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Boone v. Town of Collierville

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

March 13, 2017

WILLIAM L. BOONE, Plaintiff,



         This action concerns Plaintiff William L. Boone's allegations against Defendant Town of Collierville (“Defendant” or “the Town”) for violations of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state Public Employee Political Freedom Act of 1980, Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-601, et seq (“PEPFA”). Boone, a former firefighter for Defendant, asserts that after Boone voiced concerns about favoritism within the fire department, he was charged with violating personnel policies and later terminated.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed January 31, 2017. (ECF No. 22.) Boone filed a timely response in opposition on March 3, 2017. (ECF No. 38.) For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Summary Judgment Motion as to Plaintiff's § 1983 First Amendment Retaliation claim. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's § 1983 First Amendment Retaliation claim with prejudice. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims. The Court, therefore, DISMISSES Plaintiff's state law claims without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Boone is a resident of Collierville, Tennessee and former firefighter for Defendant. (Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1, 3.) Boone was a firefighter for the Town from April 1984 until March 27, 2015 (id. ¶ 4), when he was terminated for violating an Anti-Bully Policy and for making false or malicious statements (id. ¶¶ 30-31).

         Prior to Boone's termination, in 2004, Jerry Crawford became the chief of the Town's fire department. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 9.) In 2014, Boone began to believe Chief Crawford was showing favoritism towards employees who lived in Fayette County, Tennessee. (Id. ¶ 10.) That same year, Boone “communicated these concerns regarding Chief Crawford and the fire department to members of the Town of Collierville's Board of Mayor and Alderman, including Tom Allen (‘Alderman Allen') and Alderman Billy Patton (‘Alderman Patton').” (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Alderman Allen relayed these concerns to the Town Administrator, James Lewellen, who investigated the complaints. (Id. ¶ 14.) As part of that investigation, Lewellen interviewed Boone. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18.) After concluding his investigation, Lewellen referred the matter of Plaintiff's conduct, as uncovered during the investigation, to the Town's Human Resources Director, Jay Jeffries, to determine whether a statement of charges should be issued. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         On March 20, 2015, Jeffries provided Boone notice of charges to be finalized at a future hearing. (Id. ¶ 23.) A hearing took place on March 23, 2015. (Id. ¶ 28.) On March 27, 2015, Boone received a letter from Jeffries that recommended Boone's termination based on Boone violating an Anti-Bully Policy and for making false or malicious statements. (Id. ¶¶ 29-32.) The same day, Boone received a letter from Chief Crawford accepting Jeffries's recommendation for Boone's termination. (Id. ¶ 33.) Boone subsequently appealed his termination, but it was reaffirmed by Lewellen. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

         On March 25, 2016, Boone filed a Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) The Complaint alleges three causes of action: (1) the Town's termination of Boone's employment constitutes “unlawful retaliation in violation of his constitutional rights to free speech, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983” (id. ¶ 46); (2) the Town's actions “constitute unlawful discrimination in violation of the Public Employee Political Freedom Act of 1980, Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-601, et seq.” (id. ¶ 47); and (3) the Town's actions amounted to intentional infliction of emotional distress (see id. ¶¶ 48-49). Boone seeks back pay, front pay, lost benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, other costs, and treble damages. (Id. at PageIDs 7-8.) On May 20, 2016, the Town filed its Answer. (ECF No. 12.)

         On January 31, 2017, the Town filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 22.) The Town's Motion for Summary Judgment, in summary, contends that

Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim that he was discharged for speaking out on matters of public concern fails as a matter of law for several reasons. First, Plaintiff has not alleged or established that his termination was the result of municipal custom or policy. Second, Plaintiff did not speak out on matters of public concern. Third, even if Plaintiff did speak out on issues of public concern, he fails to show that his right to speak outweighs the interest of the Town, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. With respect to Plaintiff's State Law claim[s], upon dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claim, his [state law claims] should be dismissed without prejudice.

(Id. at PageID 74.) On March 3, 2017, Boone filed his timely response in opposition. (ECF No. 38.) Defendant filed its reply on March 10, 2017, per the Court's Order Expediting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Reply Deadline. (See ECF Nos. 50, 54.)


         A. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A party is entitled to 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 fact is ‘material' for purposes of summary judgment if proof of that fact would establish or refute an essential element of the cause of action or defense.” Bruederle v. Louisville Metro Gov't, 687 F.3d 771, 776 (6th Cir. 2012).

         “In considering a motion for summary judgment, [the] court construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 614 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Mosholder v. Barnhardt, 679 F.3d 443, 448 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

         “Once the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a triable issue of material fact.” Mosholder, 679 F.3d at 448-49; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. “When the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of his case on which he bears the burden of proof, the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and summary judgment is proper.” Martinez v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 703 F.3d 911, 914 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Chapman v. UAW Local 1005, 670 F.3d 677, 680 (6th Cir. 2012) (en banc)); see also Kalich v. AT & T Mobility, LLC, 679 F.3d 464, 469 (6th Cir. 2012).

         In order to “show that a fact is, or is not, genuinely disputed, ” both parties must do so by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, ” or showing “that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Bruederle, 687 F.3d at 776 (alterations in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)); see also Mosholder, 679 F.3d at 448 (“To support its motion, the moving party may show ‘that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325)). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge[.]” Martinez, 703 F.3d at 914 (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). “[T]he district court has no ‘duty to search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.'” Pharos Capital Partners, L.P. v. Deloitte & Touche, 535 F. App'x 522, 523 (6th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting Tucker v. Tennessee, 539 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 2008), abrogation recognized by Anderson v. City of Blue Ash, 798 F.3d 338 (6th Cir. 2015)). “‘[J]udges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles' that might be buried in the record.” Emerson v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 446 F. App'x 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991)).

         The decisive “question is whether ‘the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Johnson v. Memphis Light Gas & Water Div., 777 F.3d 838, 843 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). Summary judgment “‘shall be entered' against the nonmoving party unless affidavits or other evidence ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Rachells v. Cingular Wireless EmployeeServices, LLC, No. 1:08CV02815, 2012 WL 3648835, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 23, 2012) (quoting Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888889, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695). “[A] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient to defeat summary judgment; rather, the non-moving party must present evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find in her favor.” Tingle v. Arbors at Hilliard, 692 F.3d 523, 529 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251). “[I]n order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the party opposing the motion must present “affirmative evidence” to support his/her position.” Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 584 (6th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 2514 (1986); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989)). “[C]onclusory assertions, unsupported by specific facts made in affidavits ...

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