888 F.2d 410 (6th Cir. 1989), 87-6078, Christian v. Belcher

Docket Nº:John H. CHRISTIAN, Plaintiff-Appellant (87-6078),
Citation:888 F.2d 410
Case Date:October 23, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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888 F.2d 410 (6th Cir. 1989)

John H. CHRISTIAN, Plaintiff-Appellant (87-6078),

Plaintiff-Appellee (87-6252),


Delzinna S. BELCHER, Raymond Ike Hall, Elijah Buell, Eldon

Fox, Orville Wynn, Abe Bailey, Jr.,

Defendants-Appellees (87-6078),

Defendants-Appellants (87-6252).

Nos. 87-6078, 87-6252.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 23, 1989

Argued Aug. 18, 1988.

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William D. Stark, Jr., argued, Barbourville, Ky., for John H. christian.

Sherry Brashear, argued, Eugene Goss, and Mark David Goss, Alan C. Wagers, Harlan, Ky., for Delzinna S. Belcher, et al.

Before JONES and RYAN, Circuit Judges, and HULL, District Judge. [*]

NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants-appellees in this employment termination action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1982). Defendants-appellees cross-appeal from the denial of their request for attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988 (1982). For the reasons that follow, we reverse in part the district court's grant of summary judgment, affirm the denial of attorney's fees, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


On October 11, 1984, plaintiff-appellant John H. Christian was appointed Harlan County (Kentucky) Flood Plain Administrator and Building Inspector ("FPA"). Christian, who is a Republican, was nominated for this position by then Harlan County Judge Executive, Hugh Hall, who is also a Republican. Christian's nomination was approved by the Harlan County Fiscal Court.

Christian's primary responsibility as FPA was to administer the County's Flood Plain Prevention Ordinance ("Ordinance") which was enacted by the Fiscal Court in order to comply with the federal flood insurance requirements contained in 42 U.S.C. Sec. 4001 et seq. (1982). The stated purposes of the Ordinance are to restrict or prohibit land uses that are dangerous to health, safety and property due to floods; to regulate construction in areas vulnerable to floods; to control the alteration of natural flood plains; to control the filing, grading and dredging of streams; and to prevent or regulate construction that might unnaturally divert flood waters or increase flood

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hazards. Article 4, Section A of the Ordinance designates the Judge Executive or her designee as the Harlan County FPA, and states that the FPA's duties include: reviewing all development permits to insure compliance with the Ordinance; advising permit holders of other pertinent state and federal land development requirements; notifying adjacent communities and state agencies of planned alterations or relocations of water courses; assuring the proper maintenance of altered or relocated water courses; verifying and recording flood elevations of new or improved structures, and the elevations to which they have been flood-proofed; obtaining flood-proof certification from professional engineers or architects; interpreting flood area boundaries promulgated by the federal government; obtaining and utilizing base flood elevation data; and maintaining for inspection all public records relating to the Ordinance. The record indicates that Christian satisfactorily performed these duties from October 1984 until January 1986.

In November 1985, an election was held for Harlan County Judge Executive. Christian's father-in-law ran as the Republican candidate for this office, and Christian actively and vigorously campaigned for him. Defendant-appellee Delzinna Belcher ran as the Democratic candidate. Belcher won the election and she assumed office as of January 1986. Prior to taking office, however, Belcher met with the Fiscal Court magistrates and discussed various changes that she planned to make in the county's administration. At this meeting, Belcher stated that for "personal and political" reasons, she did not intend to renominate Christian as FPA. Belcher stated that she wanted to nominate persons with whom she felt comfortable and had a good working relationship. She also stated her belief that, upon a change in administration, Kentucky law gave the newly elected Judge Executive the prerogative not to renominate county employees. On January 3, 1986, Belcher submitted a list of fifty-four renominated county employees to the Fiscal Court. The Fiscal Court subsequently approved the list submitted by Belcher. Christian was one of only two persons who were not renominated. 1

When Christian learned that he had not been renominated his attorney sent a letter to the Judge Executive and Fiscal Court requesting a hearing on the matter. Shortly thereafter, the Harlan County Attorney sent Christian's attorney a letter denying his request. The letter stated that since Christian's employment automatically terminated at the end of the previous administration, the Judge Executive and Fiscal Court had determined that he was not entitled to a hearing. Christian then filed the instant suit against Belcher and the five Fiscal Court magistrates ("magistrates"). In his complaint, Christian alleged that he was terminated from county employment solely because he had supported Belcher's opponent in the November 1985 election. Christian alleged that since his termination was designed to punish him for his political beliefs and expressions, defendants had violated the first and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. In addition, Christian asserted that defendants' actions in denying him a hearing violated the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.

On March 27, 1987, the magistrates filed their motion for summary judgment. They asserted that under Kentucky law, Christian's employment automatically terminated at the end of the previous administration, and that he could be reappointed only by the new Judge Executive. Since they had no authority to renominate or reappoint Christian, the magistrates argued that they did not cause his alleged injuries and, therefore, were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Belcher filed her separate motion for summary judgment on March 31, 1987. Belcher asserted that because Christian's employment terminated automatically at the end of the previous administration, she did not dismiss him

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from his position but instead declined to rehire him for this position. In addition, Belcher argued that she could not depend on Christian's "faithful adherence" to his job responsibilities because of his opposition to her in the election campaign. Finally, Belcher contended that under the first and fourteenth amendments, she was entitled not to rehire Christian--even for political reasons--because the FPA job was a "policymaking"...

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