United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 8, 2016, Plaintiff Josh Doggrell (“Mr.
Doggrell”) initiated this lawsuit in the Circuit Court
of Calhoun County against the City of Anniston (the
“City”) and Brian Johnson, individually and in
his official capacity as the City Manager (“City
Manager Johnson”). (Doc. 1-3). Mr. Doggrell's
complaint contains two counts. (Doc. 1-3 at 8-10 ¶¶
31-37). Count I asserts violations of Mr.
Doggrell's state and federal constitutional rights of
freedom of speech, association, assembly and religion. (Doc.
1-3 at 8-9 ¶¶ 31-35) against both Defendants. Count
II asserts a violation of the Alabama Religious Freedom
Amendment (“ARFA”) against both Defendants. (Doc.
1-3 at 9-10 ¶¶ 36-37).
removed the action to federal court on February 11, 2016, on
the basis of federal question over Count I and supplemental
jurisdiction over Count II. (Doc. 1 at 2-3 ¶¶ 3-4).
On December 2, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment
(doc. 11) (the “Motion”). The parties have
supported and opposed the Motion. (Docs. 12-15, 22-23, 26).
For the reasons set out below, the Motion is due to be
FACTUAL BACKGROUND 
Doggrell was first employed by the City of Anniston's
Police Department (“APD”) in April 2006. AF No.
He was promoted in July 2010 to the position of Sergeant, and
he was promoted again in January 2013 to the position of
Lieutenant. AF No. 1.2.
Doggrell became a member of the League of the South in 1995
while he was a student at the University of Alabama. AF No.
2.1. He remained a member of the organization through July
2015. AF No. 2.2.
Hill (“Mr. Hill”) is the President of the League
of the South and has been since its foundation in 1994. AF
No. 3.1. Mr. Hill is also the organization's primary
spokesperson. AF No. 3.2. He has actual authority from the
League of the South's Board of Directors to utilize the
organization's website to communicate ideas, beliefs and
principles on its behalf. AF No. 3.3. He also has
“carte blanche” authority to link from his
Facebook page and Twitter account to the League of the
South's website. AF No. 3.4.
League of the South's stated purpose is “to advance
the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and
independence of the southern people by all honorable
me[a]n[s].” AF No. 4.1. According to its President, the
League of the South considers the “southern
people” to be white people of southern heritage. AF No.
4.2. Black southerners are not eligible to be included within
its concept of the “southern people.” AF No. 4.3.
most of his adult life, Mr. Doggrell was a firmly committed
member of the League of the South. AF No. 5.1. In March 2009,
Mr. Doggrell started a local chapter of the League of the
South in Calhoun County, Alabama. AF No. 5.2. The Anniston
Star published an article about his formation of the local
chapter. AF No. 5.3. Mr. Doggrell asked the Anniston
Star's reporter not to identify him as an Anniston police
officer. AF No. 5.4. Mr. Doggrell made this request to the
reporter because he wanted to minimize any controversy for
APD. AF No. 5.5. Shortly thereafter, the City received a
citizen's complaint criticizing Mr. Doggrell's
involvement in the League of the South and requesting an
investigation into the matter. AF No. 6.
Anniston Police Chief John Dryden (“Former Police Chief
Dryden”), who was interim City Manager at the time,
issued a memorandum in response to the citizen's request.
AF No. 7.1. In the memorandum, Former Police Chief Dryden
acknowledged that a member of APD was also a member of the
League of the South and asserted that the City's
investigation “revealed no violations of any kind that
action could be taken on.” AF No. 7.2. In reaching this
conclusion, Former Police Chief Dryden specifically noted
that the APD officer-Mr. Doggrell-“in no way affiliated
his employment with the City to his membership with this
organization.” AF No. 7.3.
the City's 2009 investigation into Mr. Doggrell's
involvement with the League of the South, the APD warned Mr.
Doggrell to be very careful. AF No. 8.1. Mr. Doggrell
confirmed that he was careful not to mix his association in
the League of the South with the APD. AF No. 8.2.
