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Smith v. City of Mobile

United States District Court, Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division

August 15, 2017

MICHAEL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MOBILE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          KATHERINE P. NELSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This action is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (Doc. 39) and separate memorandum and exhibits in support (Docs. 40, 41) filed by Defendant Liana Barnett, who is being sued in her official capacity as the Board's Personnel Director, and Defendant Donald Dees, who is being sued in his individual capacity.[1] Plaintiff Michael Smith has timely filed a response (Doc. 45), supported by exhibits, in opposition to the motion, and the moving Defendants have timely filed a reply (Doc. 49) to the response. The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 42) and is ripe for disposition.

         The motion simply moves for summary judgment on Smith's Complaint in general. However, Count V and the federal claims in Count IV have already been dismissed by previous orders and are no longer pending. (See Docs. 31, 50). Thus, the present motion is MOOT as to those claims. As to the remaining claims, the Court tentatively finds that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 39) is due to be is GRANTED on all remaining federal claims, but not for the reasons argued by Barnett and Dees. The Court further tentatively finds that, for the same reasons, summary judgment is due to be GRANTED in favor of all other Defendants on all remaining federal claims in the Complaint (Doc. 1). Because the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate both for nonmovants and for grounds not raised by the movants, notice and a reasonable time to respond will be provided to the parties. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f)(1)-(2).[2]

         I. Applicable Legal Standards

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense--or the part of each claim or defense--on which summary judgment is sought. 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). “An issue of fact is ‘material' if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law and it is ‘genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Ave. CLO Fund, Ltd. v. Bank of Am., N.A., 723 F.3d 1287, 1294 (11th Cir. 2013) (quotations omitted). “Summary judgment is only appropriate if a case is ‘so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.' ” Quigg v. Thomas Cty. Sch. Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1235 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)) (citation omitted). However, a “ ‘mere scintilla' of evidence is insufficient; the non-moving party must produce substantial evidence in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Garczynski v. Bradshaw, 573 F.3d 1158, 1165 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam). In other words, “there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party … Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (quotations omitted).

         “[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Jackson v. West, 787 F.3d 1345, 1352 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alteration adopted) (quotations omitted)). See also Allen, 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” (quotations omitted)). “The Court ‘must avoid weighing conflicting evidence or making credibility determinations.' ” Ave. CLO Fund, 723 F.3d at 1294 (quoting Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000)). However, “ ‘an inference based on speculation and conjecture is not reasonable.' ” Id. (quoting Blackston v. Shook & Fletcher Insulation Co., 764 F.2d 1480, 1482 (11th Cir. 1985)).

         “Where…the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the moving party, in order to prevail, must do one of two things: show that the non-moving party has no evidence to support its case, or present ‘affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial.' ” Hammer v. Slater, 20 F.3d 1137, 1141 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437-38 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc)). “Once the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that specific facts exist that raise a genuine issue for trial.” Dietz v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., 598 F.3d 812, 815 (11th Cir. 2010). “For issues on which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the non-moving party must either point to evidence in the record or present additional evidence ‘sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency.' ” Hammer, 20 F.3d at 1141 (quoting Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993)).

         “When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must support its motion with credible evidence that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. In other words, the moving party must show that, on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. If the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, it is entitled to summary judgment unless the nonmoving party, in response, comes forward with significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact.” Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d at 1438 (citations and quotations omitted).

         “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) 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). “The nonmoving party may avail itself of all facts and justifiable inferences in the record taken as a whole.” Allen, 121 F.3d at 646 (quotation omitted). “If reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a court should deny summary judgment.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Conclusory allegations and speculation are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.” Valderrama v. Rousseau, 780 F.3d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Cordoba v. Dillard's Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Speculation does not create a genuine issue of fact; instead, it creates a false issue, the demolition of which is a primary goal of summary judgment.”)).

