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Longmire v. City of Mobile

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

April 10, 2017

CITY OF MOBILE, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants City of Mobile, Sandy Stimpson, James Barber and Joseph Kennedy's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 36); defendant Donald Dees' Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 37); defendant Mobile County Personnel Board's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 39); and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against All Defendants (doc. 44). All four Motions have been briefed and are now ripe for disposition.[1]

         I. Nature of the Case.

         Plaintiff, Carla Longmire, was employed by the City of Mobile Police Department as a Police Captain. In this capacity, she was a Mobile County Merit System Employee whose employment was subject to, and governed by, the rules of the Mobile County Personnel Board. (Complaint, ¶¶ 1, 7.) Longmire brings this action against six governmental defendants, alleging procedural due process violations in connection with certain disciplinary proceedings conducted in 2013 and 2014, pursuant to which she was demoted from the rank of Captain to that of Lieutenant. In particular, Longmire has named four municipal defendants, to-wit, the City of Mobile, Alabama (the “City”); Sandy S. Stimpson, Mayor of the City of Mobile (“Mayor Stimpson”); James Barber, Chief of the Mobile Police Department (“Chief Barber”); and Joseph D. Kennedy, the former Assistant Chief of the Mobile Police Department (“Assistant Chief Kennedy”) (collectively, the “City Defendants”). Also named as defendants are the Mobile County Personnel Board (the “MCPB”) and Donald Dees, the MCPB's former Personnel Director.

         In Count One of the Complaint, Longmire asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff's stated theory of liability is that “[b]y demoting Plaintiff without following mandatory and non-discretionary Mobile County Merit System due process procedures, Defendants deprived the Plaintiff of her property rights interest in her job as a county merit system employee without due process of law.” (Complaint, ¶ 13.) Count One is littered with allegations that defendants conducted Longmire's disciplinary proceedings in a manner that violated the provisions of MCPB Rule 14.3(a), as well as certain other rules established by the Mobile County Personnel Board. (Id., ¶¶ 14, 16, 18, 19, 23, 24.) Longmire's § 1983 claim against all defendants is summarized in the Complaint as follows: “The provisions of MCPBR 14.3(a) mandated certain prescribed timeframes and due process procedures. The Defendants knowingly failed to abide by them and continue to do so even through the date of this filing.” (Id., ¶ 24.) After the City Defendants made the disciplinary decision, Longmire alleges, the MCPB “upheld the demotion of Longmire and did so in violation of its own due process rules and the Constitution of the United States.” (Id.)

         Count Two of the Complaint is captioned “Due Process - (State based claim), ” and alleges that the demotion decision “unlawfully deprived Longmire of her right to due process guaranteed under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, Article 1, §§ 6, 13, 22, among other applicable sections, including the provisions of the ‘Act' that created the MCPB, the Rules of the Mobile County Personnel Board; including well-settled case law decisions.” (Id., ¶ 27.) Thus, Count Two is a due process claim rooted in the Alabama Constitution, rather than the U.S. Constitution, but is otherwise analogous to and coextensive with Count One.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background.[2]

A. The December 10 Notice.

         On December 10, 2013, a three-page document captioned “Mobile Police Department Disciplinary Trial Board Notice” and signed by defendant Assistant Chief Kennedy was hand-delivered to Longmire. (Doc. 13-4.) The Notice purported to be from defendant Mayor Stimpson (listed as “Designated Appointing Authority”) and reflected that administrative disciplinary action (consisting of “demotion, suspension not to exceed thirty (30) days, or dismissal”) was contemplated against Longmire.

         On its face, the December 10 Notice delineated two charges against Longmire, both pursuant to MCPB Rule 14.2's prohibition on “conduct unbecoming an employee in the public service.” (Doc. 13-4.) Charge I included a “Specification” in the Notice in the following terms:

“That during the month of September 2013, Captain Longmire engaged in an intimate relationship with a subordinate, which was under her command. The investigation revealed that on several occasions during the aforementioned month Captain Longmire met with the subordinate at her apartment during duty hours and on at least one occasion they engaged in sexual intercourse.”

(Id. at 2.) Similarly, the December 10 Notice included the following Specification of the factual underpinnings of Charge II:

         “That as the commander over 3rd Precinct, Captain Longmire failed to provide proper direction, oversight, and guidance over her subordinate, in that she allowed Officer Latham to remove himself from service, by logging off his MDT, during his assigned shift to meet with her at her apartment.”

         (Id. at 3.)

         The December 10 Notice alerted Longmire that a “non-adversary Trial Board Hearing” would be convened at Police Headquarters concerning these charges at 9:00 a.m. on December 16, 2013. During this hearing, the Notice continued, Longmire “will be given an opportunity to enter a plea relative to the stipulated alleged charges and specifications. You will be afforded a chance to respond verbally to the alleged charges if you so desire.” (Id. at 1.) The Notice further apprised Longmire of the following: (i) “you are entitled to have legal counsel and/or a representative present at the hearing as an observer during any questioning or statement(s) made by you;” (ii) “you may submit a list of witnesses who can give direct testimony on your behalf that is relevant to the alleged charges and specifications;” (iii) any list of such witnesses must be “presented to the Department's legal advisor within three (3) working days upon receipt of this Notice;” and (iv) in the event that discipline were imposed, Longmire would “have a right of appeal as granted by the Rules of the Mobile County Personnel Board.” (Id.)