2013, Mr. Hill invited Mr. Doggrell to speak at the League of
the South's Annual National Conference that was being
held in Wetumpka, Alabama. AF No. 10.1. Mr. Hill wanted Mr.
Doggrell to address the relationship between local police and
the League of the South and the recruitment of police
officers to the organization. AF No. 10.2.
Doggrell accepted the invitation and gave a speech at the
League of the South's 2013 National Conference entitled
“Cultivating the Good Will of Peace Officers.” AF
No. 11.1. Mr. Doggrell believed that he had to identify
himself as a police officer in order to have credibility to
speak on the subject. AF No. 11.2.
to beginning his speech, Mr. Doggrell was introduced as
living in the community of Saks in Anniston, Alabama. (Doc.
12-31 at 2). Mr. Doggrell submitted a biography in
connection with his speech indicating that he had been a
peace officer in his home city/county for sixteen years. AF
No. 12.2; (see also Doc. 12-23 at 1 (attaching flyer
detailing speakers scheduled for 2013 Annual League of the
South National Conference)).
Doggrell's speech included the following statements:
• “[I]t was wonderful to go by there and show my
bosses all the radicals that I was cavorting with on the
weekends.” (Doc. 12-31 at 5);
•“It's wonderful to be around sanity . . .
it's good to be among people who think like I do for a
change, even if it's just for a weekend. We are working
on getting more of those people around our way of
thinking.” (Id. at 7);
•“Now, it is not easy being a League of the South
member either . . . It can be hard. And let me tell you, we
had a city council member who could be best described as a
small-town Jessie Jackson. We began our chapter in 2009. And
there was an internal investigation [launched] against this
cop who had founded a local hate group. And I was cleared for
that, and hopefully won't have to put up with that again.
And that city councilman, by the way, has been voted out of
office as well. So there are - In my department, they have
been very supportive of me. I have somehow, been promoted
twice since I have been there. So these folks are not
necessarily always against us. I want to leave you with that
impression. (Doc. 12-31 at 8-9, 9-10);
• “Calhoun County has several police agencies. I
work at Anniston, which I'll go ahead and go on record.
Nothing I say here today is necessarily the views of the
Anniston Police Department. I speak only as an individual and
not an employee of that agency.” (Id. at
•“The vast majority of men in uniform are aware
that they are Southerners and kith and kin comes before
illegal national mandates.” (Id. at 23);
•“You may ask how many police officers I have
recruited to the League. Well, not many . . . But
continuously, like Dr. Hill said last night in our state
meeting, it is a grind . . . Some of those same people who
said ten years ago were telling me how crazy I was, this week
are telling me, ‘I am this close to where you are
at.' Okay? We have got to keep working on that and stay
the course.” (Id. at 23, 24);
•“[Police officers] are the kind of people we will
need in this kind of organization. These are the successful
ones that can be counted on to be a warrior in the battles to
come.” (Id. at 33);
•“[B]y the way, Wayne. But Wayne Brown is here, a
lieutenant at the Anniston Police Department. He accompanied
me to a meeting in Cullman; and on the way there, he was
asking me, he said, ‘What is the magic bean, ' as
he put it, ‘that would arouse our people to see exactly
what was happening to them and how necessary the step of
secession is?' And I told him I considered that, not only
a good question but perhaps the million dollar one: What will
it take? We see all this, and we still see the zombies
walking around accepting it. What - What would it
take?” (Doc. 12-31 at 39);
•“By and large, our lawmen of Southern justice are
good people with good intentions. They are just as
susceptible to being swayed to our side and our views as any
other southerner, and I would say even more so.”
(Id. at 41);
•“I went through that internal investigation and
was cleared. The department I work at has been very
supportive about that. They are not all on board, now, but
they have been very supportive. They are just - They are like
other southerners. They have that fear of taking this step.
