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Jackson v. Pleasant View City Corp.

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 23, 2017

DAVID SCOTT JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PLEASANT VIEW CITY CORPORATION, PLEASANT VIEW CITY COUNCIL, TOBY MILESKI, SCOTT BOEHME, JEROLD BURNS, STEVE GIBSON, MIKE HUMPHREYS, MEL MARKER, MELINDA GREENWOOD AND JOHN DOES I-V, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TED STEWART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff David Scott Jackson was, at all relevant times, the Chief of Police for the Pleasant View City Police Department. In June 2014, Chief Jackson was contacted by the wife of a city police sergeant. The sergeant's wife was concerned that her husband was having an affair, possibly while on duty. These accusations eventually made their way to Mayor Toby Mileski and City Administrator Melinda Greenwood. Ms. Greenwood began her own investigation in the matter. The competing investigations led to tensions between Chief Jackson and Ms. Greenwood.

         On July 9, 2014, Ms. Greenwood sent an email to Mayor Mileski and Chief Jackson, stating that there was a “[g]eneral feeling of lack of trust and respect” with the sergeant and that “[m]orale with the department is an issue.”[1] On July 10, 2014, Chief Jackson requested a meeting with Mayor Mileski and Ms. Greenwood. That meeting took place the following day, July 11, 2014.

         The meeting became heated and Ms. Greenwood made several statements that give rise, in part, to Plaintiff's claims. Ms. Greenwood stated that Chief Jackson had done a terrible job of investigating the allegations against the sergeant, that the officers in the police department had lost all trust and respect for the Chief, and that morale within the department was low. Plaintiff also testified that Mayor Mileski stated that the department had become a laughing stock.[2] At some point during the meeting, Chief Jackson asked to be terminated.[3] At the end of the meeting, Chief Jackson was placed on administrative leave for insubordination, pending a City Council meeting.

         A City Council meeting took place the following day. The City Council voted to go into closed session. During that closed session, the City Council, along with Mayor Mileski and Ms. Greenwood, discussed whether to terminate Chief Jackson without cause. Many of the statements made during the previous day's meeting were reiterated during the closed session of the City Council meeting. Chief Jackson was permitted to briefly address the City Council during the closed session. At the conclusion of the closed session, the City Council came to an open meeting and voted 2-2 to terminate Chief Jackson. Mayor Mileski then voted in favor of termination without cause, breaking the tie and resulting in Chief Jackson's termination.

         On July 14, 2014, the Standard Examiner, a local newspaper, issued a records request to the City under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”). Ms. Greenwood responded to the GRAMA request on July 16, 2014, by providing a number of documents. These documents, along with a press release, were also placed on the City's website. These documents contained many of the statements of which Plaintiff complains.

         After his termination, Chief Jackson was able to obtain employment in construction at the Sorrel River Ranch from January 2015 through April 2015. He then was employed as a Deputy/Drug Tracker at the Grand County Sheriff's Office from March 2015 through May 2016. He has been employed as a Juvenile Probation officer at the Sixth District Court from May 2016 through the present. The positions at the Grand County Sherriff's Office and the Sixth District Court were the only two law enforcement positions for which Chief Jackson applied, though he made inquiries to other law enforcement agencies. In applying for these positions, Chief Jackson had no discussions with either employer about the circumstances surrounding his termination. Additionally, Chief Jackson has not applied for any law enforcement position that he believes he did not obtain because of his termination.

         Plaintiff originally brought claims under the Due Process Clause asserting the deprivation of both a property interest and a liberty interest.[4] The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff's property interest claims with prejudice.[5] Only Plaintiff's liberty interest claim remains.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[6] In considering whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court determines whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party in the face of all the evidence presented.[7] The Court is required to construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[8]

         III. DISCUSSION

         “A public employee has a liberty interest in his good name and reputation as they relate to his continued employment.”[9]

The government infringes upon that interest when: (1) it makes a statement that “impugn[s] the good name, reputation, honor, or integrity of the employee”; (2) the statement is false; (3) the statement is made during the course of termination and “foreclose[s] other employment opportunities”; and (4) the statement is published, in other words disclosed publically.[10]

         “These elements are not disjunctive, all must be satisfied to demonstrate deprivation of the liberty interest.”[11]

         A. STATEMENTS THAT IMPUGN GOOD NAME, REPUTATION, HONOR, OR INEGRITY

         “[T]o be actionable, the statements must impugn the good name, reputation, honor, or integrity of the employee.”[12] The Tenth Circuit has held that “charges involving negligence and neglect of duties” “are insufficient to establish a liberty interest deprivation.”[13] Similarly, charges of “poor work habits or failure to follow instructions” are not enough, [14] nor are complaints of insubordination.[15] “In order to state a constitutional claim, the charges ...


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