         B. The Pre-Deprivation Hearing.

         The Trial Board Hearing was convened as scheduled on December 16, 2013, before a Trial Board Committee consisting of Assistant Chief Kennedy and two other Mobile Police Department officials. (Doc. 18-2, at 2.)[3] Also present was the City of Mobile's Assistant City Attorney, Wanda B. Rahman. (Id.) Mayor Stimpson (the ultimate decision maker) did not attend. Longmire was present, and brought with her a non-attorney representative named Joanne Ming. (Id. at 4.) At the outset of the hearing and after being placed under oath, Longmire acknowledged both receipt of the December 10 Notice and awareness of her due process rights. (Id. at 5.) She initially entered a plea of “[n]ot guilty with an explanation” as to Charge I and “[n]ot guilty” as to Charge II. (Id. at 6.) Longmire then exited the hearing room, and Officer Latham (the subordinate with whom Longmire was charged with being involved in an intimate relationship) entered and pleaded guilty to charges of conduct unbecoming, truthfulness during investigation and disobedience of orders based on his having had private meetings and sexual intercourse with Longmire at her apartment during duty hours. (Id. at 8-10.)

         At that time, Officer Latham left the room and Longmire returned to face questioning by Assistant City Attorney Rahman. During such examination, Longmire admitted having had sexual relations with Officer Latham at her apartment during her lunch break while he was on duty. (Doc. 18-2, at 11.)[4] She also admitted that Officer Latham had come to her apartment to visit her on multiple other occasions during duty hours. As the hearing proceeded, Longmire indicated that she wished to change her plea and “Plead guilty” to Charge I. (Id. at 22.) Assistant Chief Kennedy later asked, “But you want to plead guilty to the first charge?” (Id. at 34.) Longmire responded in the affirmative. (Id.) By the end of the hearing, Longmire conceded that allowing Officer Latham to come to her private dwelling while he was on duty was not “proper supervision, ” and on that basis she changed her plea to guilty on Charge II, as well. (Id. at 43.)

         When Longmire's testimony concluded, she left the hearing room. The Trial Board then received testimony from four other witnesses outside of Longmire's presence, to-wit: Officer Latham, Sergeant David Wayne Ellzey, Sergeant Michael Barber, and Chaplain Jerry Brown. Longmire did not identify or ask to call any witnesses of her own.

         On December 17, 2013, a letter signed by Mayor Stimpson on behalf of the City was issued to Longmire with the subject line “OFFICIAL NOTICE OF DEMOTION.” (Doc. 13-5.) Mayor Stimpson's letter recounted the Trial Board hearing that had occurred the previous day, then stated as follows:

“For violation, in whole or in part, of cited Mobile Police Department and Mobile County Personnel Board Rules and Regulations, I concur with the recommendation of the Trial Board and Chief of Police that you be demoted to Police Lieutenant effective documented receipt of this Official Notice of Demotion.”

(Id.) The December 17 Letter concluded by apprising Longmire of her right to appeal her demotion pursuant to the rules of the Mobile County Personnel Board. (Id.)[5]

         C. The Post-Deprivation Hearing.

         Longmire timely filed a notice of appeal from Mayor Stimpson's demotion decision on or about December 20, 2013. (Dees Aff. (doc. 13-1), ¶ 4; doc. 13-7, at 1.) In accordance with that appeal, defendant Donald Dees (who was then the Personnel Director of the MCPB) confirmed that Longmire had been furnished with written notice of the pre-disciplinary hearing at least 24 hours in advance, that the notice set forth the factual allegations underlying the contemplated disciplinary action, that Longmire received an opportunity to respond to the charges at the hearing, that Mayor Stimpson demoted her following the hearing, that Longmire had been given written notice of her demotion, and that her notice of appeal was timely. (Dees Aff., ¶ 4.) After confirming these circumstances, Dees scheduled the matter for a de novo hearing before the MCPB. (Id.)

         Longmire's appeal was heard by the MCPB on March 6, 2014. Longmire attended the Personnel Board hearing, where she was represented by counsel of her choosing, Carroll Ogden. (Id., ¶ 5; doc. 13-6.) Also present were five members of the MCPB, attorney Rahman representing the City, and attorney James Brandyburg representing the MCPB. (Doc. 13-6, at 2.) Brandyburg presided over the hearing, including calling witnesses and deciding evidentiary matters. Before any testimony was presented, Longmire's counsel summarized three motions to dismiss that had been submitted, all alleging procedural improprieties relating to the December 16 proceedings. In particular, Longmire's counsel described various purported violations of MCPB Rules 14.3(a) and Rule 14.5, to-wit: (i) Longmire was not “afforded a pre-disciplinary hearing in front of the person charged with final decision-making authority” (i.e., Mayor Stimpson); (ii) the December 10 Notice did not inform Longmire “that she has a right to submit either a verbal statement or a written statement … or really none at all … to the Appointing Authority, ” but instead cited only her right to make a “verbal” statement; and (iii) Dees failed to comply with the requirements of MCPB Rule 14.5 that he review the material for compliance with Rules 14.3 and 14.4 before setting the matter for MCPB hearing. (Doc. 13-6, at 10-12.) Longmire's counsel termed this a “very serious situation” that had deprived Longmire of due process of law. (Id. at 13.) After hearing argument from the City's attorney (Rahman), Brandyburg recommended that the MCPB deny Longmire's motions to dismiss. (Id. at 13-14.) The Board adopted Brandyburg's recommendation and denied the motions. (Id. at 14-15.)[6]

