RANDY A. MUDGE, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Anne M. Zugalla, Daniel Harder, Defendants-Appellants [*]
Argued: March 28, 2019
plaintiff-appellee, Randy Mudge, was terminated from his
position as a substitute teacher in the Middleburgh Central
School District, a public-school district located in
Middleburgh, New York, after the defendants-appellants, Anne
Zugalla and Daniel Harder, employees of the New York State
Department of Education, informed the School District's
superintendent that they had opened an ethics investigation
into Mudge's conduct. The plaintiff brought suit in the
United States District Court for the Northern District of New
York, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging in relevant
part procedural due process and stigma-plus claims related to
the termination of his employment. The defendants asserted a
qualified immunity defense. The district court (David N.
Hurd, Judge) denied the defendants' motion for
summary judgment, but did not address the defendants'
qualified immunity defense. On a motion for reconsideration,
the district court, addressing that issue for the first time,
concluded that the defendants were not entitled to qualified
immunity because the plaintiff had demonstrated that the
defendants had violated clearly established law. On appeal,
the defendants argue that the district court erred in denying
their motion for summary judgment based on qualified
immunity. We agree. With respect to the plaintiff's due
process claim, we conclude that Mudge has failed to establish
a clearly established right to the meaningful opportunity to
utilize his teaching license. He has also failed to
demonstrate that the defendants' conduct was sufficiently
stigmatizing under clearly established law so as to give rise
to a "stigma-plus" claim. The defendants are,
therefore, entitled to qualified immunity, and the district
court erred in denying summary judgment as to both claims.
The judgment of the district court is therefore:
Jennifer L. Clark (Barbara D. Underwood, Andrea Oser, on the
brief), New York State Office of the Attorney General,
Albany, NY, for Defendants-Appellants,
D. Deinhart (Phillip G. Steck, on the brief), Cooper Erving
& Savage LLP, Albany, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Before: Sack, Hall, and Droney, Circuit Judges.
plaintiff-appellee, Randy Mudge, is a physical education
teacher and school administrator licensed by New York State.
In 2008, Mudge was investigated and charged by the New York
State Education Department for committing acts of sexual
misconduct with former students, resulting in a one- year
suspension of his state licenses.
subsequently obtained employment as a substitute teacher in
the Middleburgh Central School District. Shortly thereafter,
however, defendants- appellants, Anne Zugalla and Daniel
Harder, employees of the New York State Department of
Education, informed the School District's superintendent
that they were instituting an investigation into Mudge's
conduct. Although the defendants ultimately concluded that
there were no grounds for an investigation, the plaintiff was
terminated from his teaching position.
plaintiff brought suit against the defendants pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging procedural due process and
so-called "stigma-plus" claims related to the
termination of his employment. The defendants asserted a
qualified immunity defense.
district court denied the defendants' motion for summary
judgment but did not address the defendants' qualified
immunity defense. On a motion for reconsideration, the
district court, addressing that issue for the first time,
concluded that the defendants were not entitled to qualified
immunity. On appeal, the defendants argue that the district
court erred in denying their motion for summary judgment
based on qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, we
agree. The plaintiff's procedural due process claim
cannot stand because he has failed to establish a clearly
established right to the meaningful opportunity to utilize
his teaching license. He has also failed to demonstrate that
the defendants' conduct was sufficiently stigmatizing
under clearly established law so as to give rise to a
"stigma-plus" claim. We therefore reverse the
judgment and remand the case with instruction to the district
court to enter summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
plaintiff-appellant Randy Mudge is a physical education
teacher and school administrator licensed in New York
State. He brings this suit against two employees
of the New York State Education Department (the
"NYSED"): Anne Zugalla, a senior professional
conduct investigator, and Daniel Harder, a senior attorney in
the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability
("OSPRA"). OSPRA is the department within the NYSED
charged with investigating allegations concerning the moral
character of New York State teaching license- holders.
1987 to 2010, the plaintiff worked in the Hunter-Tannersville
Central School District ("HTC") as a physical
education teacher and athletic coach. In 2006, HTC received
complaints that some twenty years before, the plaintiff had
engaged in sexual behavior with two students. The school
reported these complaints to OSPRA. Between 2006 and 2008,
OSPRA prosecuted the plaintiff in a Part 83 proceeding, a
hearing before an administrative panel to determine whether a
claim of misconduct against a teaching-license holder raises
a reasonable question of moral character. See 8
NYCRR § 83.1 et seq. Defendant Harder was the
OSPRA attorney responsible for the plaintiffs prosecution.
The administrative panel determined that, in 1989 and 1992,
Mudge "groomed" two students for sexual activity
while they were in high school and had sexual relationships
with them shortly after they graduated. It recommended a
one-year suspension of the plaintiffs teaching licenses.
Mudge served his suspension from May 2009 to May 2010. He
subsequently resigned from his position at HTC.
autumn of 2011, the plaintiff applied for a middle school
principal position in the Middleburgh Central School District
("Middleburgh"). The application did not require
Mudge to report his prior teaching suspension. The interview
committee became aware of it nonetheless as a result of an
online search by committee members into each of the
candidates, including Mudge. As a result, Middleburgh's
superintendent, Michele Weaver, informed Mudge that he would
not be considered for the position. She subsequently had a
"full and frank" conversation with him about his
suspension. Plaintiff Affidavit in Response
to Summary Judgment at 2 (Joint Appendix ("J.A.")
300 ¶ 9). Thereafter, Mudge applied for a position as a
Middleburgh substitute teacher. In December 2011, the
Middleburgh Board of Education ("the Board") hired
him notwithstanding its knowledge of his prior suspension.
Mudge began serving as the substitute for a physical
education teacher who had taken a medical leave of absence.
early 2012, Harder, the OSPRA lawyer who had prosecuted the
Part 83 proceeding that resulted in Mudge's suspension,
received a phone call from a member of the public,
unidentified in the record, informing him that the plaintiff
had obtained employment at Middleburgh. Harder thought that a
failure to truthfully reveal prior discipline or professional
certificate history raised a question of moral character that
could subject a license-holder to a Part 83 proceeding.
See 8 NYCRR § 83.1 et seq.; Harder
Declaration at 46 ¶ 22 (J.A. 46). Harder therefore
decided to review Mudge's employment application to
Middleburgh to ...