What's it going to do to me? What's it going to do to
my job? . . . It's the same thing. They are southerners
just like others. (Id. at 48-49, 49); and
•“Everybody in here, something starts swirling
back around about it. You know, “This guy works at the
police department, founder of a local hate group.” And
I went in and told the chief last year, I said . . .,
“Is there anything you want to ask me?” I said,
“I promise you that whatever I do I want to exercise
good judgment about it. I am not going to sell out my
position with a league of something that I believe in
strongly. If it came down to it, I would choose the
League.” And I said, “Is there anything you want
to ask me? He said, “You just answered every question I
have.” And he even said this. He said, “We pretty
much think like you do.” They are just - They are like
everybody else you come into contact with that's not here
today. They are just not quite ready to take that step. But
like I said earlier, they are much closer than they were ten
or 15 years ago.” (Id. at 49, 49-50).
AF No. 13.
giving his speech in 2013, Mr. Doggrell began to notice a
shift or change in the League of the South. AF No. 9.1.
Certain people were being placed in leadership positions that
Mr. Doggrell felt did not represent the League of the South
or southern nationalism well. AF No. 9.2. People with White
Nationalist and neo-Nazi beliefs were becoming associated
with the League of the South and were becoming more
prevalent. AF No. 9.3. According to Mr. Doggrell, “the
tone and language and rhetoric ha[d] gotten vile to a
degree.” AF No. 9.4. Mr. Doggrell was afraid that the
movement was being hijacked. AF No. 9.5.
City first learned about Mr. Doggrell's 2013 speech when
a person who identified herself as being associated with the
Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) called
Anniston Police Chief Denham in late-May, early-June of 2015.
AF No. 14. City Manager Johnson was notified of Mr.
Doggrell's speech at that same point in time. AF No.
Manager Johnson had never heard of the League of the South.
AF No. 15.2. He did not know Mr. Doggrell, either. AF No.
15.3. Initially, City Manager Johnson made no decision as to
how the City would respond other than to investigate the
matter internally. AF No. 15.4.
Manager Johnson spoke to the Police Chief to ask for
background on the League of the South, Mr. Doggrell's
membership in the organization, and Mr. Doggrell's
personnel record. AF No. 16.1. City Manager Johnson also
spoke with the City's HR Director as to the personnel
concerns relating to the allegation that a member of the
police force may be involved in an organization that could be
construed as a hate group. AF No. 16.2. He directed both the
Police Chief and HR Director to investigate the situation and
report how it might impact Mr. Doggrell's employment with
the City. AF No. 16.3.
17, 2015, the SPLC published an article on its Hatewatch Blog
entitled, “Anniston Police Department Has Two Hate
Group Members on the Force.” AF No. 17.1. The article
cited several of Mr. Doggrell's statements made during
his speech to the League of the South's 2013 National
Conference, which had been posted to YouTube, including Mr.
Doggrell's purported conversation with former Police
Chief Layton McGrady (“Former Police Chief
McGrady”) in 2012 about Mr. Doggrell's League of
the South affiliations. AF No. 17.2.
to the SPLC's June 17th publication, Mr. Doggrell was
never hindered in his advancement in his career with APD
because of his association with the League of the South. AF
No. 18.3. Mr. Doggrell suffered no adverse employment action
in the time period between when Defendants first received
notice of his speech and the SPLC's June 17th
publication. AF No. 18.1. Mr. Doggrell does not dispute that
Defendants' initial response after receiving notice of
his speech was measured. AF No. 18.2.
SPLC's article and the posting of a related YouTube video
had a tremendous impact in the community. AF No. 19.1
Concerning the video, more particularly, it depicted the
current APD, Mr. Doggrell, and Lt. Wayne Brown (“Lt.
Brown”) as being connected with the KKK's actions
in the 1960s in burning buses of Freedom Riders. AAF No.
11.1. Police Chief Denham testified that he believed that the
SPLC edited the video footage in this manner to inflame
racial tensions. AAF No. 11.1; (see Doc. 12-2 at 27
at 108 (“It was very obvious to me that the SPLC was
trying to inflame the situation.”)).
