798 F.2d 1168 (8th Cir. 1986), 85-1145, Praprotnik v. City of St. Louis

Docket Nº:85-1145, 85-1267 and 85-1268.
Citation:798 F.2d 1168
Party Name:James H. PRAPROTNIK, Appellee, v. CITY OF ST. LOUIS, a municipal corporation, Appellant. Frank Hamsher; Charles Kindleberger, Community Development Agency; and Deborah Patterson, Community Development Agency.
Case Date:August 19, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1168

798 F.2d 1168 (8th Cir. 1986)

James H. PRAPROTNIK, Appellee,

v.

CITY OF ST. LOUIS, a municipal corporation, Appellant.

Frank Hamsher; Charles Kindleberger, Community Development

Agency; and Deborah Patterson, Community

Development Agency.

Nos. 85-1145, 85-1267 and 85-1268.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 19, 1986

Submitted Jan. 13, 1986.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Robert H. Dierker, Jr., St. Louis, Mo., for appellant.

Charles R. Oldham, St. Louis, Mo., for appellee.

Before LAY, Chief Judge, BRIGHT, Senior Circuit Judge, and ROSS, Circuit Judge.

LAY, Chief Judge.

The City of St. Louis (City) appeals from a jury verdict finding the City liable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 for depriving James Praprotnik, a laid-off City employee, of his constitutional rights. The jury found (1) that Praprotnik had been penalized for exercising his first amendment rights, and (2) that his lay off had been motivated by improper reasons, depriving him of due process of law. We face a complicated appeal brought by the City made difficult by confusing, bifurcated instructions requested by both parties, the use of two special verdicts for the same damages, and rather conclusory arguments made by both sides on appeal. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for reconsideration of the amount awarded in attorney fees.

Praprotnik was a City employee from 1968 until he was laid off on December 30, 1983. In 1980, Praprotnik held a management position in the Community Development Agency (CDA) as an architect when he became embroiled in a dispute with his superiors. Charles Kindleberger, Praprotnik's immediate supervisor, suspended Praprotnik for fifteen days as a result of this dispute. Praprotnik appealed his suspension to the City civil service commission pursuant to civil service rules. Praprotnik's co-workers testified at trial that Praprotnik's job responsibilities were reduced and his work transferred to other employees with less experience during this period. One employee testified that there was a change in management attitude toward Praprotnik from the time he appealed his

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suspension. The commission determined that Praprotnik's suspension was unreasonable and excessive, and Praprotnik was reinstated with back pay.

Approximately two weeks before Praprotnik was suspended, and several days before the dispute arose, Kindleberger recommended Praprotnik for a two-grade, "super step" increase, based on Praprotnik's superior performance. In October 1980, after the dispute, Praprotnik was reviewed again. This time, Kindleberger rated Praprotnik "good" overall, but recommended a two-step decrease in salary grade. When Praprotnik asked Kindleberger the reasons for the salary decrease, Kindleberger said that Donald Spaid, Kindleberger's own supervisor and the department director, believed that Praprotnik had not been fully honest in the course of the hearings before the commission and that Spaid was "down on" Praprotnik. Upon Praprotnik's appeal of the two-step decrease, he was awarded a one-step increase, overturning Kindleberger's recommendation.

When Praprotnik's annual review was again performed in October 1981, he was rated "adequate" in several categories and "inadequate" in "relationships." Prior to Praprotnik's suspension appeal, Praprotnik had never received a rating lower than "good." A confidential memorandum from one of Praprotnik's raters, Al Karetski, to Kindleberger recited the factors contributing to the "inadequate" rating for "relationships:"

Relationships which Jim [Praprotnik] had with other employees, subordinates and superiors presented difficulties. For example, he did not relate well to the previous Director of the Agency [Spaid], who expressed that he should be fired, that he [Praprotnik] was "sabotaging" the department and that he could not be trusted.

Praprotnik again appealed the rating, resulting in a ruling that Praprotnik's "inadequate" rating for "relationships" be raised to an "adequate" rating.

