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MINNIS v. MUCH SHELIST FREED DENENBERG & AMENT

March 5, 1997

DIANE MINNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
MUCH SHELIST FREED DENENBERG & AMENT, P.C., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PALLMEYER

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

 Plaintiff Diane Minnis, a black female, was employed as a legal secretary by Defendant Much Shelist Freed Denenberg & Ament, P.C. (hereafter sometimes, "the firm") from September 16, 1990 until her termination on August 19, 1994. Proceeding in forma pauperis, she has filed a lengthy pro se complaint charging the firm with discriminating against her on the basis of religion, sex, and race by discharging her, and by oppressing and harassing her both during and after her termination. Defendant firm has moved to dismiss the complaint as frivolous and groundless. After a careful review of the pleadings and Plaintiff's discovery responses, this court concludes that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for relief against Defendant and that this case should be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d).

 Procedural History

 Plaintiff filed her original pro se complaint on February 7, 1996. District Judge Paul Plunkett granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and appointed Attorney George Galland to represent her. Defendant moved to strike Plaintiff's original complaint, which contained 213 paragraphs covering 42 pages, for failure to comply with Rules 8(a)(2) and 8(e)(1). On May 30, 1996, Judge Plunkett granted that motion. On June 13, 1996, Mr. Galland moved for leave to withdraw on the ground that, after investigation, he was unable to file a complaint that would comply with the strictures of FED. R. CIV. P. 11. Judge Plunkett granted that motion and allowed Plaintiff time to retain substitute counsel or to file an amended complaint on her own.

 Plaintiff chose the latter course and, on July 5, 1996, filed the complaint addressed in this Report. On July 10, 1996, Judge Plunkett granted Defendant leave to submit interrogatories to Plaintiff by July 24, directed Plaintiff to answer them by August 14, and ordered Defendant to file its answer or other responsive pleading on or before August 26. Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim. In that motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's answers to interrogatories demonstrate that Plaintiff is unable to offer any facts that would support her claims of race, sex, or religious discrimination. Plaintiff has filed a motion to strike and a number of other motions addressed below.

 On September 5, 1996, Judge Plunkett referred the case to this court for supervision of discovery and for preparation of a report and recommendation on dispositive motions. On November 7, 1996, this court conducted a pretrial conference and heard arguments on the parties' motions. As explained below, the court now recommends that Defendant's motion to dismiss be granted, that Plaintiff's motions be denied, and that the case be dismissed with prejudice.

 Plaintiff's Allegations

 In her Amended Complaint, filed July 5, 1996, Plaintiff invokes a host of statutory and constitutional provisions. Specifically, she seeks to redress her rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; Article IV Section 2 of the Constitution; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1988; and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (First Amended Complaint Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (hereinafter "Cplt."), P 18.) Plaintiff believes that Much, Shelist discriminated against her on the basis of her race, sex, and religion throughout her employment with the firm (Cplt. PP 21-31 (Count I)) and ultimately discharged her for these reasons (Cplt. PP 32-38 (Count II)) and because she objected to sexual harassment and race discrimination. (Cplt. PP 39-54 (Count III).) Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant utilized "methods to control Plaintiff that are against Plaintiff's [Christian] religion and beliefs." (Cplt. PP 110-118 (Count IV).)

 Plaintiff makes a number of more specific allegations apparently intended to support the three claims identified above. For example, she claims that Defendant "dictated slavery laws to be applied to Plaintiff because of her race, religion and sex" (Cplt. P 55); "condoned and dictated the Black Codes to their employees" (Cplt. P 56); and "condoned and dictated to the [sic] their employees the oppression of Plaintiff pursuant to the movie The Color Purple." (Cplt. P 57.) Without identifying the individuals involved or the relevant dates, times or locations, Plaintiff alleges that she "was told she was a slave," "was told she would be brought down," "was paid a lower rate of pay than White secretaries that held the same level position as Plaintiff," and was "terrorized by the Defendant on a daily basis because of her race, religion and sex." (Cplt. PP 69, 70, 73, 87.) She alleges, further, that Defendant intentionally harassed her "on a daily basis to make Plaintiff cry" and that Defendant and its agents "intentionally sabotaged Plaintiff's computer, work, personal life and work because of her race, religion and sex." (Cplt. PP 90, 91.)

 In addition to these claims, Plaintiff makes several others allegations but fails to explain whether they are intended to state independent claims for relief or to support the three claims identified above. For example, she alleges that Defendant deducted sharing plan, but never made a profit sharing distribution to her. (Cplt. PP 59-61). She claims that Defendant and harassed her by stalking her both during the term of her employment by Defendant and after her termination. (Cplt. PP 75, 76, 82.)

 Finally, Plaintiff makes a number of allegations regarding Defendant's conduct that border on the bizarre. She alleges, for example, that "the Defendant its agents and employees" have threatened to kill her and have made at least two attempts on her life. (Cplt. PP 80, 81.) She claims that she suffered particular abuse on holidays: "Plaintiff was specifically harassed, discriminated, abused mentally and emotionally because of her race, religion and color on Valentine's Day, Secretary Day/Week, D-Day, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Good Friday, Christmas, and Thanksgiving." (Cplt. P 86.) In addition, she claims that "the Defendant dictated the removal or [sic] Plaintiff's used sanitary items from the bathroom to harass and discriminate against Plaintiff because or [sic] her race, religion and sex." (Cplt. P 96.)

