Bell v. Town of Port Royal, South Carolina, C.A. No. 9:06-cv-1095-PMD

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Citation586 F.Supp.2d 498
Docket NumberC.A. No. 9:06-cv-1095-PMD
PartiesJames M. BELL, Plaintiff, v. TOWN OF PORT ROYAL, SOUTH CAROLINA, a body politic, Defendant.
Decision Date21 April 2008
586 F.Supp.2d 498
James M. BELL, Plaintiff,
TOWN OF PORT ROYAL, SOUTH CAROLINA, a body politic, Defendant.
C.A. No. 9:06-cv-1095-PMD
United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division.
April 21, 2008.

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John M. Leiter, John M. Leiter Law Offices, Myrtle Beach, SC, for Plaintiff.

Mary Bass Lohr, Howell, Gibson and Hughes, Beaufort, SC, for Defendant.



This matter is before the court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Town of Port Royal ("Defendant" or "Port Royal"). For the reasons set forth herein, the court grants Defendant's motion.


Plaintiff James M. Bell ("Plaintiff" or "Bell") filed suit against his former employer, the Town of Port Royal, on April 7, 2006, asserting causes of action for (1) violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, for discrimination in employment on the basis of race; (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; and (3) violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621. (See Compl.) Plaintiff, an African-American male, was formerly employed by the Town of Port Royal as a police officer, and he brings this lawsuit asserting that he was wrongfully dismissed from his job. Plaintiff, who was fifty-five at the time of his termination, asserts he was terminated as a result of age and racial discrimination. Port Royal, however, contends that Bell was terminated as a result of his conduct on February 12, 2005.

On February 12, 2005, the Beaufort County Central Dispatch issued a "be on the lookout" for a maroon car with a broken rear window with a white female driver being beaten by a black male. Officer Jamie Alberson ("Alberson"), of the Town of Port Royal Police Department, saw the vehicle and was the first to respond; she turned on her blue lights and the vehicle pulled over.1 Plaintiff responded immediately after Alberson, and as the Magistrate Judge noted in his Report and Recommendation, it is undisputed that the suspect was thought to be armed and that the stop was considered to be high risk.

Valen Floyd ("Floyd"), the suspect in the car jacking, got out of the maroon vehicle, and the officers then gave him contradictory instructions. Alberson ordered Floyd to get back into the vehicle, but Plaintiff instructed Floyd to get onto the ground. Floyd laid down on the ground and dropped the items in his hand while dong so. A weapon was not among these items. Plaintiff then crossed in front of the patrol car video and proceeded towards Floyd.

Page 501

Exactly what happened next is in dispute. The Town contends that the patrol car video shows Plaintiff intentionally and maliciously stomp twice on Floyd's back and use abusive, inappropriate, and unnecessarily threatening language to a compliant Floyd. Plaintiff presented evidence that the first time his foot touched Floyd's back occurred when Plaintiff lost his balance and put his foot on Floyd's back in order to stabilize himself. (Pl.'s Dep. 28:15-28:18.) Plaintiff also deposed that he put his foot on Floyd's back the second time when he was arresting him. (Pl.'s Dep. 28:18-28:20.) According to Plaintiff, the second time he put his foot on Floyd's back was in the course of using the "ground stabilization technique" to keep the suspect still while cuffing him.

After Floyd was restrained and after Floyd told Plaintiff that he "wasn't going anywhere," Plaintiff told Floyd, "I know you're not because I'll blow your ____ing head off if you move another inch, because I'm crazier than you, do you understand that?"2 Bell deposed this language was appropriate given the circumstances. (Pl.'s Dep. 35:4-35:14.) Floyd was not injured and did not proceed with any action against Plaintiff.

After the stop, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department took custody of Floyd and made the arrest. A deputy sheriff on the scene requested the video of the stop, and although Bell first told Alberson not to give the video to the deputy, he later told her to do so. According to the Internal Affairs Investigation, Plaintiff stated, "They are going to have to edit that tape first" and "That was my twin brother [on the tape], not me."

Within a day or two of Floyd's arrest, Chief Deputy Mike Hatfield of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department contacted Captain Roger Karr of the Town of Port Royal Police Department to view the videotape. After viewing the videotape with Deputy Chief Hatfield, Captain Karr showed it to Chief James Cadien of the Town of Port Royal Police Department. Chief Cadien then contacted the town manager Van Willis, who watched the video. Cadien initiated an internal investigation of the incident, and Detective J.H. Griffith, an Internal Affairs officer, conducted that investigation.

Detective Griffith conducted an investigation in which he interviewed Alberson, Plaintiff, Corporals Howard Green and Jeff Merrill of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, witnesses Sandra and Robin Whetstone, witness Kim Sibley, and Deputy Cobb of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. Detective Griffith also viewed the videotape, and the report states that Plaintiff's "claim that he had lost his footing and placed his foot on the suspect's back [is] without merit as this claim was obviously refuted by the video tape that clearly shows Lt. Bell forcibly stomp on the suspect's back twice." (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 5 at 8 [49-5].) The report, which is dated February 18, 2005, found that Plaintiff "did act in violation of Departmental Policy by using excessive force" and recommended "that this case be reviewed by the Chief of Police for disciplinary action." (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 5 at 9 [49-5].)