         As the hearing proceeded, the City called two witnesses to testify in favor of its demotion decision. The first, Roy Bruce Hodge, Jr., was a Mobile Police Department lieutenant who explained his investigation of allegations of on-duty sexual contact between Longmire and Officer Latham. (Id. at 20-22.) Longmire's counsel objected “to any testimony until you put the mayor on the stand … to establish what he knew and what he didn't know at the time he made his decision.” (Id. at 23.) Brandyburg overruled the objection and indicated, “I have already ruled that the mayor should not be called as a witness in this proceeding.” (Id.) The City's second witness, Assistant Chief Kennedy, testified about various topics, including the December 16 hearing and Longmire's entry of guilty pleas at that time.[7] Assistant Chief Kennedy indicated that the Trial Board had unanimously agreed that demotion was the appropriate punishment, given that Longmire and Officer Latham's conduct was “the worst thing I can possibly imagine” and “the most egregious act that I can think that you would do.” (Id. at 68-69.) He explained that the Trial Board “didn't fire her because probably of her length of service” and her relatively unblemished disciplinary record. (Id. at 69-70.) On cross-examination, Assistant Chief Kennedy elaborated that Longmire's discipline was more severe than Officer Latham's because she was his supervisor and “the person in charge is surely, you know, more at fault than the under officer.” (Id. at 79.)

         After the City rested, Longmire's counsel had an opportunity to put on testimony and evidence at the MCPB hearing. In lieu of doing so, Longmire simply “stipulate[d] to the charges as was read” and made a closing statement. (Id. at 81-82.) During that closing statement, Longmire's counsel re-emphasized plaintiff's position that the December 16 hearing was procedurally deficient under MCPB rules. (Id. at 88.) The hearing then concluded and the MCPB took the matter under submission.

         On March 20, 2014, the MCPB issued a five-page Order (doc. 13-7) that recited the charges and specifications against Longmire, summarized the testimony and exhibits presented at the March 6 hearing, and affirmed the demotion decision. In so doing, the March 20 Order reflected the Personnel Board's unanimous conclusions that (i) “the Appointing Authority has met the burden of proof cast upon it;” (ii) Longmire had admitted to the conduct charged, and the MPCB was “satisfied that CARLA LONGMIRE was guilty of all the charges;” and (iii) the MCPB had considered de novo what discipline should be imposed against Longmire for her misconduct, and found that “demotion is the appropriate sanction.” (Doc. 13-7.)

         D. The State-Court Appeals.

         As was her right, Longmire appealed the Personnel Board's decision to the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama. With the benefit of multiple hearings and summary judgment briefing, Circuit Judge Brooks entered a nine-page Order (doc. 13-8) on August 7, 2015, affirming the MCPB's decision to demote Longmire to the rank of lieutenant and entering final judgment in the City's favor. The Circuit Court Order recognized Longmire's argument “that the Personnel Board violated its own rules and regulations as it relates to due process, timeliness and notice and failure to demand the presence of the Appointing Authority at the appeal hearing.” (Doc. 13-8, at 7.) In finding no merit to those contentions, the Circuit Court Order observed that Longmire's counsel had previously litigated those same procedural objections in a case called Angela Wright v. City of Mobile, and that the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals had rejected all such arguments. (Id. at 7-8.) The Circuit Court Order articulated the following findings:

“This Circuit Court finds that there is substantial evidence to support the factual findings and the order of the Mobile County Personnel Board. This Circuit Court further finds that the Personnel Board's action was not ‘unlawful' or ‘unreasonable' within the meaning of Local Act 470. … This Court finds that all rules and timely notices were adhered to and there is no issue of material fact that exists that would compel this Court to rule otherwise.”

(Id. at 8.)

         Longmire appealed the Mobile County Circuit Court's decision all the way through the Alabama appellate courts. On September 16, 2016, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals issued a Certificate of Judgment confirming that (i) that court had affirmed the Circuit Court's judgment on April 22, 2016; and (ii) the Alabama Supreme Court had denied Longmire's petition for writ of certiorari on September 16, 2016. (Doc. 34-2.)[8]

         E. The “Due Process” Lawsuit.

         On December 16, 2015, after the Mobile County Circuit Court had entered judgment against Longmire and while her administrative appeals were winding through the Alabama appellate courts, Longmire filed the present collateral lawsuit in Mobile County Circuit Court against the City Defendants, the MCPB and Dees.[9] As noted, Longmire seeks relief in this action for alleged ...

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