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Underwood v. City of Moultrie

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

September 10, 2014

CHARLES DAVE UNDERWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MOULTRIE, GEORGIA, AND MOULTRIE POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

ORDER

HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15) filed by Defendants City of Moultrie, Georgia ("Moultrie" or "City of Moultrie") and the Moultrie Police Department ("MPD" or "the Department") (collectively "Defendants"). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact arises only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The court must evaluate all of the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 254-55. The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc. , 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

The party seeking summary judgment "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 a material fact." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation omitted). If the movant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the party opposing summary judgment to go beyond the pleadings and present specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact, or that the movant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 324-26. This evidence must consist of more than conclusory allegations. See Avirgan v. Hull , 932 F.2d 1572, 1577 (11th Cir. 1991). Summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322.

Under Local Rule 56, the facts listed in the movant's statement of material facts will be deemed admitted as undisputed unless the non-movant denies each specific fact and provides a supporting citation to the factual record. M.D. Ga. L.R. 56. However, even if the non-movant fails to offer adequate objections under Local Rule 56, a court may not accept at face value the movant's depiction of the facts. United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla. , 363 F.3d 1099, 1101-02 (11th Cir. 2004). A court must review the record to determine for itself whether the motion for summary judgment is supported by the evidence and that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id .; see also Reese v. Herbert , 527 F.3d 1253, 1268-69 (11th Cir. 2008).

II. Factual Summary

Plaintiff Charles Underwood ("Plaintiff") has not responded to Defendants' statement of undisputed material facts with relevant record citations that would dispute these facts. Therefore, to the extent the record provides support for these facts, they are deemed admitted pursuant to Local Rule 56.

This race-based employment discrimination case arises from Plaintiff's employment with the Moultrie Police Department. In December 2005, the MPD hired Plaintiff, a Caucasian male, as a police officer. Plaintiff initially worked as a patrol officer, but in January 2009, he transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division ("CID") to work as a detective. On November 11, 2013, Plaintiff returned to being a patrol officer, and he continues to serve as one. While Plaintiff was in the CID, it was commanded by a number of different officers, including Alfonzo Cook ("Cook"), who is African-American, and Sergeant Rob Rodriguez ("Sgt. Rodriguez"), who is Hispanic. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("DSMF"), Doc. 16, ¶¶ 1-5, 8; Deposition of Plaintiff, Doc. 20, pp. 24, 32-37). During the entire time that Plaintiff has been with the MPD, Frank Lang ("Chief Lang") has been chief of the MPD. (DSMF, ¶ 24; Affidavit of Frank N. Lang, Sr., Doc. 18, ¶ 3).

Plaintiff's superior officers disciplined him on several occasions while he was in the CID. On August 20, 2010, Cook disciplined Plaintiff for, according to the disciplinary record, failing to investigate a potential sodomy charge in a case involving sex crimes. Cook cautioned Plaintiff to investigate his cases thoroughly to keep from overlooking important details. On November 2, 2011, Sgt. Rodriguez issued a disciplinary letter to Plaintiff for failing to submit a use of force report within the time set by departmental policy. The letter warned Plaintiff that he would be subject to progressively harsher discipline if he continued violating departmental policies. On January 6, 2012, Sgt. Rodriguez gave Plaintiff another letter of reprimand, this time for failing to arrest an individual who was suspected of having committed forgery. According to Plaintiff, the arrest had "slipped through the cracks" because of his heavy caseload. In Plaintiff's deposition, he admitted that the discipline in August 2010 was not racially discriminatory, and he could not say whether the disciplinary letters in November 2011 and January 2012 were. (Plaintiff Depo., p. 83; DSMF, ¶¶ 5-16).

On March 2, 2012, Plaintiff, Sgt. Rodriguez, and other CID officers met with the district attorney. During the meeting, Plaintiff asked the district attorney questions that Sgt. Rodriguez perceived as implying that Plaintiff doubted whether the training he had received from the sergeant was correct. Following the meeting with the district attorney, Sgt. Rodriguez assembled the CID staff in his office. The supervisor proceeded to reprimand Plaintiff in a profane, derogatory, and belittling manner for questioning the training that had been provided by the CID. During the upbraiding, Sgt. Rodriguez never used any racial slurs or commented on Plaintiff's race. Plaintiff subsequently submitted a letter to the Department's internal affairs office complaining that Sgt. Rodriguez had used profanity and unfairly humiliated him in front of other officers. Plaintiff's letter did not mention racial discrimination. After an investigation into the incident, Chief Lang issued a disciplinary letter to Sgt. Rodriguez on March 27, 2012. (Id. at 17-26, 83-84; Plaintiff's Complaint Letter, Ex. 5 to Plaintiff Depo.).

After complaining of Sgt. Rodriguez's conduct, Plaintiff endured additional disciplinary actions by the MPD. In April 2012, the MPD received a report that a storage facility had been burgled. The MPD officer who was sent to the facility found a Wendy's cup, lid, and straw at the scene and brought them back to the police station. Plaintiff was later assigned to investigate the burglary. About a month after the crime, he spoke with the victim for the first time and learned about the Wendy's cup. Plaintiff filled out a form to have the evidence tested for DNA samples by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations ("GBI") crime lab. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, who never saw the evidence, it was sent to the GBI lab in a plastic bag. Evidence is normally kept in paper bags because plastic bags are more likely to cause contamination. (DSMF, ¶¶ 27-35; Plaintiff Depo, p. 106).

In June 2012, Plaintiff began investigating the burglary of an apartment. During the investigation, Plaintiff had a telephone conversation with the person whom he suspected had committed the burglary. Plaintiff did not immediately obtain a warrant and arrest the suspect. Instead, during their telephone conversation, Plaintiff invited the individual to come to the police station to relate the suspect's version of the events. Nothing the suspect could have said would have changed Plaintiff's conclusion about who had committed the burglary. (DSMF, ¶¶ 36-40).

In May 2012, Plaintiff was assigned to investigate the theft of a bulldog from Richard Bachelor ("Bachelor"). On June 21, 2012, Bachelor filed a formal complaint with the MPD stating that Plaintiff had never contacted any of the individuals whom Bachelor had named as likely culprits. Bachelor was eventually able to recover the dog on his own, but even after additional information was provided to Plaintiff, the investigation into the theft languished. Bachelor's complaint charged that Plaintiff had failed to investigate the theft because the possible thief was the grandson of a former MPD officer. Sgt. Rodriguez was ordered to investigate the grounds for Bachelor's complaint, and ...


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