United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division
LISA GODBEY WOOD JUDGE.
filed this action seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and
42 U.S.C. § 1985. Dkt. No. 1. Before the Court is
Defendants Mike Deal, in his individual and official
capacities, and Doug Lewis's Motion for Summary Judgment,
dkt. no. 13, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For
the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is
Aliechia Smith is an African-American female who worked as a
police officer for the City of Jesup for fifteen years. Dkt.
No. 20-2 ¶ 1. On May 16, 2017, around 11:30 p.m. Smith
was on duty taking a meal break at her house when she heard
over her radio that an officer needed another officer to
assist him. Dkt. No. 14-2 at 94. Soon after, Plaintiff
received a phone call from Jocelyn, who is the daughter of
Plaintiff's longtime girlfriend and who had lived with
Plaintiff for a large part of her childhood. Dkt. No. 20-2
¶¶ 3, 4. Plaintiff views Jocelyn as her own
daughter. Id. SI 4. Plaintiff did not answer
Jocelyn's call but soon after called Jocelyn back, and
Jocelyn answered that call. Dkt. No. 14-2 at 94-95. Jocelyn
was "hysterical pretty much" and told Plaintiff
that she had been stopped and that the officers wanted to
search Jocelyn's car. Id. at 95. Plaintiff
responded that the officers had no reason to search her car
and told Jocelyn to tell them "no."
Id. Jocelyn then told the deputy that she was
"on the phone with Sergeant Smith, and she told me not
to allow y'all to search the vehicle." Dkt. No. 20-2
after the phone call ended, Plaintiff heard dispatch ask for
a female officer to perform a search incident to
Jocelyn's traffic stop. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff
responded to dispatch that she was en route but that the
suspect was like family and thus she could not perform the
search. Id. Dispatch responded to Plaintiff with
"10-22," meaning "[d]isregard, don't
come." Dkt. No. 14-2 at 96. Plaintiff ignored the 10-22
command and drove to the traffic stop. Id. While
Plaintiff was en route, another City of Jesup officer arrived
at the scene of the traffic stop. Dkt. No. 20-2 ¶ 19.
The deputies instructed the other officer who had just
arrived to leave. Id. ¶ 20. When that officer
told Plaintiff that he was instructed to leave, Plaintiff,
still en route, ordered him to stay because Jocelyn was
involved in the stop. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff
finally arrived at the scene with the specific intent of
checking on Jocelyn. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff was
told by a supervisor. that she needed to leave or stay on the
other side of the street; she complied by staying on the
other side of the street. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.
Chief of Police Glenn Takaki learned of Plaintiff's
behavior during the traffic stop, he placed her on
administrative leave so an investigation could be performed.
Id. ¶ 25. Takaki testified that in order to
avoid possible conflicts of interest he concurred with the
internal affairs investigator's suggestion that an
outside agency conduct the investigation into Plaintiff's
actions. Dkt. No. 14-2 at 67. After receiving the final
report of the investigation from the outside agency, Takaki
concluded that Plaintiff violated the police department's
standard operating procedure governing professional image and
that she may also have committed obstruction of the deputies
involved in the traffic stop. Dkt. No. 20-2 ¶ 27. Takaki
subsequently met with Plaintiff three separate times to
discuss the problems with her actions, to try and understand
why Plaintiff took those actions, and to find an alternative
means of addressing her actions besides termination.
Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff, however, insisted in all
three meetings that her conduct was not improper.
Id. ¶ 29. Takaki recommended that Plaintiff be
terminated because Plaintiff "would not even [ac]
knowledge that there was any hint of wrongdoing.''
Dkt. No. 14-2 at 37.
City Manager, Defendant Mike Deal, adopted Takaki's
recommendation that Plaintiff be terminated. Dkt. No. 15-2 at
38. In Deal's words, his role in Plaintiff's firing
was making "the final determination." Id.
at 28. Nevertheless, the City of Jesup provides an avenue by
which City employees can appeal any adverse employment
decision to the City Grievance Committee, which has the
authority to affirm or reverse any such decision. Dkt. No.
20-2 ¶ 44. The City Manager is required to notify an
employee who is terminated of her right to appeal.
Id. ¶ 45. Plaintiff was properly notified and
appealed Deal's decision, as she was entitled to do under
the City of Jesup Employee Handbook. Id.
¶¶ 34, 46. An evidentiary hearing was held.
