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Martin v. Copeland

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 19, 2019

TERRI G. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY COPELAND, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and N.D. L.R. 56-1 [DE 62] filed by the plaintiff, Terri G. Martin, on December 21, 2018, and the Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and N.D. L.R. 56-1 [DE 65] filed by the defendants, Anthony Copeland, Tom Dabertin, Sandra Favella, Gerri C. Browning, and the City of East Chicago, Indiana, on December 21, 2018. For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and N.D. L.R. 56-1 [DE 62] is GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART, and the Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and N.D. L.R. 56-1 [DE 65] is GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Terri G. Martin, filed her Complaint against the individual defendants, Anthony Copeland, Tom Dabertin, Sandra Favella, and Gerri C. Martin, and against the City of East Chicago for damages on February 16, 2016. Martin alleged multiple claims. First, she alleged that the defendants were liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. She claimed that the defendants terminated her employment without providing her a pre-termination hearing, pursuant to an alleged employment contract she had with the City of East Chicago Board of Health. Martin also alleged that her termination was motivated by political considerations in violation of the First Amendment. Additionally, she claimed that she was confined and intimidated in her office when presented the termination letter. Martin also asserted that the defendants tortiously interfered with her alleged contractual property rights in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, Martin claimed that the defendants' conduct amounted to defamation.

         Shortly thereafter, the defendants filed motions to dismiss on March 31, 2016. The court on January 17, 2017, issued an Opinion and Order dismissing Martin's defamation and tortious inference claims, as well as the official capacity claims against the individual defendants. The court also dismissed Martin's confinement and intimidation claims against Mayor Copeland and Dr. Browning. Thus, the remaining claims include: the § 1983 due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment; individual capacity claims against Mayor Copeland, Dabertin, Favella, and Dr. Browning; the First Amendment claim; and the confinement and intimidation claims against Favella and Dabertin under the Fourth Amendment and Indiana state law.

         Martin began working for the City of East Chicago Health Department in June of 2013. Dr. Browning hired Martin as the Executive Director after the previous Director resigned. As the Executive Director, she managed the day-to-day operations of the City's Health Department, wrote grants to secure funding for programs at the department, served as the liason with the Indiana State Department of Health, and represented the City as a department head in collaboration with other department heads throughout the City. Martin was under an independent contractor contract with a term of June of 2013 through December of 2013. The contract contained a provision that the Board could renew the contract period for January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, which it did.

         The Health Board held a meeting on November 5, 2014. Dr. Browning requested that Martin's employment contract be extended for more than one year. At the meeting, it was suggested by Deborah Mabra, a Board member, to extend Martin's contract to a three-year term. The motion was seconded and approved. The 2014 Employment Contract had not yet been drafted at the time of the meeting, and therefore was not presented to the Health Board at the November 5, 2014 meeting for approval. David Weigle, an attorney for the City, drew up the contract after the November 5 meeting. The contract covered Martin's employment for the term of January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2017. It contained a provision that Martin could be removed from her position “for cause” only after a hearing by the Board. It was signed by Martin, Dr. Browning, and four members of the Health Board on December 17, 2014.

         Cody Williams and Efrem Simmons, who worked in the Animal Control Division of the City's Health Department, were responsible for feeding and cleaning the dogs under the control of the department over the Labor Day weekend in 2015. Martin became aware that neither Williams nor Simmons had taken care of the dogs. In September of 2015, the employees of the Health Department had a regularly scheduled meeting. At the meeting, Dr. Browning inquired about the situation with the Animal Control Division. Williams explained that it was the part-time employees' responsibility to feed and clean the dogs over the Labor Day weekend, but they had failed to show up. Dr. Browning, Williams, and Martin discussed the situation, and Martin issued Williams a write up.

         After the meeting adjourned, Williams asked to speak with Dr. Browning, and they stepped in to the copier room to talk. Arnita Fowlkes, a manager for the Health Department, indicated that she overheard Martin, who was visibly upset, say “he's gonna bring the nigger out of me” and called Williams a “bitch-ass nigger.” Simmons indicated that he overheard Martin's remarks, as well. Martin has denied saying anything. Fowlkes advised Dr. Browning of the incident, and Williams became aware of the remarks and advised Favella.

         Based on the alleged remarks made by Martin, an investigation was commenced by the East Chicago Human Resources Department. The investigation was run by Favella, who was the interim director of the Human Resources Department at the time of the incident, and Dabertin, who was an HR consultant for the City. After Favella and Dabertin had interviewed all the witnesses, they indicated to Dr. Browning that Martin had used racial slurs against Williams and recommended that her employment be terminated. Dr. Browning agreed. Dabertin, at Dr. Browning's request, prepared the termination letter and delivered it to Dr. Browning for his review and signature. Dr. Browning approved and signed the termination letter on October 13, 2015. Favella and Dabertin delivered the termination letter to Martin at her office. Her termination was effective immediately.

         Martin was terminated for violating the discriminatory conduct and discriminatory harassment policies, a Category IV type of misconduct under the City's Employee Handbook. Employees that commit a Category IV type violation are subjected to immediate suspension without pay for five days pending review of termination by the Mayor. However, Martin neither was suspended nor did Mayor Copeland review her termination. The City contends that it had the right to depart from the disciplinary guidelines including immediate termination, if necessary, to protect the well-being of the City or its employees.

         Martin has argued that she had a property interest in her continued employment with the City. She asserts that pursuant to the 2014 Employment Contract that was signed on December 17, 2014, she could be removed as the Executive Director only for cause after a hearing by the Health Board. However, the termination letter delivered by Dabertin and Favella terminated her employment with the City effective immediately. A pre-termination hearing before the Board never occurred. Thus, it is her contention that the defendants violated her due process rights. She also has argued that each defendant, Dr. Browning, Dabertin, Favella, and Mayor Copeland, are personally liable for violating her constitutional rights.

         Martin has filed a motion seeking summary judgment against the City and the individual defendants on the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 due process claim, only. The defendants filed a response in opposition on January 31, 2019, and Martin filed a reply on February 28, 2019. The defendants also have filed a motion for summary judgment seeking judgment against Martin on the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 due process claim, the First Amendment claim, the intimidation and confinement claims, and the individual liability claim ...


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