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Mullen v. City of Lavergne, TN

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

January 24, 2018




         Pending before the court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 16). Plaintiff has filed a Response (Docket Nos. 23 and 24), and Defendant has filed a Reply (Docket No. 25). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion will be granted.


         Plaintiff Mullen was hired by the City of Lavergne as a police officer in July of 2001. Plaintiff asserts that, beginning in 2006, Defendant retaliated against him for reporting criminal activities by other officers and city officials. For example, he contends that, in 2006, he was transferred from his position in the Narcotics Division to the Criminal Investigations Division for reporting signs of marijuana use at the home of the Mayor. He also alleges that, in 2012, when he expressed his concerns about successive administrations overlooking illegal behavior of fellow officers and governmental officials, he was transferred to the Patrol Division, denying him the opportunity for a promotion and effectively punishing him for expressing his concerns. Plaintiff also asserts that he was the subject of numerous internal affairs investigations because of voicing his concerns.

         In November of 2014, Defendant placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave following an internal affairs investigation. Plaintiff asserts that, to date, he has not been given a definitive reason for being placed on leave. He contends that he had no meaningful contact with any of his superiors from November of 2014 until April of 2015. On April 20, 2015, Plaintiff had a meeting with the City's Mayor, Dennis Waldron, concerning Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff asserts that he gave his letter of resignation to Waldron at that meeting, but Waldron did not want to accept it and told Plaintiff that he would try to work out the situation.

         Waldron has explained that it was clear to him on April 20, 2015, that Plaintiff did not intend to continue to work for the City so long as Walker was the Chief of Police and, because Waldron had no intention of firing Walker, he determined that acceptance of Plaintiff's resignation was appropriate.[1] Waldron gave Plaintiff's letter of resignation to the City's Director of Human Resources for processing on April 20, 2015, the same day as his meeting with Plaintiff.[2] It is undisputed that Plaintiff attempted to rescind his resignation on April 28, 2015, but the City denied his request to rescind it via letter dated April 30, 2015.

         The audio recording of the meeting between Plaintiff and Mayor Waldron reveals a lot of discussion about the problems Plaintiff perceived in the police department. Plaintiff told Waldron that he did not want to work for “that guy” (the City's Chief of Police, Mike Walker[3]) and that, if Walker was there, Plaintiff did not want to be there. Plaintiff indicated that he would like to stay but that he was not going to work for Walker. Plaintiff stated “I don't want to come back if that man is in charge.” Waldron indicated that a lot of people were pressuring him to fire Plaintiff, but he (Waldron) was the only one who could fire him. Plaintiff said that, if nothing could be done about Walker, then he would like his last day to be May 1st, and he offered Waldron his resignation letter. After first telling Plaintiff to hold on to the letter, Waldron took it and said he wanted to “talk with HR.” Plaintiff reiterated that, “if nothing changes, ” he wanted to have May 1st be his last day and that the City needed to let him leave in good standing. Docket No. 22 (manually filed audio recording).

         This action was filed on April 28, 2016, in the Rutherford County Chancery Court. On May 25, 2016, Defendant removed the action to this court (Case No. 3:16-cv-0950). The parties consented to jurisdiction before the Magistrate Judge, who, on March 9, 2017, remanded the matter to the Rutherford County Chancery Court, holding that this court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. (Case No. 3:16-cv-0950, Docket No. 34).[4] After remand, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his due process rights and his First Amendment rights. On July 19, 2017, Defendant again removed the action to this court, where it was assigned a new case number. Docket No. 1.

         Plaintiff alleges that he (1) was retaliated against in violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act (“TPPA”); (2) experienced a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment, in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”); (3) was a victim of reverse racial discrimination in violation of the THRA; (4) was denied his Fifth Amendment due process rights; (5) was deprived of his constitutionally-protected liberty interest in employment, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (6) was denied his First Amendment free speech rights. Docket No. 1-1 (Amended Complaint). Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment asks the court to dismiss Plaintiff's TPPA, THRA and First Amendment claims as time-barred by the applicable one-year statutes of limitation.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Pennington v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 553 F.3d 447, 450 (6th Cir. 2009). The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003). The moving party may satisfy this burden by presenting affirmative evidence that negates an element of the non-moving party's claim or by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must review all the evidence, facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk Western Railroad, Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007). The court does not, however, weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question. Id. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will be insufficient to survive summary judgment; rather, there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers, 344 F.3d at 595.


         Claims under the TPPA are subject to a one-year limitation period. Clark v. Metropolitan Gov't of Nashville & Davidson County, 2017 WL 1224703 at * 2 (Tenn. Ct. App. April 3, 2017) (citing Gibson-Holmes v. Fifth Third Bank, 661 F.Supp.2d 905, 912 (M.D. Tenn. 2009). Similarly, claims under the THRA must also be brought within one year after the discriminatory practice ceases. Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-311(d). Finally, claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be brought within one year after the ...

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