Bellard v. Gautreaux

Decision Date15 March 2012
Docket Number11–30306.,Nos. 10–31266,s. 10–31266
Citation675 F.3d 454,33 IER Cases 1423
PartiesShane BELLARD, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Sid J. GAUTREAUX, III, Individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish, State of Louisiana, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Joseph Arthur Smith, III (argued), Smith Law Firm, Baton Rouge, LA, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Catherine Susan St. Pierre (argued), Mary Grace Erlingson, Tara Lynn Johnston, James Russell Lewis, Crawford Lewis, P.L.L.C., Baton Rouge, LA, for DefendantAppellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Before DENNIS, CLEMENT and OWEN, Circuit Judges.

EDITH BROWN CLEMENT, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Shane Bellard was dismissed from the East Baton Rouge police training program after falling asleep in class and purportedly making inappropriate sexual comments. He demanded a name-clearing hearing from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff, Sid Gautreaux, but was denied. Bellard then brought federal and state law claims against the Sheriff for his failure to grant a name-clearing hearing and for potentially defamatory statements made regarding Bellard's dismissal. The district court granted the Sheriff summary judgment on all of Bellard's claims. Bellard appeals the dismissal of his federal and state law claims. On appeal, we AFFIRM the ruling of the district court on all points.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Shane Bellard was employed by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office as a deputy sheriff and was enrolled as a cadet in the Capital Area Regional Training Academy (“CARTA”). During training, Bellard was not a model cadet and showed up late and fell asleep in class on multiple occasions. He was also sent home from the firing range for taking the prescription medication Ambien while operating firearms. After three violations for tardiness, intoxication at the range, and sleeping in class, Captain Venable, head of CARTA, recommended that he be excused from the academy.

Bellard was sent to Human Resources (“HR”) because of his problems. Two female students, Carla Coburn and Holly Thompson, also came forward with complaints about his behavior. According to their deposition testimony, Bellard made comments of a sexual nature to them. A few weeks after entering the training program, Bellard was eating lunch at the Academy when Coburn asked him what he was eating. Bellard responded that he was eating a MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and that he ate MRE's because “it makes you hard.” According to Coburn, he made this statement while gesturing with his right arm in a manner she took to be sexual. Thompson took the gesture to mean “his manhood.” Bellard admits making this comment but denies he intended it to be sexual. Upon further questioning, Coburn and Thompson explained that Bellard had previously made them feel uncomfortable by insinuating that he knew they were alone in their homes, and commenting how nice they looked in their uniforms. Upon learning of this information, Venable instructed Bellard to report to HR again. After being interviewed by HR personnel, he was issued a letter of termination dated January 24, 2008. The letter stated he was being terminated for sexual harassment.

Bellard then informed his father, Dennis Bellard, a former Baton Rouge police officer, of his termination. He told Dennis the reasons for the termination as well as the specific allegations made by Coburn and Thompson. Bellard also contacted Mike Knaps, a family friend and the Chief of Police in Baker, Louisiana. Bellard also told Knaps he was fired for sexual harassment and tardiness. Bellard asked Knaps to speak to the Sheriff on his behalf, which Knaps did. During their conversation, Knaps pushed the Sheriff to let Bellard resign rather than being fired. The Sheriff agreed, so long as Bellard did so in a timely fashion. According to Knaps, the Sheriff never spoke with him about the specific allegations of sexual harassment. Bellard ultimately rejected the offer of resignation in the hopes of pursuing civil damages.

Dennis Bellard also contacted two people about his son's termination. First he contacted Knaps, who told him that his son was terminated because of tardiness and sexual harassment. On his son's behalf, Dennis Bellard also contacted the Sheriff about his son's termination, although the two did not talk on the phone until weeks after the termination.

In addition to the conversations that were carried out on his behalf, Shane Bellard contacted Chief LeDuff, the Chief of Police of the Baton Rouge Police Department. This conversation forms the basis of Bellard's suit, but its substance is in dispute. Bellard claims that LeDuff stated that he had already heard of Bellard's termination prior to their conversation. LeDuff states that he did not hear anything about the termination until the conversation where Bellard told him that he was terminated and had been accused of sexual harassment, sleeping in class, and “inappropriate contact or works [sic] with a female. LeDuff stated in his deposition that he believed Bellard was calling about the possibility of employment and that he told Bellard that he would have to call the Sheriff's office to find out more information. LeDuff called the Sheriff's office and was told that someone would get back to him. Eventually someone called him back and discussed Bellard's termination. According to LeDuff's testimony, this person was not the Sheriff. Finally, LeDuff testified during his deposition that Bellard's testimony about their conversation is incorrect and that if he did state to Bellard that he had heard about the termination from the Sheriff prior to hearing it from Bellard, it was only because he was “maybe fishing for information” from Bellard.

Through counsel, Bellard requested a name-clearing hearing to “prove his innocence on the charges for which he was fired and clear his name.” He made his formal request on June 24, 2008. The request was rejected the next day by the Sheriff's counsel on the basis of Bellard's at-will employment under Louisiana law. Bellard brought claims against the Sheriff in both his official and personal capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Bellard claims he was deprived of a federal liberty interest under the Louisiana and U.S. Constitutions when he was denied a name-clearing hearing after being terminated. Bellard also asserted state law defamation claims against the Sheriff in his individual and official capacities alleging that the Sheriff orally published sexual harassment allegations against him to persons outside of the Sheriff's office. Bellard sought declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and reinstatement of his employment.

The Sheriff moved for summary judgment which was granted in part and denied in part. Summary judgment was granted for the Sheriff in his individual and official capacities on the federal constitutional claims and granted for the Sheriff in his individual capacity on Bellard's state constitutional claims. The motion for summary judgment was denied for the official capacity state constitutional claims. In addition, the Sheriff's motion was granted on the state law defamation claims in his individual capacity, but denied in his official capacity. Bellard's claim for punitive damages, reinstatement, lost pay, and benefits were dismissed.

After the district court's ruling, Bellard moved to alter or amend the prior ruling under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). The district court altered the opinion to reinstate his federal liberty interest claims against the Sheriff in his individual capacity, subject to further development of the record regarding Chief LeDuff's conversations with personnel in the Sheriff's office. The court also reinstated Bellard's official and individual capacity claims under Louisiana constitutional law and his punitive damages claims under § 1983.

After the deposition of Chief LeDuff and supplemental briefings, the district court dismissed all of Bellard's remaining claims. The district court's decision hinged primarily on the conclusion that Bellard's statement that LeDuff told him he had already spoken with the Sheriff's office before their own conversation was double hearsay and as such was not competent evidence for summary judgment. There was no evidence that the information regarding his termination was disseminated by anyone other than Bellard himself or his agents. Bellard appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW AND APPLICABLE LAW

We review a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo and apply the same legal standards as the district court. Condrey v. SunTrust Bank of Ga., 429 F.3d 556, 562 (5th Cir.2005). Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To withstand a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must show that there is a genuine issue for trial by presenting evidence of specific facts. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248–49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Conclusory allegations and unsubstantiated assertions will not satisfy the plaintiff's burden. See Grimes v. Tex. Dep't of Mental Health, 102 F.3d 137, 139–40 (5th Cir.1996). Finally, and especially relevant to this case, on a motion for summary judgment, the evidence proffered by the plaintiff to satisfy his burden of proof must be competent and admissible at trial. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir.1987).

DISCUSSION
A. Hearsay

The district court determined that Bellard's statement that LeDuff told him he had already heard about Bellard's...

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