852 F.3d 786 (8th Cir. 2017), 16-1643, Thompson v. Shock

Docket Nº:16-1643
Citation:852 F.3d 786
Opinion Judge:SMITH, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Gary Thompson; Dalton Elliott; Gary Scott Manning; Alicia Hardy, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. Andy Shock, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Faulkner County Sheriff, Defendant - Appellee
Attorney:For Gary Thompson, Dalton Elliott, Gary Scott Manning, Alicia Hardy, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Lucien Ramseur Gillham, Luther Oneal Sutter, SUTTER & GILLHAM, Benton, AR. For Andy Shock, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Faulkner County Sheriff, Defendant - Appellee: Jason E. Owens, RAIN...
Judge Panel:Before WOLLMAN and SMITH,[1] Circuit Judges, and WRIGHT,[2] District Judge.
Case Date:March 28, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
SUMMARY

Plaintiff, a former transport deputy for the county, filed suit against Sheriff Andy Shock, in his individual and official capacities, for unlawful employment termination under state and federal law. Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the deprivation of his First Amendment right to free association. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim against... (see full summary)

 
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Page 786

852 F.3d 786 (8th Cir. 2017)

Gary Thompson; Dalton Elliott; Gary Scott Manning; Alicia Hardy, Plaintiffs - Appellants

v.

Andy Shock, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Faulkner County Sheriff, Defendant - Appellee

No. 16-1643

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 28, 2017

Submitted December 15, 2016.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock.

For Gary Thompson, Dalton Elliott, Gary Scott Manning, Alicia Hardy, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Lucien Ramseur Gillham, Luther Oneal Sutter, SUTTER & GILLHAM, Benton, AR.

For Andy Shock, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Faulkner County Sheriff, Defendant - Appellee: Jason E. Owens, RAINWATER & HOLT, Little Rock, AR.

Before WOLLMAN and SMITH,1 Circuit Judges, and WRIGHT,2 District Judge.

OPINION

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SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Gary Thompson, a former transport deputy in Faulkner County, Arkansas, sued Sheriff Andy Shock, in his individual and official capacities, for unlawful employment termination under state and federal law. He brought his federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of his First Amendment right of free association. The district court dismissed the federal claim, granting Sheriff Shock qualified immunity in his individual capacity and holding that Sheriff Shock in his official capacity was not a policymaker for purposes of Faulkner County's liability. The district court then declined supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. Thompson appeals, seeking reinstatement of his claims against Sheriff Shock. Upon review, we affirm the district court's dismissal of Thompson's claim against Sheriff Shock in his official capacity, but we vacate the finding of qualified immunity for Sheriff Shock in his individual capacity and remand that issue for analysis under a different line of precedent.

I.

Background

In 2012, while employed as a deputy in the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office, Andy Shock ran for Sheriff. One of Shock's coworkers in the office, Gary Thompson, did not support his candidacy. Thompson publicly endorsed Shock's main rival, Tommy Earnhart. While off-duty, Thompson campaigned for Earnhart by attending fundraisers, placing campaign signs in his yard, and wearing a campaign T-shirt. This campaigning did not interfere with Thompson's work activities, nor does the record reflect that Thompson made any public statements regarding the Sheriff's Office or other issues of public concern. After Shock discovered that Thompson supported his rival, the two met privately; Thompson assured Shock that he supported Earnhart as a personal friend and that he would be willing to work for Shock if he won the election. Thompson alleges that Shock told others that, as Sheriff, Shock would terminate current office employees that did not support his candidacy.

In November 2012, after Shock won the election, Thompson received a letter from newly elected Sheriff Shock notifying him of his " non-selection" for employment in January 2013. The letter outlined a grievance procedure providing Thompson a predeprivation hearing to contest his termination.

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Thompson requested the hearing, and during the proceedings, Sheriff Shock testified that he chose not to select Thompson because of his " lack of good work ethic." The record reflects no discipline procedures or negative performance evaluations regarding Thompson before he received this letter of non-selection.

Thompson and three other non-selected employees brought this suit in 2013, alleging violations of their rights under the Arkansas Political Freedom Act, the Arkansas Constitution, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for Shock in his individual and official capacities. The district court analyzed the First Amendment claim under the formula set out in Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968), and Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 75 L.Ed.2d 708 (1983). The district court determined that Thompson's claimed First Amendment right was not clearly established under the Pickering--Connick test, granted qualified immunity to Sheriff Shock in his individual capacity, and dismissed without prejudice the related state-law claims. The district court also dismissed Thompson's claims against Shock in his official capacity because Thompson failed to prove that Sheriff Shock was deliberately indifferent to his constitutional rights. Thompson moved to alter or amend the judgment, but the district court denied the motion. The court did, however, revise its reasoning on the official-capacity claim. The court shifted the basis for its decision to Sheriff Shock's lack of final policymaking authority in employment matters. Thompson appeals.

II.

Discussion

" We review grants of summary judgment de novo." Atkinson v. City of Mountain View, Mo., 709 F.3d 1201, 1207 (8th Cir. 2013). In a § 1983 action, we will reverse an award of summary judgment in favor of a public official in his individual capacity only if a reasonable jury could find his actions under the color of state law " violated 'a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.'" Id. (quoting Cook v. City of Bella Villa, 582 F.3d 840, 848 (8th Cir. 2009)). We will reverse an award of summary judgment in favor of a public official acting in his official capacity only if a reasonable jury could find that the constitutional violation was committed " pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Thompson appeals the grant of summary judgment to Sheriff Shock in both capacities.

A.

Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity shields a government...

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