationship with MAT immediately;
• If these resignations do not occur, the Board will vote to terminate the respective employment and consulting relationships, effective immediately;
• MAT will send a letter, duly authorized by the Board, to DOT and the City of Middletown, requesting help from DOT and asking that DOT provide an acting emergency manager, to be appointed by the Board, with full executive authority and full Board cooperation;
• MAT's Board will transition from the six current members to two, which is the maximum number authorized by statute, and will work with the City on a transition plan to do so;
• MAT will appoint a new representative to RiverCOG;
• The H and I routes, as well as evening service, will remain in place.

Ex. A. to MAT Defs' Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 21-2 at 2-3). The information in Mayor Drew's June 27, 2017 letter was publicly broadcasted in newspapers and ...

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