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Pead v. Ephraim City

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

December 12, 2018

DARREN PEAD, Plaintiff,
v.
EPHRAIM CITY, a political subdivision of the State of Utah, and BRANT HANSON, an individual, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Dee Benson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on Defendants Ephraim City and Brant Hanson's (collectively “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Dkt. 7.) At oral argument on the motion, Defendants were represented by Nathan Skeen. Plaintiff Darren Pead was represented by Kathryn Harstad and Cameron Platt. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court took the matter under advisement. Now, having further considered the law and facts relating to the motions, the court renders the following Memorandum Decision and Order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Darren Pead is a police officer who was at all times relevant to this case employed by Ephraim City. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff seeks to recover from Ephraim City and its City Manager, Brant Hanson, for taking adverse action against him after he and other officers reported what they claimed was illegal misconduct by their Chief of Police and sergeant. The relevant facts, as set forth in Plaintiff's complaint, are summarized as follows.[1]

         According to Plaintiff, while working as an officer for the Ephraim City Police Department, Plaintiff discovered that Chief of Police Ron Rasmussen had failed to fill out or complete hundreds of police reports, dating back as far as 2008, in violation of city policy and law enforcement practices. Additionally, Plaintiff noticed that Sergeant Len Gasser had approved and “cleared” hundreds of Chief Rasmussen's blank reports, and “[a]s a result of Chief Rasmussen's and Sgt. Gasser's illegal misconduct, hundreds of reported crimes had gone undocumented and un-investigated.” (Compl. ¶¶ 20-22.)

         Upon discovering this, Plaintiff and two other officers met with the Ephraim City Council and mayor to report the illegal misconduct of Chief Rasmussen and Sgt. Gasser. Additionally, one of the other two officers reported the illegal misconduct to the Utah Attorney General's Office. (Compl. ¶¶ 23-25.)

         Thereafter, the mayor and Defendant Hanson, in his capacity as the city manager, interviewed all three of the officers concerning the allegations. During the meeting, Plaintiff opined that Chief Rasmussen's conduct was a violation of Utah Code Section 76-8-201, and Plaintiff further asserted that this was an issue of “negligence and neglect” wherein hundreds of crimes against Ephraim City citizens had not been investigated. (Compl. ¶ 30.)

         Plaintiff claims that during the meeting, and in response to these accusations, Defendant Hanson threatened to “eliminate all personnel from the police department because the officers had ‘elevated' the problem by contacting the AG's Office.” (Compl. ¶ 28(a).) Defendant Hanson also said that he was “concerned about insubordination, ” and he questioned Plaintiff's “code of ethics, ” noting that the Chief had been with the City for 27 years and was “a member of this family.” (Compl. ¶ 28(c).) Defendant Hanson told Plaintiff and the other officers that in response to the allegations he would enlist the Utah County Sheriff's Office to do an internal investigation, but advised that the investigation would “tap into everybody a little bit, ” including Plaintiff and the other reporting officers. (Compl. ¶ 32.)

         According to Plaintiff, the Utah County investigation directed very little attention to Chief Rasmussen and Sgt. Gasser, but focused instead on Plaintiff and his behavior at the Ephraim Police Department. (Compl. ¶¶ 36, 40.) Additionally, the Utah County investigative report, which was later leaked to the media, cast Plaintiff in a negative light stating that “[i]nformation and evidence was obtained showing that Officer Pead is and has been insubordinate on several occasions” and accused Plaintiff of being “unprofessional in his conduct.” (Compl. ¶ 48.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that the City issued statements to the press downplaying Chief Rasmussen's and Sgt. Gasser's misconduct, and disparaging Plaintiff and the other two officers, asserting that their allegations were “unverifiable” and “purely speculative.” (Compl. ¶ 51.)

         Based on what they perceived were retaliatory actions, and because they were “unwilling to endure illegal conduct by the Chief and Sergeant and the resulting coverup, ” on June 28, 2017, Plaintiff and the other two officers resigned from the police department. (Compl. ¶ 52.)

         On December 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in federal court asserting two causes of action. First, Plaintiff asserts a claim under federal law, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. Second, Plaintiff asserts a claim under state law against defendant Ephraim City for violating the Utah Protection of Public Employees Act, Utah Code Ann. § 67-21-1, et seq. (“the Utah Whistleblower's Act”).

         DISCUSSION

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege facts that, if true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wilson v. Montano, 715 F.3d 846, 852 (10th Cir. 2013); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and “construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1162 (10th Cir. 2011). Applying this standard, the court addresses each cause of action in turn.

         1. Section 1983 Claim - Retaliation Based on the Exercise of Free Speech ...


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