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Tidd v. Markel

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

March 10, 2017

BRIAN TIDD, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HONORABLE BRUCE MARKEL; THE HONORABLE BRUCE MCTAVISH; THE HONORABLE RICHARD POYNTER; and NORMAN PHILLIPS, in their personal and official capacities, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD L. YOUNG, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Brian Tidd, is a former employee of the Jackson County Probation Department. In his Second Amended Complaint, he alleges that Judges Bruce Markell, Bruce McTavish, and Richard Poynter, and Chief Probation Officer Norman Phillips (collectively “Defendants”), terminated his employment on the basis of his age, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff's claims are against the Defendants in both their personal (Count I) and official capacities (Count II). Chief Phillips and the Judges separately move for summary judgment on both counts. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background

         A. The Probation Department

         The 40th Judicial Circuit is comprised of the Jackson Circuit Court (Judge Poynter), Superior Court 1 (Judge Markel), and Superior Court 2 (Judge MacTavish). (Filing No. 61-1, Declaration of Norman Phillips (“Phillips Decl.”) ¶ 1). Pursuant to statute, probation officers, including the chief probation officer, are appointed jointly by the judges of all three courts. Ind. Code § 11-13-1-1(a), (d). Chief Phillips, who was 67 years at the time of Plaintiff's termination, has been the Chief Probation Officer since 2001. (Phillips Decl. ¶ 1).

         Chief Phillips and four other probation officers work in Brownstown where the Jackson Circuit Court and Superior Court 2 are located. (Id. ¶ 3). The Brownstown office handles adult felony and juvenile cases. (Id.). Superior Court 1, located in Seymour, handles adult misdemeanor cases. (Id.). During the relevant time period, one or two probation officers were assigned to the Seymour office. (Id.).

         While Chief Phillips supervises probation officers, he does not have the authority to hire or fire probation officers. (Id. ¶ 4). That authority lies with the Judges to whom he reports. (Id.). In addition to his supervisory responsibilities, Chief Phillips carries a reduced caseload of probationers whom he directly supervises, oversees the budget of the Probation Department, prepares quarterly reports concerning caseloads and revenues and presents the probation budget to the Jackson County Council during annual budget hearings. (Id.).

         Probation is funded through a combination of user fees and appropriations from the county council. (Id. ¶ 5). If user fees are less than projected, Chief Phillips is required to go back to the council for an additional appropriation. (Id. ¶ 14).

         Most of the probation budget is payroll for the probation officers and staff. (Id.). Indiana probation officers must be paid a minimum salary according to a schedule set by the Indiana Judicial Council. (Id.). The minimum salary depends upon years of experience. (Id.).

         B. Plaintiff's Employment

         Plaintiff began his employment with the Probation Department on February 12, 1996; he was 29 years old. (Filing No. 29, Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 14). Until 2011, Plaintiff worked in the Brownstown office, supervising felony and juvenile cases. (Filing No. 63-1, Deposition of Brian Tidd (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 45). In August 2011, Plaintiff requested a transfer to the Seymour office. (Id. at 67). Chief Phillips agreed to let Plaintiff transfer, but warned him that caseloads and revenues from Superior Court 1 were dropping and that, at some future point, there may no longer be two probation officers for that court. (Phillips Decl. ¶¶ 8, 9, and Ex. E).

         C. The Seymour Office

         Once the transfer occurred, the two probation officers in Seymour were Plaintiff and Gregory Scott. (Plaintiff Dep. at 67; Phillips Decl. ¶¶ 9, 26, and Ex. E). On August 22, 2011, Chief Phillips issued a letter to both Plaintiff and Scott, which noted the decline in the caseload at the Seymour office. (Phillips Decl. ¶¶ 8, 9; Plaintiff Dep. at 74-75). In the letter, Phillips stated, “[T]he way the caseloads are falling at [the Seymour office], I do not know how much longer I will be able to justify stationing two full-time probation officers in Seymour.” (Phillips Decl., Ex. E). Chief Phillips added that “if caseloads continue to fall as they have been falling, I can see the day when we will have only a fulltime probation officer at Seymour, or a full-time and part-time probation officer to handle the [Seymour office] caseload.” (Id.).

         In October 2013, Chief Phillips noticed a significant drop in the caseload and fee collections for the Seymour office. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12, and Exs. F, G). On October 21, 2013, Phillips addressed the declining revenues and caseload in a memorandum to the Judges. The Memo stated:

• “The situation in the [Seymour] Probation Department has deteriorated more quickly than anticipated and the judges should be made aware of the details.”
• The caseload for the Seymour office, not including alcohol and drug cases, dropped to 122, which “is less than a full caseload for one ...

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