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Bell v. City of Birmingham

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 4, 2015



KARON OWEN BOWDRE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Merriman Bell brought this lawsuit against the City of Birmingham under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Doc. 1). Officer Bell alleges that the City of Birmingham discriminated against him on the basis of his race by denying him a position as a Motor Scout following his successful completion of Motor Scout School. Officer Bell also alleges that the City of Birmingham retaliated against him for filing grievances with the Personnel Board of Jefferson County and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). This matter is before the court on "Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. 40). For the reasons discussed below, this court concludes that the City's motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED as to Officer Bell's § 1983 claim and Title VII discrimination claim. The City's motion for summary judgment is due to be DENIED as to Officer Bell's Title VII retaliation claim.


Summary judgment is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The moving party can meet this burden by offering evidence showing no dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving party's evidence fails to prove an essential element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Rule 56, however, does not require "that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Id.

Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party "to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Disagreement between the parties is not significant unless the disagreement presents a "genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. '" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis added); see also Advisory Committee Note to 1963 Amendment of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) ("The very mission of summary judgment procedure is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof to see whether there is a genuine need for trial."). The moving party need not present evidence in a form admissible at trial; "however, he may not merely rest on [the] pleadings." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. If the evidence is "merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must "view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, " to determine whether the nonmoving party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). The court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, because these decisions fall to the province of the jury. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins. Co., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000); Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). "Even if a district court believes that the evidence presented by one side is of doubtful veracity, it is not proper to grant summary judgment on the basis of credibility choices.'" Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1252 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Miller v. Harget, 458 F.3d 1251, 1256 (11th Cir. 2006)). The court should not disregard self-serving statements made in sworn testimony simply because they are self-serving at the summary judgment stage, and if the self-serving statements create a genuine issue of material fact, the court should deny summary judgment on that basis. Id. at 1253.

Furthermore, all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham, 193 F.3d at 1282. The nonmoving party "need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference." Id. The evidence of the non-moving party "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [its] favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.


Officer Merriman Bell, a black male, has been a police officer with the City of Birmingham Police Department since 1998. In 2009, Officer Bell joined the Police Department's Tactical Unit. The Tactical Unit is an elite group of officers with various specialties and positions, one of which is the Motor Scout position. Motor Scouts are police officers who are assigned motorcycles and, in addition to performing their normal policing duties, provide escorts for special events like football games, funerals, and parades. Because of the dangers associated with the position, Motor Scout are afforded a five-percent hazard pay increase. Motor Scouts also receive the additional benefit of being permitted to use a police motorcycle to commute to and from work. To become a Motor Scout, a police officer must apply for Motor Scout School, pass an entrance exam, and successfully complete the course. The record is unclear how the Birmingham Police Department decides when to hold a Motor Scout School. What is clear, however, is that officers who successfully complete Motor Scout School are typically assigned a motorcycle within a few months of completing the course.

In 2010, Officer Bell applied to become a Motor Scout and was admitted to Motor Scout School. After failing on his initial attempt, Officer Bell successfully completed Motor Scout School in August of 2010. Officers Montague Minnifield, a black male, Alex Thomas, a white male, and Jason Lawley, a white male, also attended the August 2010 Motor Scout School and successfully completed the course with Officer Bell. After graduating from the school, the officers waited to be assigned motorcycles. At some point while the officers were waiting, Officer Thomas received a text message from a lieutenant in the department informing him that he was guaranteed a Motor Scout position but Officers Bell and Minnifield would have to compete for a single position. No one in the record testified to having personally seen this text message, and no evidence exists as to which lieutenant allegedly sent the text message. The only evidence of the existence of the text message is Officer Bell's testimony that Officer Minnifield told him about the message after seeing it on Officer Thomas's phone.

After learning about the text message, Officer Bell complained to Sergeant Donald Webber about what he viewed as the Department's racially motivated decision to guarantee Officer Thomas a Motor Scout position. Officer Bell also told Sergeant Webber that he was considering taking legal action against the Department. The acting police chief during this time was Moody Duff, a black male. Sergeant Webber told Officer Bell that Chief Duff had responded to his threat of pursuing legal action by saying "bring it on." (Doc. 41-1, at 41).

On August 11, 2011, Officers Bell and Minnifield filed employee grievances with the Personnel Board of Jefferson County. The Board determined that the grievances were not eligible to be heard through the grievance procedure and issued a letter to that effect. Officer Bell then filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on November 4, 2011.

In response, Chief Duff stated that because Officer Bell and Officer Minnifield had filed grievances and EEOC charges, "no movement would be made on the motor scouts." (Doc. 41-1, at 33-34). Chief Duff then told Officers Bell, Minnifield, Lawley, and Thomas that they would all have to retake Motor Scout School before being assigned a Motor Scout position. This decision marked the first time an officer who successfully completed Motor Scout School was not assigned a Motor ...

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