United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
LT. PAT STOCKDALE and LT. SHANE DUNNING, Plaintiffs,
KIM HELPER, in her individual capacity, and THE CITY OF FAIRVIEW, TENNESSEE, Defendants.
A. TRAUGER United States District Judge.
before the court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by defendant
District Attorney General Kim Helper (Docket No. 15), to
which the plaintiffs, Lt. Pat Stockdale and Lt. Shane
Dunning, have filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 19).
For the reasons discussed herein, the motion will be denied.
& PROCEDURAL HISTORY
plaintiffs are both former Lieutenants with the Fairview
Police Department in the municipality of Fairview in
Williamson County, Tennessee (the “Department”).
They were both promoted to this position in March of 2015 and
had unblemished records with the Department. This lawsuit
arises from the plaintiffs' allegations that they were
suspended, and ultimately terminated, from the Department in
retaliation for their public disapproval of certain alleged
misconduct that was going on within the
Department and based on the personal motivations of
the defendants. With respect to defendant Helper, who is the
District Attorney General for Williamson County, the
plaintiffs allege that she took improper actions to influence
the Department to terminate the plaintiffs and that these
actions were beyond the scope of her role as prosecutor.
to the Complaint, Helper had personal motives for wanting the
plaintiffs terminated from their positions, despite the
absence of any wrongdoing. Specifically, the Complaint
alleges that Helper did not want the plaintiffs to be in
competition for promotion to Department Chief, a position she
wanted filled by another officer to whom she had promised her
support. The Complaint also alleges that Helper's ill
will toward the plaintiffs stemmed from their complaints
against other Department officers about the misconduct
allegedly taking place within the Department. According to
the Complaint, Helper participated in a secret meeting with
the Fairview Board of Commissioners in February of 2016 that
was held in violation of Department protocol. During this
meeting, it was decided that the plaintiffs would be placed
on an unjustified administrative leave (without the consent
of the City Manager, who was legally obligated to make these
types of decisions) and that an investigation would be
launched by Helper's office into any criminal conduct by
the plaintiffs (though none was suspected) in an effort to
justify their ultimate termination. At the same time, it was
decided that there would not be any criminal investigations
of other officers who were suspected of misconduct
and had been the subject of the plaintiffs' complaints.
the meeting, on March 1, 2016, the plaintiffs were suspended
by the Department, pending the ongoing criminal
investigation, and they were told that their suspensions were
carried out “to insure the integrity of the
investigation, ” though there were no official
allegations of misconduct committed by the plaintiffs.
(Docket No. 1, ¶ 51). According to the Complaint, the
investigation was neither a justifiable reason for the
plaintiffs' suspensions under Department policy, nor was
it consistent with past decisions to allow other officers to
remain on duty while the subject of criminal investigations.
The Complaint also alleges that Helper conspired with other
Fairview officials to make it appear as though a criminal
investigation were being conducted on the entire Department,
when really only the plaintiffs were being investigated.
Further, Helper maintained the ongoing investigation of the
plaintiffs past the point in time when the evidence already
exonerated the plaintiffs of any wrongdoing, in the hope of
finding some evidence of misconduct that could support their
termination. According to the Complaint, there were many
communications between Helper and representatives of the City
of Fairview about efforts to have the plaintiffs terminated
from their positions and prevented from occupying any
positions within the Department.
21, 2016, while they were on administrative leave, the
plaintiffs filed an action in the United States District
Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, bringing claims
against the City of Fairview and individual members of the
Fairview Board of Commissioners for: 1) violation of the
plaintiffs' constitutional rights to due process, equal
protection, and freedom of speech under the First Amendment
(pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section
1983”)), 2) violation of the Tennessee Public
Protection Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304, 3) Official
oppression under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-403, and 4)
common law retaliation, defamation, and slander.
Stockdale v. The City of Fairview, Case No.
3:16-cv-1945 (the “Prior Action”). The Honorable
Kevin Sharp issued a Temporary Restraining Order in the Prior
Action, prohibiting the City of Fairview from terminating the
plaintiffs' employment, eliminating their positions,
hiring or promoting others into the plaintiffs'
positions, demoting the plaintiffs, or eliminating the
plaintiffs' pay. (Case No. 3:16-cv-1945, Docket No. 7.)