Id. Section 12 of the City of Jesup Employee
Handbook is titled "Grievance and Appeal
Procedures." Dkt. No. 14-1 at 11. Sub-section B of
Section 12 is entitled "Grievance Committee" and
states in relevant part:
1. Establishment. There is hereby created a Grievance
Committee for the City of Jesup, Georgia, to hear grievances
and appeals from personnel regarding actions taken by the
city department heads or other supervisory personnel of the
Powers. The Grievance Committee shall hear all matters
brought before it under procedures set forth below, and after
a hearing may, by a majority vote of the Committee take such
action concerning an affected employee as it deems
appropriate, including but not limited to: reinstatement with
or without full compensation lost, if any, reprimand,
suspension, or dismissal from the service of the city.
Id. After the evidentiary hearing in which Takaki
and Plaintiff, among others, testified at length, the
majority of the Grievance Committee voted to uphold
Plaintiff's termination. Dkt. No. 20-2 ¶ 36.
more incident is relevant to Plaintiff's claims.
Approximately two weeks before the traffic stop incident,
Defendant Doug Lewis, who at the time was the Chief Deputy of
the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, Plaintiff, and other
law enforcement officers attended a crisis intervention
training class ("C.I.T."). Diet. No. 15-3 at 42.
Before the class started, Lewis and two other men were
outside conversing when one of the men began discussing music
that had recently been performed by the local high school
band. Dkt. No. 20-2 ¶¶ 47, 50. The man then played
one of the songs that the band had recently performed.
Id. ¶ 51. Lewis stated to the group, "that
sounds like rap music." Id. ¶ 52.
Plaintiff was standing nearby-no more than twelve to fifteen
feet away from the group. Dkt. No. 15-1 at 15. Plaintiff
overheard the comment and interjected that "there's
going to be some changes around here." Id.
Plaintiff testified that Lewis then "grew red-faced
[and] visibly angry," dkt. no. 20-2 ¶ 54, and she
"felt," based on how they looked at her, that Lewis
and another member of the group "got pretty mad,"
dkt. no. 15-1 at 15. No. one in the group verbally responded
to Plaintiff's comment. Id. at 16. That was the
end of the interaction, and Plaintiff did not have any
further interaction with Lewis that day. Id. at 17.
filed this action to recover damages and other compensation,
which Plaintiff claims is owed to her under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42
U.S.C. § 1985.
judgment is required where "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 fact is "material" if it
"might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law." FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v.
FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is "genuine" if the
"evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In making
this determination, the court is to view all of the evidence
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw
all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.
Johnson v. Booker T. Washington Broad. Serv., Inc.,
234 F.3d 501, 507 (11th Cir. 2000).
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant
must show the court that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325.
If the moving party discharges this burden, the burden shifts
to the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and present
affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of fact
does exist. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257.
nonmovant may satisfy this burden in two ways. First, the
nonmovant "may show that the record in fact contains
supporting evidence, sufficient to withstand a directed
verdict motion, which was overlooked or ignored' by the
moving party, who has thus failed to meet the initial burden
of showing an absence of evidence." Fitzpatrick v.
City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993)
(quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 332 (Brennan,
J., dissenting)). Second, the nonmovant "may come
forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a
directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged
evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1117. Where the
nonmovant attempts to carry this burden instead with nothing
more "than a repetition of his conclusional allegations,
summary judgment for the [movant is] not only proper but
required." Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032,
1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).
Section 1983 First Amendment: Retaliation Claims
first claims, set forth in Count I of the Complaint, are
against Defendants Mike Deal in his individual and official
capacity as City Manager of the City of Jesup, Georgia, and
Doug Lewis in his individual capacity. Plaintiff avers that
she was suspended without pay and fired in retaliation for
engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. The
allegedly protected speech was the statement she made to
Jocelyn that the police needed her consent to search her car,
and her comment at the C.I.T. class that "there's
going to be some changes around here." For the reasons
stated below, Plaintiff's claims set forth in Count I
Elements of a First Amendment Retaliation Claim
"To state a claim under ...[§] 1983, a plaintiff
must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him [or her] of a
right secured under the United States Constitution or federal
law and (2) such deprivation occurred under color of state
law." Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737
(11th Cir. 2010) (citing U.S. Steel, LLC v. Tieco,
Inc., 261 F.3d 1275, 1288 (11th Cir. 2001);Arrinqton
v. Cobb Cnty., 139 F.3d 865, 872 (11th Cir. 1998)). In
employment retaliation claims, specifically, "[f]or a
public employee to establish that an employer conditioned
[his or] her job in a way that burdened a constitutional
right impermissibly, the employee must first demonstrate that
the asserted right is protected by the Constitution and that
he or she ...