 Plaintiff's prayer for relief seeks an order reinstating her to her position with Defendant, with retroactive insurance and pension benefits, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, a pay increase, and compensation to her minor children for the "pain, suffering and loss of educational opportunities and abilities" that Plaintiff claims resulted from her termination. (Cplt. P 118.) In her Interrogatory answers, Plaintiff sets her damages claim at $ 50 million. (Plaintiff's Interrogatory Answers, at 37.)

 Several motions are pending before the court. Defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that Plaintiff's allegations, "even when read in conjunction with her answers to Defendant's interrogatories, fails [] to state any factual basis whatsoever for any claim. . . ." (Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, at 1.) Defendant moves, further, to stay discovery. Plaintiff has filed a motion to strike the motion to dismiss, a motion to strike the motion for a stay of discovery, and a motion to compel Defendant to respond to discovery requests. In addition, she has moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Defendant's alleged discriminatory and criminal conduct. Finally, Plaintiff moves to compel the mental examination of fifteen different persons, including fourteen employees or partners of Defendant law firm.

 DISCUSSION

 Defendant seeks dismissal of this complaint with prejudice on the ground that the record demonstrates Plaintiff has no cognizable claim for relief. Defendant notes that the court has discretion to dismiss a complaint that asserts only "fantastic or delusional claims." Tyler v. Carter, 151 F.R.D. 537, 540 (S.D.N.Y. 1993), aff'd mem., 41 F.3d 1500 (2d Cir. 1994). Where, as in this case, a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, the statute expressly authorizes dismissal by the district court where the action is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d). Although an in forma pauperis complaint should not be dismissed merely because the court finds the plaintiff's allegations unlikely, dismissal is appropriate where the court concludes that the allegations are fantastic, fanciful, or delusional. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33, 118 L. Ed. 2d 340, 112 S. Ct. 1728 (1992). Indeed, unlike Rule 12(b)(6), the in forma pauperis statute grants the district court with the authority to "'pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual allegations are clearly baseless.'" Id. at 32, quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338, 109 S. Ct. 1827 (1989). Defendant law firm asserts that Plaintiff's allegations fall into this category, and that the case must be dismissed at this stage.

 On November 7, 1996, this court convened a pretrial conference to permit Plaintiff to explain her claims in her own words. At that conference, Plaintiff explained that her difficulties with Defendant began at a firm holiday party in December 1991. According to Plaintiff, Eddie Turner Blackman, a man she was dating at that time (not an employee of the firm) arrived at the party to drive her home. Before Plaintiff and Mr. Blackman left the party, Plaintiff recalls, another of the firm's secretaries, Ms. Spark Easterling, had a brief conversation with Mr. Blackman. After taking Plaintiff home, Mr. Blackman allegedly returned to the party and took Ms. Easterling home. Within the next days or weeks, Mr. Blackman and Ms. Easterling struck up a relationship that eventually led to their marriage. Plaintiff believes that Ms. Easterling's conduct at the party was improper and disrespectful. More significantly, Plaintiff believes that Ms. Easterling and Mr. Blackman are involved in a campaign of harassment and abuse in which the firm is somehow complicit.

 Ms. Easterling is no longer employed at the firm, and Mr. Blackman, as noted, never worked there. Nevertheless, Plaintiff alleges, without factual support other than her belief, that the firm has conspired with these individuals and has placed Mr. Blackman on its payroll to support Blackman's abuse and harassment of Plaintiff. Plaintiff has offered no evidence that would support her suspicions. Nor did she offer any basis for a conclusion that Blackman's vendetta against her is related to her former employer's attitudes with respect to her race, sex, or religion. Plaintiff's argument presents no basis for a claim of discrimination against Defendant.

 After hearing her argument, this court also reviewed Plaintiff's answers to Defendant's interrogatories which were, at Judge Plunkett's direction, filed with the Clerk of this court. With regret, this court concludes that Defendant accurately describes Plaintiff's discovery responses as "bizarre and outlandish" (Def.'s Motion to Dismiss, at 3); neither her interrogatory answers nor the allegations of her complaint reflect any factual basis for her claims of discrimination. Plaintiff's interrogatory answers are reviewed in detail below.

 I. Race Discrimination

 In Interrogatory No. 2, Defendant directs Plaintiff to state all factual bases for her allegation that she was terminated because of her race. Plaintiff's answer covers six pages and makes the following assertions:

 (1) None of the attorneys employed by Defendant are black. (Plaintiff's Answers to Defendants' Interrogatory (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Interrogatory Answers"), at 6.)

 (2) The highest-ranking paralegal at the firm left the firm (Plaintiff does not say when) in order "to keep his mouth shut" concerning extramarital affairs of one of the firm's partners and "to hide the affair he too had with Spark Easterling" some time after December 1991. (Id.)

 (3) A black female paralegal who had been engaged in interoffice affairs was terminated after December 19, 1991. (Id.)

 (4) A co-worker told Plaintiff "we are going to bring you down," another said Plaintiff was a "snob," and yet another said Plaintiff was "waiting on a man to return to her," all because Plaintiff, unlike other black employees, refused to be "bought" by Defendant. (Id. at 7.) (Plaintiff does not explain how other black employees were "bought," nor does she identify the manner or method in which the firm unsuccessfully sought to "buy" her.)

 (5) Defendant conspired with Plaintiff's coworkers to "lace" Plaintiff's facial cosmetics with a chemical that burned her skin, rendering it a darker shade. (Id.)

 (6) Defendant directed that photographs of Plaintiff, depicted as a monkey or ape, be aired on television. (Id. at 8.)

 (7) Two employees of Defendant "dictated" that five individuals, including Plaintiff's own three sisters and Plaintiff's own 14 or 15-year old daughter, oppress and ...


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