Applicant Loses YCMTSU Suit Against New Haven

A YCMTSU case we discussed two years ago has come to a conclusion with Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a firefighter candidate who has a conditional offer of employment does not have a sufficient property interest to establish a right to due process.

Eric Crenshaw applied to the New Haven Fire Department back in 2013. He was given a conditional offer of employment, but was passed over due to problems with his background check.

Crenshaw filed suit in federal court claiming that his ex-girlfriend, Torrey Townsend, was a close friend of Fire Chief Allyn Wright [the complaint states they were“ intimately involved”], and that Chief Wright specifically targeted him on her recommendation. The suit named the City of New Haven, Chief Wright, and Townsend alleged a violation of Crenshaw’s due process rights, breach of the implied warranty of fair dealing, tortious interference with contractual expectations, and defamation.

Last September, US District Court for the District of Connecticut dismissed Crenshaw’s due process claims. He appealed to the Second Circuit. In a ruling handed down June 21, 2016, the 2nd Circuit upheld the trial court’s dismissal. The decision provides an excellent summary of due process law under both the property and liberty strains. Graduates of Managing Disciplinary Challenges in the Fire Service – READ THIS.

  • In order to state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a deprivation of procedural due process, a plaintiff must plead facts showing that he possesses a liberty or property interest in the benefit or right of which he was deprived.
  • In order to have “property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it.”
  • A plaintiff must “instead have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it.”
  • Within this framework, this Circuit has held that a prospective employee does not have a “property right or entitlement to [a] position.”
  • Although Crenshaw alleges he was “more than a mere aspirant,” and that he “possessed something more than a mere unilateral expectation,” … it is clear from the face of his complaint that he merely had a “conditional offer” of employment and thus was no more than a prospective employee.
  • Thus, Crenshaw had no “property interest” in his conditional offer of employment or his placement on the “eligibility list.”
  • Crenshaw also does not have a federally-protected “liberty interest” in fair treatment of his conditional offer of employment.
  • A protectable liberty interest may arise in connection with a “loss of reputation” when “coupled with some other tangible element.” This is known as a “stigma-plus” claim.
  • In order to sustain a “stigma-plus” claim, a plaintiff must allege “(1) the utterance of a statement about [him] that is injurious to [his] reputation, that is capable of being proved false, and that he or she claims is false, and (2) some tangible and material state imposed burden in addition to the stigmatizing statement.”
  • “The defamatory statement must be sufficiently public to create or threaten a stigma; hence, a statement made only to the plaintiff, and only in private, ordinarily does not implicate a liberty interest.”
  • “Similarly, because a free-standing defamatory statement is not a constitutional deprivation, but is instead properly viewed as a state tort of defamation, the plus imposed by the defendant must be a specific and adverse action clearly restricting the plaintiff’s liberty—for example, the loss of employment.”
  • Crenshaw has alleged no facts that indicate New Haven “made stigmatizing statements about [him]—statements that call into question [Crenshaw’s] good name, reputation, honor, or integrity.
  • Nor has Crenshaw alleged that any “stigmatizing statements were made public” or “were made concurrently with, or in close temporal relationship to” the City’s decision to withdraw its conditional offer of employment.
  • Crenshaw alleges only that Townsend sent an anonymous letter stating falsehoods. But he does not state that the City or Wright ever repeated these false statements or made them in public.
  • Thus, Crenshaw cannot satisfy the “stigma” prong of a “stigma-plus” claim.

Note: Internal citations and some punctuation removed.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Crenshaw_v._New_Haven_2nd_Cir

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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