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Taylor v. City of Lawrenceburg

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 20, 2018

Doug Taylor, Plaintiff-Appellant,
City of Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, State of Indiana, an Indiana municipal corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued January 18, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division. No. 4:14-cv-00077-RLY-TAB - Richard L. Young, Judge.

          Before Sykes and Hamilton, Circuit Judges, and Lee, District Judge. [*]


         The appellant, Doug Taylor, claims that the Board of Public Works and Safety of the City of Lawrenceburg ("the Board") terminated his employment with the City because of his disagreements with the Mayor and exposure of purported wrongdoing by City officials. Seeking redress, Taylor filed suit against the City, members of the Board, and several City officials, bringing a claim of First Amendment retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Taylor also asserted state law claims of defamation, violation of free-speech rights under the Indiana constitution, and violation of Indiana's whistleblower statute. The district court entered summary judgment in the City's favor as to Taylor's claims. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Doug Taylor is a former police officer of the City of Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He also held positions with the City's civil-city, parks, and electric departments. Taylor ran for a position on Lawrenceburg's City Council and, in April 2011, improperly appeared in police uniform at an event for his campaign. Taylor also inaccurately represented on his police time sheet that he was on duty during the campaign event. The Indiana State Police investigated this conduct, resulting in the filing in October 2011 of criminal charges against Taylor for Official Misconduct and Ghost Employment. Taylor won election to the City Council in November 2011.

         The Board placed Taylor on administrative leave with pay shortly after the criminal charges were filed. It later moved him to a front-desk position within the police department in January 2012.

         On March 13, 2013, Taylor signed a deferred prosecution agreement admitting to the criminal charges and agreeing to resign from the City Council. The next day, he distributed to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies an eleven- page letter accusing the Board and various City officials, including Mayor Dennis Carr, of corruption and criminal wrongdoing.

         A week later, the Board notified Taylor of its intent to terminate his employment as a police officer (as well as with "any other department of the City") and informed him of his right to a hearing pursuant to Indiana Code § 36-8-3-4(c). Taylor requested a hearing.

         Prior to the hearing, the Board adopted a rule that its decision would be determined by a simple majority vote of the Board members who were present during the presentation of evidence and argument. Five members, including the Mayor, were present to hear the evidence and arguments at Taylor's hearing. After considering the evidence, the Board voted 2 to 1 to terminate Taylor's employment. The Mayor, who votes only in the event of a tie, did not vote, and one other member of the Board abstained. Taylor's employment was terminated, and he stopped receiving paychecks from the City.

         The Board subsequently issued its findings of fact and law pursuant to § 36-8-3-4(i). In its findings, the Board credited a local prosecutor's testimony that he would not accept case-related information from a police officer, like Taylor, who had admitted to a crime of dishonesty. The Board also rejected Taylor's contention that the Board members were biased against him.

         In addition, the Board rebuffed Taylor's suggestion that the termination proceedings were initiated in response to his March 14, 2013, letter accusing Board members and others of wrongdoing. The Board found "no causal connection" be- tween the termination proceedings and the letter and explained that it had waited for the resolution of Taylor's criminal charges before issuing the notice of termination.

         Pursuant to § 36-8-3-4(e), Taylor had the right to appeal the Board's decision to "the circuit or superior court of the county in which [the Board was] located/' within thirty days, § 36-8-3-4(f), after which the Board's decision would become "final and conclusive/' § 36-8-3-4(g). Taylor timely appealed the Board's decision to the Dearborn County Superior Court on ...

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