480 F.3d 871 (8th Cir. 2007), 06-2130, Williams v. City of Carl Junction, Missouri

Docket Nº:06-2130.
Citation:480 F.3d 871
Party Name:Charles E. WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. CITY OF CARL JUNCTION, MISSOURI; James "Jim" Wisdom, Mayor, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and official capacities; John Hofer, Chief of Police, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and official capacities; Joseph "Joe" Barfield, City Administrator, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and offici
Case Date:March 28, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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480 F.3d 871 (8th Cir. 2007)

Charles E. WILLIAMS, Appellant,

v.

CITY OF CARL JUNCTION, MISSOURI; James "Jim" Wisdom, Mayor, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and official capacities; John Hofer, Chief of Police, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and official capacities; Joseph "Joe" Barfield, City Administrator, City of Carl Junction, In his individual and official capacities, Appellees.

No. 06-2130.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

March 28, 2007

Submitted: Nov. 15, 2006.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Arthur A. Benson, II, argued, Kansas City, MO (Jamie K. Lansford, on the brief), for appellant.

Amber Van Hauen, argued, Kansas City, MO (Kathryn G. Lee, on the brief), for appellee.

Before GRUENDER, JOHN R. GIBSON, and BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

Charles Williams brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Carl Junction, Missouri, (the "City") and against the City's Mayor, Administrator, and Police Chief, in both their official and individual capacities. Williams asserted that the individual defendants violated his First Amendment rights by issuing him citations for municipal-ordinance violations in retaliation for his vocal opposition to the City's policies and administration. Williams also asserted that the City maintained a custom and practice of condoning the individual defendants' unconstitutional conduct. The District Court 1 granted all defendants' motions for summary judgment and dismissed the case. Williams appeals. We affirm.

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. Schwan's IP, LLC v. Kraft Pizza Co., 460 F.3d 971, 973 (8th Cir.2006). Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). While a court must view the evidence "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party" when ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must present more than a scintilla of evidence and must advance specific facts to create a genuine issue of material fact for trial." FDIC v. Bell, 106 F.3d 258, 263 (8th Cir.1997) (citations and quotations omitted). The nonmoving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence but not to inferences that may only be drawn by "resort[ing] to speculation." P.H. v. Sch. Dist. of Kansas City, Missouri, 265 F.3d 653, 658 (8th Cir.2001). We recite the relevant facts with these standards in mind.

Charles Williams, a resident of the City, is a self-described "vociferous critic" of the City and an "acknowledged pain in the neck to the City, its officials, and employees." Appellant's Br. at 5, 6. According to Williams, he frequently attended City Council meetings and complained about numerous civic issues, including the City's trash-collection contract, its annexation of various properties, its business-licensing policies and practices, its participation in the Rails-for-Trails initiative, and its enforcement of parking restrictions. In addition, Williams often expressed his displeasure with the City's administration by

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yelling profanities and making obscene gestures to employees and officials of the City, including the individual defendants. Williams contends that his relationship with the Mayor was particularly contentious and became even more so after Williams purchased real estate that he believes the Mayor was also interested in purchasing.

Beginning in July 2002 and continuing for roughly two years, Williams was issued a total of twenty-six municipal citations: twelve citations for failing to obtain a business license, five citations for parking offenses, two citations for solid-waste infractions, one citation for failing to post house numbers, one citation for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle, one citation for disturbing the peace, one citation for telephone harassment, one citation for overgrown grass and weeds, one citation for violating set-back regulations, and one citation for improperly storing construction materials. The record reflects that during the relevant period, many other residents of the City were issued citations for similar unlawful conduct. According to Williams, the individual defendants also engaged in a series of "petty harassments" against him, such as delaying the issuance of a business license and imposing an abbreviated time limitation for completion of a construction project. Id. at 6.

Each of the business-license and solid-waste citations were issued by the Police Chief; the remaining citations were issued by other municipal police or code-enforcement officers. The citations for telephone harassment and disturbing the peace were issued after police officers investigated complaints filed against Williams by two residents of the City. With respect to all but one of the twenty-six municipal citations, Williams either admitted that he engaged in the unlawful conduct that triggered issuance of the citation or admitted that a police or code-enforcement officer conducted an investigation prior to issuing the citation. Although Williams's attendance at City Council meetings may have become less frequent over the period these citations were issued, Williams nevertheless continued to attend the meetings and express his point of view, and he continued to voice his opinions to various employees and officials of the City in other venues.

On June 21, 2004, Williams filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the individual defendants conspired to issue and issued the citations described above in retaliation for Williams's exercise of his First Amendment rights, thereby causing him to refrain from expressing his opinions or criticizing the City's policies and administration. Williams also asserted a § 1983 claim against the City, alleging a widespread custom or practice of the unconstitutional conduct that caused the deprivation of his rights. All the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the District Court granted. According to the court, Williams's claims against the individual defendants failed because Williams had not presented facts sufficient to prove that the individual defendants were motivated by retaliatory animus or issued the citations to Williams without probable cause. Because Williams failed to establish that the individual defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights, his claims against the City necessarily failed. Williams appeals, arguing that the District Court erred in granting the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

The criticism of public officials lies at the heart of speech protected by the First Amendment, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 269-70, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964), and we have recognized that "[r]etaliation by a government actor in response to such an exercise

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of First Amendment rights forms a basis for § 1983 liability," Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir.2002). The parties agree that Williams was engaged in constitutionally protected activity when he criticized City policies and administration. See Sullivan, 376 U.S. at 270, 84 S.Ct. 710 (recognizing "a profound national commitment" to First Amendment principles encouraging debate on public issues that is "uninhibited, robust, and wide open"). They do not agree, however, that the citations Williams received were issued in retaliation for Williams's constitutionally protected activity. Williams asserts that the sheer number and pettiness of the citations is sufficient to establish that the individual defendants were motivated by retaliatory animus. The individual defendants, on the other hand, contend that their only motivation in issuing the citations was to enforce municipal ordinances, not to retaliate against...

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