United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
authorities publicly identified Plaintiff Eric Brown, a
Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy, as potentially
connected to a money laundering scheme after he purchased two
cars, each with a value in excess of Mr. Brown's annual
salary. The investigation did not ultimately lead to any
formal charges, but Mr. Brown suffered consequences all the
same-namely, that his employer placed him on administrative
leave for over one year and placed administrative
restrictions on him once he returned to work. Mr. Brown now
alleges his race motivated his superiors to punish him as
severely as they did.
matter comes before the court on Defendant's motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. 36). In the motion and his brief in
support, Defendant Mark Pettway asks the court to enter summary
judgment in his favor on Plaintiff's race discrimination
Mark Pettway, in his official capacity as Sheriff of
Jefferson County, Alabama, is the only defendant remaining in
this case, and the court already dismissed the only other
claim Mr. Brown brought against him. So ruling in
Defendant's favor on this motion would constitute a final
judgment in this case.
reasons stated below, this court WILL GRANT Defendant's
motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 36).
Standard of Review
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: whether any
genuine issues of material fact exist, and whether the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
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 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). Inferences can create genuine issues
of material fact. Carlson v. FedEx Ground Package
Systems, Inc., 787 F.3d 1313, 1318 (11th Cir. 2015).
response, 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).
court must “view the evidence presented through the
prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” to
determine whether the non-moving party presented sufficient
evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the
nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. The
court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making
credibility determinations because these decisions belong to
a jury. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193
F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). After both parties have
addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must
grant the motion only if no genuine issues of
material fact exist and if the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56.
Eric Brown has worked as a deputy sheriff for the Jefferson
County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) since 2002. He worked in
the Corrections Division until 2005 and then served as a
Patrol Officer from 2005 until the incidents described below
2013, Mr. Brown, along with several other parties, purchased
a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. As part of the same transaction, Mr.
Brown also signed a purchase agreement for a 1967 Ford
Mustang, but he denies any knowledge of or involvement with
that transaction, seemingly explaining his signature on the
paperwork to be a clerical oversight.
two cars became the focus of an investigation by the United
States Drug Enforcement Agency in 2014. The DEA suspected the
cars were used to launder illicit “drug” money
and took possession of both. The DEA also publicly identified
Mr. Brown as a Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff under
investigation for drug-related money laundering crimes
related to the cars.
same day as the DEA's public announcement of its active
investigation, April 10, 2014, the JCSO placed Mr. Brown on
administrative leave with pay. On June 12, 2014, with the DEA
investigation ongoing, the JCSO placed Mr. Brown on
administrative leave without pay. One year later, with the
DEA investigation pending still, the JCSO reinstated Mr.
Brown but involuntarily reassigned him to work in the
Corrections Division with several administrative restrictions
on him: disallowing him a patrol car to take home,
disallowing him from wearing a uniform outside the
correctional facility, and prohibiting him from making any
arrests or performing any duties outside the correctional
facility. (Doc. 10 at ¶¶ 14-18). Defendant's
proffered rationale for these restrictions is that “the
on-going federal investigation . . . would taint any arrest
Deputy Brown had to make and any testimony he had to give
concerning such an arrest.” (Doc. 37 at 30-31).
both race and age discrimination, Mr. Brown filed a formal
complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on
October 13, 2015. The EEOC concluded its own investigation on
August 14, 2016 and sent a right-to-sue letter to Mr. Brown
on August 15, 2016. Mr. Brown filed this lawsuit on November
Brown's amended complaint says he received the
right-to-sue letter on August 18, 2016. (Doc. 10 at ¶
12). During his deposition, Mr. Brown stated that he could
not recall the day or week he received the right-to-sue
letter but that he knew it was in August. (Doc. 38-1 at 29,
Eric Brown's Dep. at 109:1-13).
months after Mr. Brown filed this lawsuit, the United States
concluded its nearly three-year-long investigation and
dismissed all pending actions against Mr. Brown. Almost a
month later, when the JCSO learned of the dismissal, it
lifted all administrative restrictions from Mr. Brown and
allowed him to transfer to the Patrol Division at the next