Nyenhuis v. Metropolitan District Commissio
To prevail on a due-process liberty claim, a plaintiff must allege 1.) the utterance of a statement about her that is injurious to her reputation, that is capable of being proved false, and that she claims is false; and 2.) some tangible and material state-imposed burden in addition to the stigmatizing statement, pursuant to Velez v. Levy, a 2005 decision of the 2nd Circuit. The Metropolitan District Commission hired the plaintiff police officer, Gabriele Nyenhuis, in 2002 and she filed a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging discrimination on the basis of age and sex. Nyenhuis withdrew her CHRO complaint after the commission investigated. In April 2006, Nyenhuis was working at the West Hartford Reservoir and informed Steven Atkins that the reservoir was closed. Atkins proceeded to walk for 10 minutes. When he attempted to leave, Nyenhuis pepper sprayed his motor vehicle. The commission placed Nyenhuis on administrative duty, after Atkins filed a complaint. Atkins claimed Nyenhuis used excessive force. The West Hartford police accused Nyenhuis of assault, reckless endangerment and filing a false report. Nyenhuis used vacation time, weekends and earned time to meet a defense attorney, prepare for court and attend court hearings. Nyenhuis was found not guilty and returned to patrol duties. Nyenhuis sued the commission, alleging retaliation, because she filed the CHRO complaint. In July 2011, the District Court found that the CHRO complaint did not discuss a matter of public concern, as required to allege 1st Amendment retaliation. It also found that Nyenhuis failed to establish an adverse action that restricted her liberty, in addition to a stigmatizing statement, as required to set forth a §1983 "stigma plus" claim. Nyenhuis appealed. To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim, a public employee must establish that the speech in question addressed a matter of public concern. Nyenhuis' complaint failed to address a matter of public concern. On the due-process liberty claim, Nyenhuis did not meet the requirement that she prove some "tangible and material state-imposed burden," pursuant to Velez v. Levy. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court, Thompson, J.