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Cameron v. Grainger County

May 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Jarvis United States District Judge


This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Karen Cameron contends that she was fired from her position in the Grainger County Circuit Court Clerk's Office in violation of her First Amendment right to political and/or intimate association. She also claims in her complaint that she was denied her right of access to the courts, but that claim has now been dropped.

Currently pending is the defendants' motion for summary judgment [Court File #17]. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff was hired by the Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Grainger County in August 1996, and performed various duties within the Clerk's Office until her termination January 13, 2005. According to the Circuit Court Clerk, defendant Rhonda Reagan, plaintiff always performed her job well.

On July 15, 2004, plaintiff's then boyfriend, Michael Cameron, a Tennessee Highway Patrolman, brutally beat the plaintiff after falsely accusing her of dating someone else. In the presence of defendant Reagan, plaintiff gave a statement to Dan Bowman, Assistant Special Agent in charge of Criminal Investigations with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, on July 16, 2004. The statement recounted the events and indicated that Mr. Cameron threatened her and other court personnel if a warrant was taken out against him. The threat occurred during the assault and was made only to plaintiff. Ms. Reagan was present during plaintiff's interview with Agent Bowman. According to plaintiff, Ms. Reagan did not express any concern with Mr. Cameron's alleged "threat" and said nothing. The next day, on July 17, 2004, a warrant was issued and served on Mr. Cameron for aggravated assault. The assault warrant was issued in the General Sessions Court for Grainger County, Tennessee, and accordingly, all proceedings were to occur in Grainger County.

Despite the fact that all court proceedings concerning Mr. Cameron were to occur in Grainger County and paperwork filed in offices overseen by defendant Reagan, plaintiff was not asked to take a leave of absence. In fact, nothing at all was said to plaintiff by defendant Reagan about Mr. Cameron's prosecution interfering with her duties or causing disruptions in or around the Circuit Court Clerk's Office.

Plaintiff married Michael Cameron August 16, 2004. Sometime after that, defendant Reagan asked plaintiff to take a "leave of absence." Plaintiff said in her deposition that Reagan told her that the leave was necessary in part due to the criminal case, but no matter when the criminal case was resolved, she did not want plaintiff to return to work until after the August 2006 election. In her affidavit, plaintiff indicates that both her husband, Michael Cameron, and his father, Earl Cameron, were political opponents of defendant Reagan. In fact, the Camerons had supported and actively campaigned for all of Ms. Reagan's opponents in elections for the Office of Circuit Court Clerk since 1994.

Plaintiff told Reagan that she did not see the need for any leave of absence and, in fact, never worked on or touched any part of her husband's criminal court file. In addition, despite his July 15, 2004 "threat" to Mrs. Cameron, her husband never called nor appeared at the courthouse except for his criminal proceedings. Although plaintiff remembers a deputy with the Grainger County Sheriff's Department being present a week or two after the assault, in her deposition she stated that he merely walked throughout the courthouse and no disruptions occurred.

Defendant Reagan admitted in her deposition that Mr. Cameron did not threaten her or anyone else. Reagan also admitted that the Camerons were political opponents and/or supported her opponents in elections.

Plaintiff was terminated on January 13, 2005. This is despite the fact that Reagan admitted that Cameron stayed away from her husband's case and worked in the Circuit Court Clerk's Office for six months prior to her termination, one week prior to Cameron's January 20, 2005 indictment. Reagan admitted drafting plaintiff's two-week notice letter, but plaintiff denies ever receiving the letter. After plaintiff's termination and the institution of this lawsuit, Reagan also admitted interfering with plaintiff's ability to get a job at Peninsula Hospital.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Pursuant to Rule 56, summary judgment shall be rendered when requested if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. It is the burden of the party seeking summary judgment to show the court that, under uncontradicted facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Summary judgment is intended to provide a quick, inexpensive means of resolving issues as to which there is no dispute regarding the material facts. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). In assessing the validity of a summary judgment motion, the court views the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and competent affidavits in a light most favorable to the opponent of the motion. However, an opponent to a motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but must set forth through competent and material evidence specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for ...

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