Cadien reviewed Griffith's report and recommended to Willis that Plaintiff be fired. (Cadien Dep. 24:3-24:7.) Cadien also deposed that he believed Plaintiffs conduct on the tape was not appropriate, and Cadien indicated the tape was the basis for his recommendation to terminate Plaintiff. (Cadien Dep. 100:7-100:12.) According to Cadien, the decision of whether

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or not to terminate Plaintiff was ultimately made by not by him but by Willis. (Cadien Dep. 103:11-103:13.) Willis deposed that he was "ultimately responsible" for all personnel decisions in the Town of Port Royal. (Willis Dep. 26:24-26:25.) Willis also deposed that he does not always agree with the recommendation of a department head and that in the event of a disagreement, his decision controls. (Willis Dep. 27:10-27:18.)

Plaintiff was terminated on February 25, 2005. The letter from Cadien stated, "As a result of the Internal affairs investigation of the incident of 02/16/2005 [sic] the Police Dept. is here by [sic] terminating your employment with the Town of Port Royal." (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 1 [49-2].) Bell filed a grievance concerning his termination, and a hearing was held before a grievance committee made up of Town employees. On March 22, 2005, the Employee Grievance Committee sent a memorandum to Willis:

After viewing the video repeatedly, and reviewing reports provided by both the Police Department and the grieving employee, we, the Grievance Committee, find that we agree with Mr. Bell's explanation of the events, of February 12, 2005. We find that his first step onto the suspect's back was caused by Mr. Bell tripping and trying to regain his balance. We find that the second step onto the suspect's back was not excessive force and was used to gesture where the suspect should place his hands in order to be handcuffed.

Following deliberation the Town of Port Royal Grievance Committee finds that employee James Bell did not use excessive force during the subject roadside incident of February 12, 2005. It is the recommendation of the Committee that Mr. Bell be reinstated to his former position and rank. Further, it is the Committee's recommendation that Mr. Bell receive compensation for his time lost.

We recommend that before making a final decision that you avail yourself of the video tape version of the incident. We found replaying this media crucial to our decision. Collectively, we extend to you an invitation to meet with you if you have further questions about our recommendations.

(Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 2 [49-3].)

Although Willis, as the Town Manager, had the ability to reverse his earlier decision to terminate Plaintiff, he declined to do so. In a letter dated March 25, 2005, Willis indicated that although he was in receipt of the Grievance Committee's recommendation, he did "not suppport[][its] findings." (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 3 [49-4].) He stated,

This was a particularly difficult decision, considering my respect for Lt. Bell and the length of his service to the Town, but my conclusion is based upon several things:

1. The force used was excessive.

2. After repeated viewings, I do not concur with the grievance committee that there was a slip, which was alleged by Lt. Bell as an explanation for the first "stomp" on the suspects [sic] back.

3. The verbal exchange between Lt. Bell and the suspect was unacceptable and inappropriate. The explanation for the language is also unacceptable.

4. Lt. Bell's mention of time-specific stress contradicts his argument that the force used was appropriate.

(Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n Ex. 3 [49-4].)

After Plaintiff was terminated, a younger white male, Lieutenant Griffith, was promoted to the position of Lieutenant. (Griffith Dep. 8:21-9:2.)

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Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on September 17, 2007. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on October 5, 2007, to which Defendant filed a Reply. A hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment was held before Magistrate Judge Carr on October 16, 2007, and he issued a Report and Recommendation ("R & R") on January 30, 2008, in which he recommended granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (See R & R at 15.) The R & R states,

This is not a difficult case. Under the...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • 13 Mayo 2011
    ...that turns out to be erroneous differs significantly from providing intentionally misleading information.3Bell v. Town of Port Royal, 586 F.Supp.2d 498, 510-13 (D.S.C. 2008) (terminated police officer did not offer sufficient circumstantial evidence under Hill where he showed other officers......
  • Newton v. South Carolina Dep't of Pub. Safety, C.A. No.: 6:10-cv-01781-JMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 23 Septiembre 2011
    ...are not public for the purposes of establishing the deprivation of a liberty interest. See Bell v. Town of Port Royal, S.C.,Page 7586 F. Supp. 2d 498, 519-21 (D.S.C. 2008) (holding that such disclosures made to the Academy are not public). Defendants also argue that Plaintiff cannot establi......
  • Cosby v. S.C. Prob. Parole & Pardon Servs.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 24 Marzo 2020
    ...§ 23-23-90 to dismiss claims similar to Plaintiff's. [Doc. 9 at 7-8.] But the cases Plaintiff cites cites, Bell v. Town of Port Royal, 586 F. Supp. 2d 498 (D.S.C. 2008), and Cason v. S.C. State Ports Auth., No. 2:11-cv-2241-DCN-BM, 2013 WL 1826447 (D.S.C. Apr. 3, 2013), are inapposite. At i......
  • Cason v. S.C. State Ports Auth.
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    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
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    ...establishing the deprivation of a liberty interest. (Dkt. No. 58 at 12) (citing Newton, 2011 WL 4435761; Bell v. Town of Port Royal, 586 F. Supp. 2d 498 (D.S.C. 2008)). In both Newton and Bell, the Courts held that the employers' disclosures of misconduct to the CJA were not "public" for th......

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