58 F.3d 1554 (11th Cir. 1995), 94-2621, Beckwith v. City of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.

Docket Nº:94-2621.
Citation:58 F.3d 1554
Party Name:Bruce BECKWITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, FLORIDA, a municipal corporation; Donald F. Large, individually and in his capacity as Mayor of the City of Daytona Beach Shores, Florida; Charles McCool, individually and in his capacity as City Manager of the City of Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 25, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1554

58 F.3d 1554 (11th Cir. 1995)

Bruce BECKWITH, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CITY OF DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, FLORIDA, a municipal

corporation; Donald F. Large, individually and in his

capacity as Mayor of the City of Daytona Beach Shores,

Florida; Charles McCool, individually and in his capacity

as City Manager of the City of Daytona Beach Shores,

Florida, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 94-2621.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 25, 1995

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Larry Bruce Henderson, Daytona Beach, FL, for appellant.

Forrest Scott Pendley, Lamar D. Oxford, Dean, Ringers, Morgan and Lawton, Orlando, FL, for appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before DUBINA and BLACK, Circuit Judges, and COHILL [*], Senior District Judge.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

Appellant alleges that Appellees: (1) violated his free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment by disciplining and terminating him in retaliation for his public and private opposition to city policy; (2) violated his marriage, liberty, and free association rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments by disciplining him for not living with his wife and family; (3) violated his substantive due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by disciplining and terminating him in an arbitrary and capricious manner and for improper reasons; and (4) violated his procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by disciplining and terminating him without providing necessary procedural safeguards. 1 Because the court believes that only Appellant's First Amendment free speech claim has merit, we do not discuss any other claims in this opinion.

On appeal we must decide whether Appellant states a valid claim under the First Amendment and, if so, whether the district court properly entered judgment as a matter of law against Appellant. We conclude that Appellant has a valid claim, and reverse and remand the district court's entry of judgment as a matter of law. 2

I. BACKGROUND

  1. Facts

    This case grows out of Appellant Bruce Beckwith's termination as fire chief of Appellee City of Daytona Beach Shores, Florida (City). Appellant served as fire chief from 1984 until his termination in 1991. As a department head, Appellant reported directly to the city manager and could be terminated only for "just cause." Appellant consistently received above-average performance evaluations from the city manager. The city manager answers to a city council, which consists of five members including the Mayor, Appellee Donald Large.

    The dispute which Appellant claims led to his termination began on August 1, 1990, when Appellant publicly opposed budget-cutting proposals advanced by Mayor Large at a

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    city council meeting. Like most council meetings, the August 1 meeting was poorly attended. Appellant expressed particular concern about a proposal to discontinue the City's paramedic program. He considered the paramedic proposal dangerous to the City's citizens, visitors, and his own employees. After the meeting, Appellant began mobilizing public opinion by discussing the proposed paramedic cut with citizens, most notably the ex-mayor. Appellant urged the people with whom he spoke to attend the next city council meeting in order to oppose or support the proposed cuts.

    The next city council meeting on August 8, 1990, was well attended. When the paramedic proposal was raised, Mayor Large retreated from his earlier position, stating that "[t]here's no rescue being eliminated." When a citizen in the audience asked when the public would be able to have an input on the proposal, Mayor Large postponed further discussion until a budget workshop scheduled for the next evening. At the August 9 budget workshop, Mayor Large quickly dropped the proposal to eliminate the paramedic program. In a letter mailed to city residents a few weeks later, Mayor Large 3 trumpeted the council's decision to "increase our paramedic staff to meet the most important service needed by our citizens--EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE." (emphasis in original).

    Appellant also claims that his opposition to the City's public safety officer (PSO) program motivated his termination. The PSO program encourages police officers, firefighters, and paramedics to cross-train and serve in other roles. The city government knew about Appellant's opposition to the PSO program, and Appellant publicly expressed doubts about it on at least one occasion. On August 29, 1990, the city council voted to fund the PSO program despite the city manager's protest that the pilot program was a failure. Another goal of the PSO program was achieved on October 23, 1991--the same day the city council upheld Appellant's termination--when the offices of fire chief and police chief were combined into the office of public safety.

