89 F.3d 542 (8th Cir. 1996), 95-3414, Yowell v. Combs

Docket Nº:95-3414.
Citation:89 F.3d 542
Party Name:Larry E. YOWELL, Appellant, v. Jerry P. COMBS; Andy Dalton; Jay Henges; John Powell; Jerry J. Presley; David Hurlbut, Appellees.
Case Date:July 17, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 542

89 F.3d 542 (8th Cir. 1996)

Larry E. YOWELL, Appellant,


Jerry P. COMBS; Andy Dalton; Jay Henges; John Powell;

Jerry J. Presley; David Hurlbut, Appellees.

No. 95-3414.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 17, 1996

Submitted March 15, 1996.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied Aug. 14, 1996.

Page 543

Ronald F. Bunn, Columbia, Missouri, for appellant.

Jane A. Smith, Jefferson City, Missouri, for appellees.

Before McMILLIAN, BEAM, and HANSEN, Circuit Judges.

BEAM, Circuit Judge.

Larry Yowell brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Missouri Department of Conservation officials. He alleged they violated his civil rights by demoting him and transferring him without a hearing. The district court 1 granted summary judgment to the officials based upon qualified immunity. We affirm.


In 1972, Yowell began working for the Missouri Department of Conservation (the Department) as a county agent. He held various positions within the Department over the next twenty-one years of employment. In 1987, he was promoted to Regional Supervisor of the North Central Region. By 1993, however, Yowell's superiors had become unhappy with his performance. Consequently, they demoted him and transferred him to another position, in another county. At the time, Yowell had no employment contract, written or oral, that specified other than an "at-will" arrangement.

To protest his demotion and transfer, Yowell appealed to the Missouri Conservation

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Commission. The Commission unanimously approved the demotion decision. Yowell then resigned his position with the Department. He later tried to withdraw his resignation, but his attempt was denied by the director of the Department. Yowell now characterizes his resignation as a termination. 2

Yowell then filed this section 1983 action alleging the officials violated his civil rights in failing to give him a hearing before demoting and transferring him. The district court granted summary judgment for the officials finding qualified immunity shielded them from suit. On appeal, Yowell contends the officials are not entitled to qualified immunity because his right to continued employment with the Department was so clearly established at the time of his demotion that the officials must reasonably have known that their actions violated that right.


Summary judgment is proper only when no genuine issue of material fact is present and judgment should be awarded to the movant as a matter of law. Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Schmidt, 967 F.2d 270, 271 (8th Cir.1992). We review the entry of summary judgment de novo, giving the nonmoving party the benefit of every inference drawn from the evidence. Reich v. ConAgra, Inc., 987 F.2d 1357, 1359 (8th Cir.1993). The district court's decision to grant qualified immunity is an issue of law which we review de novo. White v. Holmes, 21 F.3d 277, 279 (8th Cir.1994). Applying these standards, we find no error in the district court's grant of summary judgment for the officials.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from suit unless their conduct violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known. 3 Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); Reece v. Groose, 60 F.3d 487, 491 (8th Cir.1995). This court has established a three-pronged inquiry to be made when defendants allege they are protected by qualified immunity: (1) whether the plaintiff has asserted a violation of a constitutional or statutory right; (2) if so, whether that right was clearly established at the time of the violation; and (3) whether, given the facts most favorable to the plaintiff, there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether a reasonable official would have known that the alleged action indeed violated that right. Foulks v. Cole County, Mo., 991 F.2d 454, 456 (8th Cir.1993).

We must first determine whether Yowell had a right to continued employment with the Department at the time of his demotion so as to require a hearing....

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