Cabrol v. Town of Youngsville

Decision Date24 February 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-30219,96-30219
Citation106 F.3d 101
Parties12 IER Cases 950 Philip CABROL, Plaintiff-Appellant, Gloria Cabrol, Plaintiff, v. TOWN OF YOUNGSVILLE; Lucas Denais, Mayor, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

John Fayne Wilkes, III, Janet F. Hernandez-Weimer, Borne, Wilkes, Gibson & Dill, Lafayette, LA, for plaintiff-appellant.

Eve Barrie Masinter, Margaret Diamond, Julie Ann Unangst, McGlinchey, Stafford & Lang, New Orleans, LA, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before SMITH and PARKER, Circuit Judges, and JUSTICE, * District Judge.

PARKER, Circuit Judge:

This case arises from the sights, smells and early morning sounds emanating from the yard of Philip Cabrol ("Cabrol"), who appeals from an order granting summary judgment to the town of Youngsville, Louisiana ("Youngsville"), and the mayor of the town, Lucas Denais ("the mayor") in his action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his rights under the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An at-will employee of Youngsville, Cabrol brought this action after being terminated from his position after refusing the mayor's request to relocate the chickens inhabiting Cabrol's residence's yard. Cabrol contends on appeal that (1) the district court improperly granted summary judgment on Cabrol's due process claim because Cabrol had a property interest in his employment, the deprivation of which required due process protections; (2) that summary judgment was improperly granted on his second due process claim because stigmatizing allegations were made in connection with his termination that deprived him of a liberty interest without due process; (3) that summary judgment was improperly granted on his claim that he was retaliatorily discharged for exercising his right to speech under the First Amendment; (4) that the district court improperly found that the mayor was entitled to qualified immunity; and (5) that the district court erred in dismissing Cabrol's supplemental state law claims. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Viewing the summary judgment record in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, Cabrol, the facts are as follows. Cabrol was hired by Youngsville as a part-time water meter reader in December 1986 following a unanimously supported motion of the town council. In November of 1987, by vote of the town council, a part-time position of "mayor's assistant" was created and, following a vote of the town council, Cabrol was hired for this job. In addition to reading meters, Cabrol's duties in this position included maintenance of city utilities and streets, and customer service related to utilities and streets.

Cabrol raises "fighting chickens" 1 at his residence in Youngsville. By the fall of 1994, the mayor had received complaints regarding the noise and smell generated by Cabrol's and others' chickens. The record indicates that at least one council member had received similar complaints.

In the fall of 1994, the mayor sponsored a proposed amendment to Youngsville's nuisance ordinance. The amendment apparently added "disagreeable or obnoxious odors and stenches" and "unnecessary or unauthorized noises ... including animal noises" to the nuisance ordinance's definition of nuisance. One member of the town council expressed concern about the amendment's ramifications for animal ownership in Youngsville when it was discussed at the October 1994 council meeting, and the amendment was tabled.

Cabrol testified that he was opposed to the amendment, and spoke to several council members, other chicken fighters and some Youngsville residents while at the post office regarding the issue. Cabrol understood that the amendment would be discussed at the November 10, 1994 town council meeting. 2 Cabrol's position with the town involved attending the town council meetings. He attended the meeting but did not speak. The amendment was not reintroduced at the November meeting; in fact, it was never reintroduced or adopted.

On November 16, 1994, the mayor sent Cabrol a letter informing him that his employment with the town would be terminated if he did not rid his yard of the chickens by November 30, 1994. This letter apparently followed some conversation on the topic. The mayor explained that he had received "numerous complaints" about Cabrol's chickens: "The complaints about your chickens range from stinky, unsightly to noisy." Cabrol did not remove the chickens from his yard.

Effective November 30, 1994, the mayor terminated Cabrol. Cabrol subsequently filed this action in district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Youngsville and the mayor deprived him of liberty and property interests without due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and retaliatorily discharged him for exercising his First Amendment right to expression. He also included supplementary state law claims based on Louisiana's Constitution and statutory law that parallel the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice. It issued no written opinion but its statements at the summary judgment hearing indicate that it found that Cabrol had no property interest in his job and, as an at-will employee, could be terminated for any reason.

Cabrol appeals the district court's judgment to this court, arguing the following: (1) that his termination failed to comply with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that he had a property interest in his continued employment of which he was deprived without due process; (2) that stigmatizing allegations were made in connection with his termination implicating a liberty interest of which he was deprived without due process; (3) that the reason for his termination from his at-will position was his verbal and symbolic opposition to the proposed amendment to Youngsville's nuisance ordinance in violation of his right to expression under the First Amendment; (4) that the district court erred in finding the mayor entitled to qualified immunity; and (5) that the district court erred in dismissing the supplementary state law claims.

II. DISCUSSION

We review orders granting summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. Fowler v. Smith, 68 F.3d 124, 126 (5th Cir.1995). Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When reviewing an order granting summary judgment, we are not limited to the district court's conclusions but can affirm a district court's judgment on any grounds supported by the summary judgment record. Sojourner T. v. Edwards, 974 F.2d 27, 30 (5th Cir.1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 972, 113 S.Ct. 1414, 122 L.Ed.2d 785 (1993).

In reviewing 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions where qualified immunity is asserted, our first inquiry concerns whether a constitutional violation occurred. Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). Thus, we turn to a review of the three constitutional claims, after which we address Cabrol's additional contentions, which include the issue of the mayor's entitlement to qualified immunity.

A. Deprivation of a Property Interest without Due Process

Cabrol contends that his due process rights were violated by the mayor's termination of him, rather than such occurring following a vote of the town council. Cabrol argues that even though no written contract vested him with a property interest, the town council practice of voting when hiring issues are presented to the council created an understanding that a town council vote would precede any dismissal. He contends that this understanding functioned as an implicit contract regarding termination procedure that acted to secure a property interest.

The Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause does not create a property interest in government employment. Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2709, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Blackburn v. City of Marshall, 42 F.3d 925, 936 (5th Cir.1995). Rather, property interests stem from independent sources. Id. A government employee may possess such an interest by operation of contract or state law, see Board of Regents of State Colleges, 408 U.S. at 577, 92 S.Ct. at 2709; Cleveland Board of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 538, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 1491, 84 L.Ed.2d 494 (1985), or perhaps a policy, see Schaper v. City of Huntsville, 813 F.2d 709, 713 (5th Cir.1987) (policy that "just cause" required for dismissal). Accordingly, in order to advance a due process claim in connection with his termination, Cabrol must point to some state or local law, contract or understanding that creates a property interest in his continued employment. Absent a property interest, there is nothing subject to due process protections and our inquiry ends.

To determine if Cabrol had a property interest in his employment we look to Louisiana state and local law. Schaper, 813 F.2d at 713. Absent a contractual agreement for employment for a specified term or a legislative or regulatory restraint on a public entity's termination authority, Louisiana law does not establish a right to continued employment. See La.Civ.Code art. 2747; Guillory v. St. Landry Parish Police Jury, 802 F.2d 822, 825-26 (5th Cir.1986), cert. denied, 482 U.S. 916, 107 S.Ct. 3190, 96 L.Ed.2d 678 (1987); Overman v. Fluor Constructors, Inc., 797 F.2d 217, 218 (5th Cir.1986); Cowart v. Lee, 626 So.2d 93 (La.Ct.App.1993); Jackson v. East Baton Rouge Parish Indigent Defender's Board, 353 So.2d 344, 345 (La.Ct.App.1977) ("[T]here is no case holding that a specific employment position is a property right of that employee, absent a showing of any contractual agreement or legislative act or rule.")....

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