         II. Summary Judgment Factual Determinations

         Act No. 470, Local Acts of 1939, as amended by Act No. 2004-105, Ala. Acts 2004 (“Local Act 470”) created the Mobile County Personnel Department (“MCPD”) to “govern and control, by Civil Service rules, regulations and practices, …all individuals in the Classified Service” in Mobile County, Alabama. (See Doc. 41-3 at 3 - 4 [Local Act 470, §§ III - IV]). The MCPD is composed of three entities: a Supervisory Committee, a Personnel Board (hereinafter, “the Board”), and a Personnel Director. (See Id. at 3 [Local Act 470, § III]). It is undisputed that, at all times material to this action, Dees served as MCPD's Personnel Director. Per Section VIII of Local Act 470, the Personnel Director serves as “executive head” of the Department and is tasked with directing and supervising “all of its administrative and technical activities.” (Doc. 41-3 at 10).

         Smith was employed as a police sergeant with the City of Mobile Police Department, which was considered an MCPD “Classified Services” position. On August 29, 2014, the City of Mobile delivered a Disciplinary Trial Board Notice to Smith, setting forth various charges of malfeasance by Smith, providing a date for a “non-adversary Administrative Trial Board Hearing, ” and advising Smith of certain rights. (Doc. 41-5. See also Doc. 45-1 at 1, ¶ 2 [Smith Aff.]). The trial board hearing was held September 3, 2014 (See Doc. 41-6 at 1), with Smith attending and giving testimony (see Doc. 45-1 at 2 - 4). By notice dated September 9, 2014, Defendant Sandy Stimpson, in his capacity as mayor of Mobile, concurred with the trial board's recommendation and dismissed Smith from his employment. (Doc. 41-6). Smith appealed that decision to the Board (see Doc. 41-7), under the procedures set forth in Rule 14.4 of the Rules and Regulations of the Personnel Board (“Board Rules”) (Doc. 41-4 at 55).[3] Board Rule 14.5 provides as follows:

The Director shall within seven (7) calendar days after receipt of the appeal, investigate to insure proper procedure was followed as set out in Rule 14.3 and 14.4 and report said appeal to the Board. The Board shall schedule a public hearing on the appeal as early as practicable. Notice of the date, time and place of the hearing shall be given to the employee and the Appointing Authority. The parties may be represented by counsel. The Board shall not be bound by the technical rules of evidence but shall seek diligently all the information and evidence bearing on the merits of the case.

(Doc. 41-4 at 55).

         Dees and the Board first became involved in Smith's termination proceedings around September 12, 2014 (, when Dees “received Smith's appeal” and “handled the matter on behalf of the Personnel Board in the usual course of business[, ]” as follows:

I noted in the Personnel Board records receipt of Smith's appeal of his termination by the City of Mobile Police Department. Following the procedure in Personnel Board Rule 14.5, on September15, 2014 I reviewed the procedural documents, including the predisciplinary hearing notice[, ] the Mayor's letter of termination, and Smith's notice of appeal (Ex. 7). The initials "D.D." which appear in the documents are mine, and I dated the documents when I reviewed them- September 15, 2014.
I determined from review of the documents that the City of Mobile provided Smith with at least 24 hour advance notice of the pre-disciplinary hearing; that the written notice contained a statement of the allegations and facts underlying the contemplated disciplinary action; that Smith was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations; that Smith was given written notice of the termination by the appointing authority; and that Smith filed a timely notice of appeal. Finding the predisciplinary hearing documents to be in order, I reported Smith's appeal to the Board by placing it on the Personnel Board's September 16, 2014 meeting agenda. The Personnel Board scheduled Smith's appeal for a de novo hearing on November 13, 2014.
As Personnel Director I (or my assistant) attended Personnel Board hearings. At the hearing I acted as something of a bailiff by ushering witnesses in and out the hearing room, operating A V equipment, making copies of documents, etc…I did not in Smith's case, examine witnesses, ...

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