In August of 2016, a new City Manager for Fairview, Scott
Collins, took office, and the Prior Action was subsequently
dismissed with prejudice pursuant to a settlement agreement
between the parties. (Case No. 3:16-cv-1945, Docket No. 25.)
The plaintiffs were then returned to active duty with the
Department on September 1, 2016, and, after that time, the
plaintiffs carried out their duties satisfactorily and
received no complaints or disciplinary action.
the plaintiffs' reinstatement, however, Helper continued
to advise the new City Manager, Collins, that she wanted the
police department to be restructured so that officers were
assigned according to her preferences, and she threatened to
withdraw prosecutorial staffing from the Fairview City Court
if her wishes were not followed. Specifically, Helper
communicated to Collins that she wanted the plaintiffs
removed from their positions. Helper then notified Collins
that she would place a Giglio impairment on the
plaintiffs with respect to all future prosecutions,
though the Complaint alleges that there was no basis for the
impairment, as the investigation of the plaintiffs uncovered
no misconduct or lack of credibility on the part of the
plaintiffs. Helper also allegedly corresponded with the
Fairview Mayor about her wishes to have the plaintiffs
terminated from their positions. Helper expressed that, even
if there were no basis for the Giglio impairment,
she had “other reasons” to request the removal of
the plaintiffs from their employment. (Docket No. 1, p. 21.)
The plaintiffs were ultimately terminated by the Department,
and the Giglio impairments were cited as the
official grounds for their termination. The Complaint,
however, alleges that the real reason for the plaintiffs'
termination was the defendants' desire to retaliate
against the plaintiffs for their complaints against the
Department and their filing of the Prior Action, as well as
the pressure exerted on the Department by Helper due to her
own personal dislike of the plaintiffs.
January 31, 2017, the plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this
action against the City of Fairview and Helper. The Complaint
brings claims against Helper for 1) violations of the
plaintiffs' constitutional rights under Section 1983, 2)
retaliation in response to the plaintiffs' exercise of
their constitutionally protected rights in filing the Prior
Action, 3) Official oppression under Tenn. Code Ann. §
39-16-403, and 4) the following state common law claims:
tortious interference with a business relationship (the
plaintiffs' employment relationship with the Department
and prospective employment relationship with other police
departments), defamation, and false light invasion of
privacy. (Docket No. 1.) The Complaint seeks compensatory and
punitive damages as well as permanent injunctive relief,
“enjoining the Defendants from further deprivation of
the constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs and any further
attempts to unlawfully terminate them from the City of
Fairview Police Department.” (Docket No. 1, p. 8.) On
March 21, 2017, the City of Fairview filed an Answer. (Docket
April 12, 2017, Helper filed the currently pending Motion to
Dismiss (Docket No. 15), along with a Memorandum in support
(Docket No. 16), arguing that the claims against her should
be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1),
based on the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity. Helper also
argues that the state law claims for defamation and tortious
interference with a business relationship should be dismissed
under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to sufficiently plead certain
elements of the claims. Finally, Helper argues that the
plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief are
inappropriate and should be denied. On May 10, 2017, the
plaintiffs filed a Response in opposition. (Docket No. 19.)
9, 2017, the City of Fairview filed a Motion to Dismiss
(Docket No. 25) along with a Memorandum in support (Docket
No. 26). That motion is not yet ripe and will be resolved in
a separate opinion.
deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), the court will “construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Directv,
Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007);
Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir.
2002). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that
a plaintiff provide “a short and plain statement of the
claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the
plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47
(1957). The court must determine only whether “the
claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims,
” not whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove the
facts alleged. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S.
506, 511 (2002) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S.
232, 236 (1974)).
complaint's allegations, however, “must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To establish the “facial
plausibility” required to “unlock the doors of
discovery, ” the plaintiff cannot rely on “legal
conclusions” or “[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, ” but, instead, the
plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 55 ...