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Riddle v. Graham

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 20, 2015

JACKIE GRAHAM, et al., Defendants.


W. KEITH WATKINS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles P. Riddle, III is a former state law enforcement officer with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ("DCNR"). While on duty, he was regrettably one of the persons who discovered the burned body of his missing sister. Mr. Riddle's sister's murderer bound her and left her in the trunk of a flaming car. Mr. Riddle was called upon to testify at the murder trial and sentencing.

After Mr. Riddle's sister's death, his work performance suffered. His supervisors became aware that Mr. Riddle was not working the hours that he reported working and that he used his state vehicle for personal hunting trips. When Mr. Riddle did not or could not refute their accusations, his supervisors recommended his termination. Mr. Riddle immediately visited a doctor who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") related to the murder of his sister, but an injury review board appointed by the DCNR found that his injury was the result of his willful conduct of participating in the investigation of his sister's death. Mr. Riddle's employment was terminated, and he appealed his termination to an administrative law judge and the State Personnel Board. Each affirmed the termination. Mr. Riddle now sues the DCNR Commissioner, N. Gunter Guy, the State Personnel Director, Jackie Graham, the State Personnel Board as an entity, and the Personnel Board's members, Jon D. Barganier, John Carroll, Joe N. Dickson, Jackie Graham, Faye Nelson, and Joanne Randolph, for alleged violations of federal and state law. Commissioner Guy is the only defendant facing federal-law claims. Defendants jointly removed the case from state court.

Before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by Ms. Graham and the Personnel Board members (Doc. # 42)[1] and Defendant N. Gunter Guy (Docs. # 43, 44, 45). Mr. Riddle opposes the motions (Docs. # 47, 48, 49). Defendants have replied. (Docs. # 51, 52.) Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the evidence, and the relevant law, the court finds Commissioner Guy's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted with respect to Mr. Riddle's federal-law claims and that the remaining state-law claims against Commissioner Guy and the other Defendants are due to be remanded to state court.[2]


The court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, and 1367. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.


To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate "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). The court must view the evidence and the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Or a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party "cannot produce admissible evidence to support" a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's note ("Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials.... [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact."). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish - with evidence beyond the pleadings - that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).


A. Facts

1. Parties

Mr. Riddle is a former law enforcement officer for the DCNR who was assigned to District IV of the DCNR's Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. His duties included traveling Lee County, Alabama, to monitor hunting and fishing activities.

Commissioner Guy is the ultimate authority within the DCNR. Ms. Graham is the Director of the State Personnel Department. The Personnel Board is a state agency charged with reviewing personnel decisions of other agencies like the DCNR. Mr. Dickson chairs the Personnel Board, and Ms. Nelson, Mr. Carroll, Mr. Barganier, and Ms. Randolph are the other Board members.[3]

The Personnel Board members are sued in their official capacities only, but Ms. Graham and Commissioner Guy are each sued in both their individual and official capacities. No misconduct is attributed to Ms. Graham in Mr. Riddle's complaint, and it is unclear why she is joined as a party to this suit. (Compl. at ¶¶ 2-6.)

2. Mr. Riddle's Tenure with the DCNR

Mr. Riddle worked for the DCNR from 2006 to 2012 and received favorable performance appraisals during his tenure. On December 18, 2010, Mr. Riddle learned that his sister, who lived in Florida not far from Geneva County, Alabama, was missing. At the time, Mr. Riddle was working in another county's field office, and his supervisor gave him permission to travel and to assist Geneva County Conservation Enforcement Officers in searching for his sister. On December 20, 2010, Mr. Riddle and Officer Richard Mowbray found what remained of Mr. Riddle's sister's body. Mr. Riddle's sister had been burned alive in the trunk of a car with her hands tied behind her back. Mr. Riddle claims that the stress of the situation has caused him to suffer from PTSD, although he was not diagnosed with PTSD until 2012.

On March 18, 2011, Mr. Riddle emailed his supervisor, Captain Mike Pollard, [4] to inform him that he felt that he needed a break or that he might be "going crazy" because he had been forgetting things and making simple mistakes. (Compl. at ¶ 14.) Captain Pollard and Division Chief Kevin Dodd did ...

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