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Stockdale v. Helper

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 16, 2017




         Pending before the court are Defendant City of Fairview's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 25) and Motion to Exclude Evidence Outside the Pleadings (Docket No. 32). Plaintiffs have filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 29), and the City has filed a Reply (Docket No. 34). Plaintiffs have also filed a Response (Docket No. 37) in opposition to the Motion to Exclude.

         For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion to Exclude Evidence will be granted. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs' state law claims against the City for breach of the Settlement Agreement will be dismissed without prejudice.


         The court has previously described the background of this case[1] and repeats it here as relevant to Defendant City of Fairview. Plaintiffs are former employees of the Fairview Police Department (“FPD”). They were both promoted to Lieutenant in March of 2015 and had unblemished records with the FPD. In this action, Plaintiffs allege that they were suspended and ultimately terminated from the FPD in violation of their constitutional rights and in retaliation for their public disapproval of certain alleged misconduct going on within the FPD.

         Plaintiffs assert that, at the urging of Defendant Helper, who is the District Attorney General in Williamson County, Tennessee, the City of Fairview placed Plaintiffs on unjustified administrative leave and launched an unjustified investigation into any possible criminal conduct by the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs aver that the investigative report, released on July 20, 2016, found no criminal wrongdoing by Plaintiffs.

         While they were on administrative leave, Plaintiffs filed an action in this court (the “Prior Action”) against the City of Fairview and individual members of the Fairview Board of Commissioners for violation of their constitutional rights, violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act, official oppression, common law retaliation, defamation and slander. The court issued a Temporary Restraining Order in the Prior Action, prohibiting the City of Fairview from terminating Plaintiffs' employment, eliminating their positions, hiring or promoting others into the Plaintiffs' positions, and demoting Plaintiffs or eliminating Plaintiffs' pay, pending a preliminary injunction hearing. (Case No. 3:16-cv-1945, Docket No. 7). The Prior Action was ultimately dismissed with prejudice, prior to a preliminary injunction hearing, pursuant to a Settlement Agreement. Id. at Docket No. 25. Plaintiffs returned to active duty with the FPD.

         In this action, Plaintiffs contend that Helper continued to urge the City Manager to remove Plaintiffs from their positions. According to Plaintiffs, Helper told the City Manager she would place a Giglio impairment on Plaintiffs with respect to all future prosecutions, although Plaintiffs claim there was no basis for that impairment. A Giglio impairment of a police officer refers to a prosecutor's decision not to allow an officer to testify at the trial of a criminal defendant because of the officer's prior misconduct or other grounds to attack the officer's credibility. Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972).[2]

         Plaintiffs were ultimately terminated from the FPD, allegedly because of the Giglio impairments. Plaintiffs allege that they were actually terminated in retaliation for their complaints against the FPD and their filing of the Prior Action, as well as pressure exerted by Defendant Helper. Against the City of Fairview, Plaintiffs allege violations of their constitutional rights, retaliation for exercise of their constitutional rights, and breach of the Settlement Agreement in the Prior Action.


         The City of Fairview asks the court to exclude a document included in Plaintiffs' Response to the pending Motion to Dismiss. The court agrees that it cannot consider this document without converting the Motion to Dismiss to a Motion for Summary Judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Plaintiffs argue that the court may take judicial notice of the internet publication they have included within the body of their Response. The court declines to take judicial notice of the apparent Facebook posting at issue.

         Accordingly, the Motion to Exclude Evidence (Docket No. 32) will be granted, and the court will not consider the Facebook post by WKRN Reporter Andy Cordan, filed as part of Plaintiffs' Response (Docket No. 29 at 16).


         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 1950. A legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Fritz v. Charter Township of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010).


         I. Property Interests

         The court must undertake a two-step analysis when considering claims for violation of due process rights. Mitchell v. Fankhauser, 375 F.3d 477, 480 (6th Cir. 2004). The first step is to determine whether a plaintiff has a property or liberty interest entitled to due process protection. Id. The second step is to determine what process is due. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that the City of Fairview deprived them of their constitutionally-protected property interests without due process. In order to establish deprivation of a property interest without due process, Plaintiffs must show that they have property interests in continued employment with the FPD that would entitle them to due process protection. Freeze v. City of Decherd, Tenn., 753 F.3d 661, 665 (6th Cir. 2014). Plaintiffs allege that their constitutionally-protected property interests in their employment arise from both state law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-8-301, et seq.) and the Fairview Police Policy & Procedures Manual.[3]

         The City of Fairview argues that, because Tennessee is an “at will” employment state, Plaintiffs do not have a property interest in continued employment. The doctrine of employment at will is a long-standing rule in Tennessee that recognizes the concomitant right of either the employer or the employee to terminate the employment relationship at any time, for good cause or no cause at all, without being guilty of a legal wrong. Sudberry v. Royal & Sun Alliance, 344 S.W.3d 904, 911 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008). The law in Tennessee operates under a broad presumption that employees are at-will and, by default, lack a property right in their continued employment. Freeze, 753 F.3d at 665. In order to rebut this presumption of at-will employment, the party seeking to ...

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