In the spring of 1982, major staff and budget reductions were made in Praprotnik's agency. At that time, Praprotnik had seniority over two other employees in the agency in his job classification. At the same time, the City's Heritage and Urban Design Division (H. & U.D.), headed by Henry Jackson, had commenced a search to fill a position of far lesser responsibility and salary than Praprotnik's job. The new director of the CDA, defendant Frank Hamsher, proposed that some of Praprotnik's duties be transferred and consolidated with the vacant position at H. & U.D. to create a position classified at a grade equivalent to Praprotnik's. Henry Jackson, as well as Jackson's superior, Thomas Nash, agreed to the consolidation of functions.

Praprotnik was then informed that he would be transferred to H. & U.D. Hamsher told Praprotnik that this was to be a lateral transfer of personnel and job functions. Praprotnik objected to the transfer and attempted to appeal the decision. The civil service commission declined to hear the appeal, however, on the ground that Praprotnik had lost nothing by the transfer, even though Praprotnik thereby forfeited his seniority for lay-off purposes since he became the only employee in his job classification at H. & U.D.

Praprotnik soon became very unhappy in his new job at H. & U.D. Although his architectural duties had purportedly transferred with him, Jackson apparently took those duties over himself, and left Praprotnik to perform clerical functions. In November 1982, Praprotnik was given his first service rating in the new job. Jackson rated him "inadequate" overall, and indicated that Praprotnik was no longer in a management position, that he was "grossly overqualified," and that his position should be reclassified. Jackson also recommended that Praprotnik's salary be decreased by one step.

Praprotnik again appealed his rating to the service rating appeal board. The appeal board raised each of Jackson's "inadequate" ratings to "adequate", and reversed the pay reduction recommendation. In the meantime, however, Praprotnik's position

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was reclassified to a lower grade, and Jackson's replacement, Robert Killen, admitted that by July 1983, plans were being made to lay Praprotnik off.

These plans came to fruition on December 23, 1983, when Praprotnik received notice that he would be laid off effective December 30, 1983. The timing of the lay off imposed an unusually heavy burden on Praprotnik personally. Not only was it the holiday season, but Praprotnik had just the day before been released from the hospital following surgery. The lay off meant that he lost his income, as well as over 500 hours of accumulated sick leave and all other pension and vacation benefits, and that his medical insurance was cancelled. The reason given for his lay off was lack of funds.

Thomas Nash, the director of public safety and in charge of H. & U.D., further testified at trial as to the reason for Praprotnik's lay off. Nash stated that the work load at H. & U.D. was too heavy for the existing number of staff and that he could pay two lower level people out of Praprotnik's salary. Nash also stated that Praprotnik was laid off because of his performance. He did not consider downgrading Praprotnik as a possible budgetary solution.

Nash also explained the bureaucratic procedure involved in effecting the lay off. The recommendation for the lay off had to come from Nash initially. The mayor's office would have also been informed, but Nash characterized Praprotnik's lay off as a "minor reorganization" not requiring direct discussion with the mayor's office. William Duffe, the director of personnel, further explained the lay-off process. According to Duffe, lay offs are "made when the appointing authority determines there is a lack of work or a lack of funds within his agency." A department head desiring a reduction in force by lay off would first communicate the need to the personnel director. The personnel director would then provide a lay-off list to the department head, indicating which employees were subject to lay off and in what order.

Praprotnik appealed his lay off to the civil service commission. Under the City charter, employees may be laid off only for lack of work or lack of funds, and reorganization by itself is not a proper basis for lay off. Praprotnik's appeal of his lay off to the civil service commission is still pending, however, apparently because Praprotnik filed this lawsuit before his lay off occurred and the civil service commission has stayed its proceedings until a final decision on the entire matter is rendered by the courts. 1

Praprotnik's suit alleged that his transfer and lay off were improperly motivated by certain City supervisors 2 (1) in violation of his first amendment right to pursue his grievance from the suspension and (2) in violation of his due process rights. The jury returned two forms of special verdict finding the City liable under both theories and assessing damages for $15,000 for the first amendment violation and another $15,000 for the due process violation. In each instance, however, the jury exonerated the individual defendants. 3 The City appeals. 4

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We affirm the verdict based on the City's retaliatory conduct against Praprotnik; we vacate the verdict based on the due process claim.

Identity of municipal policymakers effecting Praprotnik's transfer and lay off

The City's principal challenge to the verdict raises the propriety of the jury's implicit finding that Praprotnik's injury was brought about by an unconstitutional city policy, a requisite for municipal liability under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2036, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). See also Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986); City of Oklahoma...

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