ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — The portions of a sexual harassment and sexual abuse lawsuit that names Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York should be dismissed, according to documents filed this week in federal court in Manhattan.
The motion says nothing, however, about whether the lawsuit should move forward against a former leader of the state’s economic development agency.
The lawsuit filed in November by Lisa M. Cater, of Buffalo, alleges Sam Hoyt, the former regional president of the Empire State Development Corp., sexually harassed and abused her.
The motion to dismiss on behalf of the state and Cuomo — a common legal filing — is dated Jan. 5, according to federal records. In short, the motion states Cater’s claims are “merely conjecture and speculation.”
Cater told News 4 in October that Hoyt helped get her a job with the DMV and an apartment in 2015, but that he expected favors — many of them physical — in return. Cater, who News 4 identified with her consent, said Hoyt repeatedly harassed her at home and at work, that he “forcibly kissed and groped her,” on more than one occasion, and sent her at least one nude photo of himself while he was on vacation with his wife.
Hoyt abruptly resigned from his post on Oct. 30.
Hoyt admitted the relationship with Cater existed, but denied all the other allegations included in her claims to News 4 and the subsequent federal lawsuit. Both Hoyt and Cater admitted to signing a settlement that paid Cater $50,000 in exchange for keeping the matter private.
“I have made many mistakes in my life,” Hoyt said Oct. 31 in a statement to News 4. “Having a short term, consensual and inappropriate relationship with [complainant] was wrong and something I regret. When I attempted to end the relationship, she threatened me. At that point, over a year ago, my wife and I agreed to a settlement to avoid public embarrassment to our family.”
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court first in November — and amended in December — states Cuomo failed to prevent harassment by Hoyt, failed to take action even after allegedly being made aware of the harassment, and did not follow through with a legitimate investigation. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees.
The motion to dismiss the state and Cuomo from the lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and special counsel John M. Schwartz, states the 11th Amendment bars individuals from suing “a state, it’s agencies or officials in federal court, absent the state’s consent or an express statutory waiver of immunity,” according to a previous case cited in the motion.
The motion also states Cuomo had no knowledge of any alleged acts between Hoyt and Cater.
“(P)laintiff never alleges that the Governor was personally aware of her complaints, much less that he was a direct participant in the acts complained of, or that the negligently or indifferently ignored them,” the motion states.
The motion goes on to say Cater’s emails, messages and phone calls to publicly available addresses — such as to the governor’s public Facebook page — “are no more effective to establish liability in a supervisory official than letters of protest and requests for investigation, which have been held insufficient to support such liability.”
The motion says all but two claims should be dismissed. The motion says nothing about Cater’s fourth and 11th cause of action, which relate to the federal Equal Protections law, and for assault and battery against Hoyt, respectively.
The motion says if the allegations did occur between Hoyt and Cater, Hoyt was acting alone, and not on behalf of the state.
It cites a prior decision by the Supreme Court that reads in part, “The term ‘supervisory liability’ is a misnomer. Absent vicarious liability, each government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his her her own misconduct.”
The motion also states the claims cannot be tried in the district court in Manhattan because it lacks jurisdiction.