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Taylor v. City of Lawrenceburg

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

June 16, 2017

DOUG TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LAWRENCEBURG, DEARBORN COUNTY, STATE OF INDIANA, an Indiana municipal corporation, BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS AND SAFETY OF THE CITY OF LAWRENCEBURG, DEARBORN COUNTY, STATE OF INDIANA, DENNIS “NUTTY” CARR, in his individual and official capacities as Mayor of the City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, MARIO TODD, in his individual and official capacities as a member of the Board of Public Works and Safety of the City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, WILLIAM BRUNER, in his individual and official capacities as a member of the Board of Public Works and Safety of the City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, DONNIE BRYANT, in his individual and official capacities as a member of the Board of Public Works and Safety of the City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, and GENE HUNEFELD, JR., in his individual and official capacities as the Chief of Police of the City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (AND PLAINTIFF'S CROSS MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

          RICHARD L. YOUNG, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Doug Taylor, is a former police officer employed by the City of Lawrenceburg who was terminated by the Board of Public Works and Safety (“Board of Works” or “Board”) after admitting to crimes of dishonesty under Indiana law. In his Complaint, he brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging he was terminated for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. He also brings state law claims for the violation of his free speech rights under Article 1, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution, for defamation, and for retaliation under Indiana's Whistleblower statute, Indiana Code § 36-1-8-8. The Defendants herein, the City; the Board of Works; Board of Works' members Mario Todd, William Bruner, Donnie Bryant; the Mayor, Dennis Carr; and the Chief of Police, Gene Hunefeld, Jr., move for summary judgment. Plaintiff cross-moves for partial summary judgment on two issues which will be addressed infra. For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS Defendants' motion and DENIES Plaintiff's motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff began working for the Lawrenceburg Police Department (“LPD”) in 1991. (Filing No. 121-1, Deposition of Doug Taylor (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 7). On April II, 2011, in the midst of his campaign for City Council, he attended a campaign function while on duty and in uniform for the LPD. (Id. at 14). His time sheet for that day, which he signed, reflected that he was working for the Police Department at the time. (Id. at 17). Tim Denning, a local resident, complained about Plaintiff's presence at the event. (Id. at 18).

         Assistant Chief of Police Donald Combs called Plaintiff into his office with then-Chief Hunefeld, wherein Plaintiff admitted he attended the event. (Id. at 21). Combs reprimanded him and told him he would be written up. (Id. at 22). Plaintiff apologized and said it would never happen again. (Id. at 23).

         The Indiana State Police conducted an investigation into the matter which resulted in two charges, Official Misconduct and Ghost Employment, both class D felonies. (Id. at 17; Filing No. 121-2, Affidavit of Probable Cause). Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard then appointed a special prosecutor, Daniel Sigler. (Filing No. 121-3, Deposition of Aaron Negangard (“Negangard Dep.”) at 47).

         After charges were filed on October 11, 2011, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave with pay by the Board of Works. (Plaintiff Dep. at 41; Filing No. 121-4, October 12, 2011 Letter). Newly-elected Mayor Carr and the Board of Works decided to move him to the front desk of the Police Department in January 2012. (Plaintiff Dep. at 43). He also worked in the Civil City Department, Electric Department, and Parks Department. (Id. at 43-49).

         In November 2011, Dennis Carr and Plaintiff won their respective elections. (Id. at 93). Once in office, Plaintiff and Mayor Carr did not see eye-to-eye on certain issues and Plaintiff “voted against [him] on a lot of things.” (Id.; Filing No. 124-2, Deposition of Dennis Carr (“Carr Dep.”) at 23-24). Denning testified at Plaintiff's hearing before the Board that Mayor Carr “indicated he wanted to get rid of [Plaintiff]” and two other members of the Council, and that “he wanted to use a criminal investigation prosecution [sic] to do so.” (Filing No. 124-4, Hearing Tr. at 267-68). In addition, Paul Seymour, another local man, testified that the Mayor told him Plaintiff “would be gone at a point.” (Id. at 265). Plaintiff has no admissible evidence, however, that Mayor Carr influenced how the Board ultimately voted in his termination proceedings. (Plaintiff Dep. at 74).

         On March 13, 2013, Plaintiff signed a deferred prosecution agreement in his criminal matter. (Filing No. 121-5, Agreement). In paragraph five of the agreement, he admits that he knowingly committed the offenses charged in the affidavit of probable cause. (Id. ¶ 5). Mayor Carr believed Plaintiff's transgressions were serious enough to warrant his removal from the LPD. (Carr Dep. at 38). In addition, Prosecutor Negangard advised he would not take cases from Plaintiff because he admitted to crimes of dishonesty, thus impeding his ability to prosecute criminal cases. (Negangard Dep. at 87, 89, 107).

         On March 14, 2013, Plaintiff signed an eleven-page typewritten letter accusing City officials, including the Mayor and members of the Board of Works, of government corruption and criminal activity. (Filing No. 121-8, March 14, 2013 Letter). Plaintiff disseminated the letter to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. (Id. at 85).

         Several days later, the Board of Works met in executive session to discuss what discipline, if any, was appropriate given the fact that Plaintiff had formally admitted to the commission of crimes pursuant to deferred prosecution agreement. (Filing No. 121-10, Deposition of Leslie Votaw (“Votaw Dep.”) at 72, 73, 87). On March 20, 2013, the Board notified Plaintiff of its intent to terminate his employment with the LPD, and informed him of his statutory right to a hearing pursuant to Ind. Code § 36-8-3-4. (Filing No. 121-11, March 20, 2013 Letter). After Plaintiff requested a hearing, the Board notified Plaintiff by letter that it intended to hold a hearing on the issue of his termination on April 17, 2013, in the Common Council chambers. (Filing No. 121-12, March 27, 2013 Letter). The Board stated that the “charges against [him] stem from [his] admission and confession in the probable cause affidavit and information in [his] criminal case set out in the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, ” and that he could be found to have engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer while on or off duty, neglect of duty, using authority for personal ends, etc., in violation of the LPD's Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”). (Id.)

         For several reasons, the hearing was continued to August 28, 2013. One week prior to the hearing, on August 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction in the Dearborn Circuit Court, wherein he challenged whether the deferred prosecution agreement constituted a final disposition of his criminal charges under Indiana Code § 36-8-3-4(n), and the Board's authority to hold the hearing in executive session. (Filing No. 121-14, Complaint). In its Order, the court found the parties agreed to hold the termination proceedings in public hearings, and that the deferred prosecution agreement was a disposition of the criminal charges for purposes of the Indiana statute. (Filing No. 121-15, Order). The court therefore concluded that the hearing before the Board may proceed as scheduled. (Id.).

         After hearing evidence from both sides, the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff. (Plaintiff Dep. at 56-58). On September 26, 2013, the Board issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. (Filing No. 121-17, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law). Worthy of note are the following findings and conclusions:

• The Board overruled Plaintiff's objection to the proceedings because the members of the board were biased or prejudiced, as no evidence had been produced to establish ...

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