Chief Denham also testified that it “was not like
anything I had ever seen before . . . .” AF No. 19.2.
“Very angry and very disgusted” people started
showing up in APD's lobby, and APD started receiving
phone calls and emails about it. AF No. 19.3. A large portion
of the complaints were directed at the APD as a whole,
“as in you have a racist department, you follow the
beliefs of this organization, League of the South, and you
are in line with them, as evidenced by the speech that one of
your lieutenants gave.” AF No. 19.4.
Manager Johnson's first response to the public outcry was
to place both Mr. Doggrell and Lt. Brown, who Mr. Doggrell
had identified during the 2013 speech as a fellow ADP officer
who supported the League of the South, on paid administrative
leave. AF No. 20.1. He did so for their own safety, the
safety of their fellow officers, and to allow time for an
internal investigation. AF No. 20.2. Tensions in the
community were pretty high, and the Police Chief believed
that there were “absolutely” real safety
concerns. AF No. 20.3.
the SPLC's publication, the City looked into the League
of the South by reference to its readily available web page
and social media presence, which revealed troublesome
materials. AF No. 21.1. For instance, the organization was
promoting a return to segregation, overtly disparaging black
Americans, promoting white supremacy and the inferiority of
black Americans (in the context of a threatened race war),
and espousing plainly racist and inflammatory rhetoric. AF
No. 21.2. For example, in a social media posting by
“Michael Hill @MichaelHill51[, ]” it states:
“Let's see, who's killed more white Americans
today, ISIS or feral negroes? First things first, people!
leagueofthesouth.com.” (Doc. 12-11). Accompanying this
post made by Mr. Hill is a copy of the League of the
South's logo. Id.
Brown was in fact present during Mr. Doggrell's speech at
the League of the South's 2013 National Conference. AF
No. 22.1. In actually though, he had very limited involvement
with the organization in 2013 and was not a member in 2015.
AF No. 22.2. Lt. Brown attended a meeting at Mr.
Doggrell's invitation in Cullman, Alabama in 2013. AF No.
22.3. He purchased an annual membership to attend the 2013
National Conference, which he never renewed. AF No. 22.4. Lt.
Brown then attended an event with Mr. Doggrell in Vidalia,
Georgia in August 2013. He withdrew from the organization
after being exposed to some of the views espoused by its
members. AF No. 22.5. Lt. Brown perceived a radical element
within the organization. AF No. 22.6.
18, 2015, Police Chief Denham held a meeting at the Justice
Center to address the public outcry. AF No. 25.1. He
communicated with community leaders, civil rights activists,
and concerned citizens who expressed that they had lost
confidence in the police department. AF No. 25.2. He tried to
get people to understand that the SPLC's publication did
not expose a department-wide issue, but rather a more limited
issue. AF No. 25.3.
Police Chief Denham's assessment, Mr. Doggrell's 2013
speech was very damaging to the APD because Mr. Doggrell gave
the false impression that the APD supported the League of the
South and condoned his activities in furtherance of the
organization. AF No. 26.1. Ultimately, Police Chief Denham
determined that Mr. Doggrell's continued employment with
the City was impossible. AF No. 26.2.
Manager Johnson also engaged in a number of meetings with
community representatives, specifically from the minority
community, in an effort to refute the implication that there
was a pervasive problem within the police department and to
prevent further erosion of the public's trust in the
department. AF No. 27.1. City Manager Johnson received
information relating to the public's reaction through his
own direct communications, staff members, Police Chief
Denham, and elected officials. AF No. 27.2.
City concluded in its investigation that Mr. Doggrell had
misrepresented the extent to which the APD supported his
association and activities with the League of the South. AF
No. 29.1. More specifically, Mr. Doggrell's statements
during his 2013 speech about APD's prior investigation
into his association with the League of the South, the Police
Chief's support of his association, and Mr.
Doggrell's apparent recruitment of police officers
created the perception within the community that there was a
“department wide pervasive problem.” AF No. 27.3.