    Considerable friction had developed between Appellant and a majority of the city council 4 by the time the council held their final budget meeting on August 29. Early in the meeting, Mayor Large reprimanded Appellant for purportedly sarcastic remarks. Another councilman suggested that "perhaps [the council] better hear from brother Beckwith, because he's talked to everybody else about [the budget]!" 5 Near the end of the meeting, Appellant confronted the council with rumors that "several of you have asked that I be terminated from employment with the city because of insubordination" and expressed his continued opposition to budget cuts being made in his department. Mayor Large responded that:

    One of the things that is done in business is respecting the chain of command. And the first thing that you learn outside in the true world is that you report directly to the boss over you. And none of the employees have a policy making decision. They don't feel, or they don't get involved with policy.... So for an employee to go out, and go past the city manager, over the councilm[e]n's heads, to a citizen, to try to influence that person, is to me total[ly] insubordinate. If that were to happen to me, on my job, I would be fired.

    After the paramedic budget dispute, Mayor Large commenced an investigation of Appellant. The "Beckwith Investigation" focused on whether Appellant's actions after the August 1 council meeting were improper. City Manager Holmquist presented the investigation's results to the city council on September 10, 1990, and concluded that "nothing ... supports any form of insubordination

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    by the fire chief." The council voted to accept the report, but Mayor Large and another councilman appeared reluctant to accept Holmquist's conclusion.

    Presenting the Beckwith Investigation to the city council was one of Holmquist's last acts as city manager. He tendered his resignation to the council at the same meeting. His resignation letter, dated September 4, 1990, states:

    Individual Councilmen have requested that I take actions against two Department Heads. After gaining legal advice and studying internal investigations, I believe such actions are unwarranted, politically motivated, and would pose potential liability to the city.

    At trial, Holmquist testified that Appellant was one of the department heads referred to in the letter. 6 He admitted having had some problems with Appellant. He denied, however, that he wanted to fire Appellant and stated that he considered Appellant to be a competent and strong leader. According to Holmquist, Mayor Large demanded Appellant's termination because of Appellant's opposition to the paramedic proposal and PSO program. 7 Holmquist testified that retaining his job was contingent on his firing Appellant, and that he resigned rather than carry out the termination. Mayor Large's testimony directly contradicts Holmquist's. According to Mayor Large, Holmquist wanted to fire Appellant in August 1990, and Mayor Large merely suggested that Holmquist could fire Appellant if he wished. Mayor Large denied making Holmquist's job contingent on firing Appellant.

    The city council eventually hired Appellee Charles McCool to replace Holmquist as city manager. The council must select the city manager in public. Nevertheless, several councilmen expressed a desire "to avoid the sunshine" during the selection process. The council seemed to prefer interviewing the final city manager candidates individually, in private. McCool admitted meeting informally with several councilmen prior to his selection, but denied discussing Appellant or the PSO program at these meetings. Prior to his selection, McCool also attended a city council meeting about the PSO program. After the meeting, he met briefly with Mayor Large and the council and, according to McCool, superficially discussed the PSO program. At trial, McCool categorically denied being asked to terminate Appellant.

    McCool began as city manager in early December 1990. His first trouble with Appellant occurred about one month later. According to McCool, in December 1990, Appellant moved to his new wife's residence outside the area specified in Appellant's job description. On January 11, 1991, McCool placed Appellant on sixty-day probation for allegedly violating the residency requirement. McCool testified that, when confronted, Appellant admitted living outside the residency area. But Appellant testified that he was not living outside the residency area, and that he so informed McCool. Appellant maintained that he continued living within the residency area in order to care for his elderly mother.

    In March 1991, McCool extended Appellant's probation and suspended him without pay for thirty days for a "willful and voluntary violation of your job description." McCool explained that Appellant's...

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