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Hanners v. City of Auburn

United States District Court, Middle District of Alabama, Eastern Division

August 18, 2014

CITY OF AUBURN, et al., Defendants.



I. Introduction

This matter is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 25) filed by Defendants City of Auburn, Alabama (“Auburn”), Thomas Dawson (“Dawson”), and Charles Duggan (“Duggan”) on June 6, 2014.

Plaintiff Justin Hanners (“Hanners”) filed his Complaint (Doc. # 1-1) in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama on August 30, 2013. In the Complaint, the Plaintiff brings a First Amendment Retaliation Claim under Section 1983 (Count One) and a claim for a violation of the State Employees Protection Act (Count Two). The Defendants removed the Complaint to this court on October 4, 2013. The Defendants seek summary judgment on both counts of the Complaint.

The court has federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction over the Section 1983 claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claim, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Basically, Hanners contends that various actions taken against him, finally including termination from the Auburn Police Department, were substantially motivated by his having spoken out against what he perceived to be a quota system for traffic enforcement.

For the reasons to be discussed, the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be GRANTED.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper “if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quotation omitted).

The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” relying on submissions “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

Both the party “asserting that a fact cannot be, ” and a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed, must support their assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). Acceptable materials under Rule 56(c)(1)(A) include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the non-movant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

III. Facts

Based on submissions of the parties, the following is an account of relevant facts with all justifiable inferences drawn in favor of the Plaintiff:

Beginning in 2006, Plaintiff Hanners was employed for approximately six years as a patrolman for the Auburn Police Department. Defendant Thomas Dawson was the Chief of the Auburn Police Department until he retired in July of 2013. Defendant Charles Duggan is the Auburn City Manager. As the City Manager, Duggan “is the ultimate decision maker” for hiring and firing employees, and “he may choose to accept or decline personnel recommendations” for termination decisions. (Doc. # 27-1 at 3); see also Duggan Depo., (Doc. # 25-4 at 9:22–10:5).

Throughout his tenure with the Auburn Police Department, Hanners was employed as a patrolman. Hanners never requested a promotion, and he was never promoted. Hanners Depo., (Doc. # 25-1 at 19:3–9). During his time with the Department, Hanners’ performance evaluations stated that Hanners was barely meeting expectations, meeting expectations, or exceeding expectations. Tr. of Due-Process Hearing, (Doc. # 25-8 at 52:9–53:6; see also Id . at 56:13–59:4).

However, except for his first annual performance evaluation in 2007, Hanners was told in each of his performance evaluations that he needed to improve his efforts in traffic enforcement. See, e.g., Duggan Aff. Attachments, (Doc. # 25-2 at 90 (stating that, from August 2007 to August 2008, Hanners met standards in “effectively patrol[ling his] assigned zone to detect and deter criminal activity and traffic violations, ” but that he “could score higher in this category by making more traffic stops during his next rating period”); id. at 94 (stating in Hanners’ 2007– 2008 evaluation that “Officer Hanners needs to be more active in traffic enforcement” and that he “should also improve on making more field interview contacts”)). Further, Hanners was counseled about his performance prior to 2011. (See Id . at 77–78 (stating that Hanners received performance counseling because, “[d]uring the month of November [2010] Officer Hanners issued seven citations, six warnings, and six field contacts, ” thus “averag[ing] to less than one contact in each category every two days”)). Hanners was counseled on a number of occasions for what his supervisors perceived to be subpar traffic enforcement.[1]

In late 2010, the Auburn Police Department instituted a “two-and-two policy” under which officers were required to have two contacts and two warnings, on average, per shift. See Tr. of Due-Process Hearing, (Doc. # 25-8 at 8:2–8). Hanners objected to the policy in January of 2011, contending that the policy presented officers with the moral dilemma of taking unnecessary enforcement actions and that the policy violated a City directive that forbids quotas. Hanners’ supervisor responded by saying that, if Hanners and the other officers did not comply with the policy, they would “be written up, . . . wouldn’t get promoted, [would] get bad evaluations, and . . . would ultimately be fired.” Hanners Depo., (Doc. # 25-1 at 81:10–16); see also Tr. of Due-Process Hearing, (Doc. # 25-8 at 9:13–19).

After objecting to the two-and-two policy, Hanners was ordered to prepare a special report “detailing [his] moral objections to the . . . traffic ...

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