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Norris v. City of Flovilla

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

March 7, 2017




         Plaintiff Derick Norris, an African-American male, brings this action against Defendant City of Flovilla, Georgia alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Doc. 6. The City has moved for summary judgment.[1] Doc. 21. The motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Norris was fired by the City's mayor, Scott Chewning; on June 10, 2014, the City Council voted to uphold that decision by a three to two vote.[2] Docs. 21-1 ¶¶ 29-31, 33, 38; 29-2 ¶¶ 29-31, 33, 38. Norris worked for the City from 2000 to 2014 as a Utilities Supervisor. Id. ¶ 7. According to Norris, his job included “maintenance, repairing water, cutting grass, weed eating, turning on and off water, [and] checking wells [and] water tank tower[s].” Doc. 24 at 22:14-18. When he was hired in 2000, Norris's father was the City's mayor. Id. at 19:23-20:8. In 2011, Norris's father lost the mayoral race to Chewning. Doc. 21-5 ¶¶ 2-3.

         Morgan testified that Norris's performance declined after Chewning became mayor and that he felt Norris no longer “had the City's interest at heart.” Doc. 29-5 at 52:8-14, 53:3-19, 105:24-25. In September 2012, Norris was involved in an altercation with another employee. Doc. 21-5 ¶ 4. As a result, Chewning suspended Norris for two days and terminated the other employee, a Caucasian. Id. On April 7, 2013, a city laborer filed a complaint against Norris alleging he had verbally threatened him. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. A member of the Butts County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident and “was unable to substantiate [the laborer's] allegation that Norris had verbally threatened him, but confirmed Norris's antagonistic and hostile conduct towards certain co-workers.” Id. ¶ 6. In response, Chewning issued an oral warning to Norris. Id. After the laborer filed another complaint, Norris was told if he continued to behave in this way then it “could result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination.” Id.

         Norris's duties included assisting Billy Kirn, an independent contractor working for the City, with the City's water treatment system. Docs. 21-5 ¶ 10; 24 at 23:19-24:21, 27:4-10. Kirn allowed Norris to work on the water system under his license.[3] Doc. 24 at 23:19-24:21, 27:4-10. In a letter dated March 21, 2014, Kirn informed Chewning he was having issues with Norris and listed several incidents with Norris “since before the first of the year.” Doc. 21-6 at 37; 42. Kirn explained that he had witnessed an “attitude change” and felt Norris “no longer has the City's or the citizens of [the City's] best interest [sic] at heart since he is not being very cooperative with me.” Id. Among other issues, Kirn said Norris was not responsive when Kirn asked him to do tasks and refused to fill out paperwork. Id. at 37-40. A week later, in a letter dated March 28, 2014, Kirn informed Chewning he would no longer allow Norris to work under his license. Id. at 44-45. Kirn stated he made this decision because of the incidents with Norris including his unwillingness to cooperate and untruthful comments Norris had made to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).[4] Id.

         Norris also had issues with Annie Mitchell, the City Clerk.[5] Mitchell accused Norris of harassing her. Doc. 21-6 at 49-51. Specifically, Mitchell complained of an incident concerning an open records request by Norris. Id. Mitchell stated, after she gave the records to Norris, Norris came back to her desk “shaking the papers, ” told her that they were not what he asked for, and said he wanted his money back. Id. Mitchell also stated Norris later threatened to have her investigated by the police. Id. at 50. Morgan witnessed the incident between Mitchell and Norris. Doc. 29-5 at 57:22-60:12, 115:23-116:23. Morgan testified Norris was “waiving [sic] [the paperwork] around” and “was getting a little-not abusive, just loud” prompting him to ask Norris to go outside. Id. at 58:4-16. Morgan also stated he thought Norris's interaction with Mitchell violated City policy because Norris was “[b]eing disorderly by raising his voice and not acting professional.” Id. at 116:5-15.

         Following these incidents, the City hired an attorney, Jessica O'Connor, to investigate the complaints made by Norris and other employees. Doc. 21-1 ¶ 23. Norris, however, claims O'Connor was hired to “build a case” against him. Doc. 29-2 ¶ 23. O'Connor provided her report to Chewning and the City Council on May 5, 2014. Docs. 21-1 ¶¶ 24-25; 29-2 ¶¶ 24-25. The report details the incidents between Norris and other employees. Doc. 21-6 at 53-75. It states Norris displayed an inability to “relinquish control to others caus[ing] numerous disturbances” and, despite warnings, “continue[d] to display aggression and outbursts that should not be tolerated in a work environment.” Id. at 72. The report concludes that “Norris is no longer an asset to the City since he is not licensed to drive a motor vehicle and is not certified or licensed by the State to operate a water system” and could no longer work under Kirn's license. Id. at 73. Ultimately, O'Connor recommended the City “[t]erminate Derick Norris.” Id. at 72-73.

         On May 19, 2014, Chewning, finding that Norris had violated several provisions of the City's Standards of Conduct, informed Norris that he had decided to initiate termination proceedings against Norris. Doc. 6-3 at 1-2. Among other things, Chewning relied on Norris's efforts to request City records “while on City time;” his refusal to perform work assigned by Kirn; Kirn's refusal to permit him to work under his license; and the incident with Mitchell regarding his request for records. Id. Norris appealed Chewning's decision to the City Council, and a hearing was held on June 10, 2014. Docs. 21-1 ¶¶ 32-33; 29-2 ¶¶ 32-33. At the hearing, O'Connor presented her findings, and Chewning, Kirn, and Mitchell testified. Docs. 21-1 ¶¶ 35-37; 29-2 ¶¶ 35-37. Thomas Douglas, who is African-American, and Lillian Cowell, who is Caucasian, joined Morgan, who is African-American, in voting in favor of terminating Norris. Docs. 21-1 ¶¶ 39-40; 29-2 ¶¶ 39-40.


         A court must 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). A factual dispute is not genuine unless, based on the evidence presented, “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991)); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant may support its assertion that a fact is undisputed by “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must rebut the movant's showing “by producing . . . relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings.” Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). The non-moving party does not satisfy its burden “if the rebuttal evidence ‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative' of a disputed fact.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). Further, where a party fails to address another party's assertion of fact as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), the Court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). However, “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge. . . . The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.


         Norris brings claims for discrimination under § 1983 (Count III) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count IV). Doc. 6 ¶¶ 35-41. As § 1983 does not create substantive rights in and of itself but merely provides a method through which to sue a municipality for violations of a constitutional right, the Court will treat Norris's §1983 and Equal Protection claims as one.[6 ...

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