City Manager Johnson perceived the community as being a
“powder keg.” AF No. 27.4.
City received numerous media requests from local, national
and international media outlets following the SPLC's
publication. AF No. 28.1. The City received press inquiries
from NBC News in New York and CNN in Atlanta, as well as WIAT
42 in Birmingham, WVTM 13 in Birmingham, Alabama Heritage
Communications, and the Anniston Star, among others. AF No.
18, 2015, “Anniston, Alabama: City's Police
Department Places 2 Officers on Leave After Hate-Group
Allegations” was the number one trending topic on
Facebook. AF No. 28.6. The APD's Facebook account had to
be shut down because of the extraordinary social media
response, including many vitriolic and salacious postings. AF
No. 28.3. The APD's Facebook account had 27, 000
followers at the time and served as a lifeline between the
department and the community. AF No. 28.4. APD's Facebook
also served as a useful tool in the department's efforts
to solve crimes. AF No. 28.5.
his tenure as Police Chief, Chief McGrady promoted Mr.
Doggrell to sergeant and then lieutenant. AF No. 30.1. Former
Police Chief McGrady did not consider Mr. Doggrell's
association with the League of the South in relation to those
promotions because it did not affect his job performance or
the APD. AF No. 30.2. At the time of those promotions, Former
Police Chief McGrady had no reason to believe that Mr.
Doggrell had associated his membership in the League of the
South with his position as a police officer. AF No. 30.3.
the SPLC's publication, the City also looked at Mr.
Doggrell's public Facebook profile and identified social
media activity that violated its policy against harassment.
AF No. 31.1; AF No. 31.2. Mr. Doggrell's public Facebook
profile displayed an image of a white “not-equal”
sign with a black background that, on its face, conveyed the
message that blacks and whites are not equal. (Exhibit 1, pg.
156-157) and (Exhibit 1-10). This image was depicted along
with confederate symbols and a picture of Nathan Bedford
Forrest, which solidified its racially offensive message.
(Exhibit 1, pg. 157-159) and (Exhibit 1-11). Mr.
Doggrell's public Facebook profile also included three
photographs of him together with Michael Hill, one of which
displayed the message, “Southern Nationalists: 100%
Diverse” with a banner reading “SECEDE” in
to making a decision on how to handle Mr. Doggrell's
employment, City Manager Johnson received a report from APD
that Mr. Doggrell was unwilling to denounce the League of the
South. AF No. 32.1. According to Mr. Doggrell, he was asked
by the APD whether he would “outright denounce”
the League of the South and “throw them under the bus,
” to which he responded: “Well, that's not
going to happen.” AF No. 32.2. Mr. Doggrell also stated
in writing: “Friday afternoon the carrot was dangled by
Internal Affairs. Would I be willing to flush the League
entirely in order to save my job[?] The answer was a swift
no.” AF No. 32.3.
Mr. Doggrell disagreed with the outcome of the investigation,
City Manager Johnson determined that the revelation of Mr.
Doggrell's 2013 speech and his conduct had
“unequivocally” damaged the public's
perception, confidence and trust in the City's police
department and, “without a doubt”, interfered
with Mr. Doggrell's ability to carry out the duties of
his job and the APD's ability to carry out its mission
and operations. (Doc. 12-2 at 51 at 204; id. at 52
at 207-08). In an effort to remedy the damage to APD's
reputation, its officers underwent training by the Department
of Justice's Community Relations Service on policing and
relationships with the minority community. (Doc. 12-2 at 52
at 211-12). The controversy surrounding the situation also
served as a catalyst for the United States Attorney for the
Northern District of Alabama and her office to become
involved in the affairs and operations of APD. (Doc. 12-2 at
52 at 212).
Manager Johnson decided on June 19, 2015, to terminate Mr.
Doggrell's employment with the City. AF No. 34.1.
Ultimately, like Police Chief Denham, City Manager Johnson
considered Mr. Doggrell's continued employment and
service to the City to be ...