Lightner v. TOWN OF ARITON, AL

Decision Date17 August 1995
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 94-D-1198-S.
Citation902 F. Supp. 1489
PartiesUlysses LIGHTNER, Plaintiff, v. TOWN OF ARITON, ALABAMA; Billy Clyde Herring, individually and in his capacity as Mayor for the City of Ariton; Randy O. Laney, individually and in his capacity as Mayor for the city of Ariton, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama




Kenneth C. Sheets, Jr., Dothan, AL, for plaintiff.

William H. Filmore, Henry B. Steagall, III, Ozark, AL, for defendants.


DE MENT, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Defendants' motion for summary judgment accompanied by supporting brief, exhibits and affidavits, filed April 17, 1995. The plaintiff, Ulysses Lightner (the "Plaintiff" or "Lightner") filed a response, supported by brief and an affidavit, in opposition thereto on May 4, 1995. After carefully considering counsels' arguments, relevant statutory and case law and the record as a whole, the court finds that the Defendants' motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.


Jurisdiction is proper as Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983.1 See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff also brings an action under the common law tort of outrage. The court asserts supplemental jurisdiction over this claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.


Ulysses Lightner (hereinafter "Lightner" or "Plaintiff") was employed by the Town of Ariton's (hereinafter "Ariton") police department from May 7, 1990, to January 18, 1994. Apparently, Plaintiff held several positions, including acting police chief, during his tenure. During the later stages of his employment and after serving as acting police chief, Plaintiff was reassigned to an office position, in which he was allegedly required to execute his assignments in a room with inadequate lighting. Plaintiff contends that during his tenure as police chief, he was promised additional compensation but he never received it. Plaintiff avers that he received less pay than the current police chief and the police chief who preceded him — both of whom are white. Lightner further contends that during his tenure as Police Chief, the current mayor, Billy Clyde Herring (hereafter "Herring"), usurped Plaintiff's authority by setting work shifts and purchasing supplies. According to Plaintiff, these duties are now performed by the current Chief of Police.

While purportedly serving as police chief, Plaintiff was allegedly required to serve on patrol tours, whereas the newly appointed white police chief is not so required. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereafter the "EEOC"). Plaintiff was later released from his employment.

Lightner alleges that he was the victim of invidious discrimination in the terms and conditions of his employment. Lightner also claims that his discharge was a retaliatory response to his filing an EEOC claim. Plaintiff now avers that since his discharge, he has been harassed on several occasions by the Ariton Police Department at his home during the evening hours.

Plaintiff claims that the alleged acts represent a discriminatory pattern and practice by Ariton and its agents, Herring and Randy O. Laney (hereinafter "Laney"), in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 2000e et seq. Plaintiff avers that as a result of the alleged acts he has suffered and continues to suffer loss of employment, loss of income, loss of other employment benefits, and has suffered and continues to suffer distress, humiliation, great expense, embarrassment and damage to his reputation.

In their motion for summary judgment, the Defendants assert the following: (1) that the majority of Lightner's claims are associated with retaliation, and that retaliation is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; (2) that it is questionable whether the actions giving rise to Plaintiff's action constitute intentional conduct, which is necessary to prevail under § 1981 or § 1983; (3) that in order to hold the Town of Ariton ("Ariton") responsible for its employees and/or agents, the plaintiff must show that his injuries are the direct result of the City's official policies and/or custom(s); (4) that Lightner's equal protection arguments must fail because he was not Ariton's chief of police and, therefore, was not similarly situated to other police chiefs; and (5) that the mayors are entitled to qualified immunity for claims against them in their individual capacities because they were performing discretionary functions in discharging the acts in question.


On a motion for summary judgment, the court is to construe the evidence and factual inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). Summary judgment can be entered on a claim only if it is shown "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As the Supreme Court has explained the summary judgment standard:

The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The trial court's function at this juncture is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (citations omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510; see also Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923, 933 (11th Cir.1989).

The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of establishing, based on relevant "portions of `the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions in the file, together with affidavits, if any,'" that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2552-53. Once this initial demonstration under Rule 56(c) is made, the burden of production, not persuasion, shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by his own affidavits, or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

In meeting this burden the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is a metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Corp. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1355-56, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). That party must demonstrate that there is a "genuine issue for trial." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356. An action is void of a material issue for trial "where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356. See also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2510-11.

I. Section 1981

Section 1981 prohibits race discrimination in making and enforcing contracts and is a statutory remedy available in both private and public sectors.2 Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 459-60, 95 S.Ct. 1716, 1720, 44 L.Ed.2d 295 (1975). Prior to the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United Stated States Supreme Court narrowly construed the right "to make and enforce contracts" clause of section 1981(a). In Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 109 S.Ct. 2363, 105 L.Ed.2d 132 (1989), the Court held that section 1981 "covers conduct only at the initial formation of the contract and conduct which impairs the right to enforce contract obligations through legal process." Thus, conduct affecting "the terms and conditions of continuing employment" was not actionable. Goldsmith v. City of Atmore, 996 F.2d 1155, 1160 (11th Cir.1993) (quoting Patterson, 491 U.S. at 179, 109 S.Ct. at 2374).

In 1991, the Civil Rights Act (hereafter the "Act") was amended, expanding the coverage of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 to include claims of racial discrimination based upon wrongful termination. Pub.L. No. 102-166, S. 1745, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. (1991). (Congress passed the Act on November 7, 1991, which was signed into law on November 21, 1991, by former President George Bush.) The Act effectively reverses Patterson and its progeny and now permits claims for intentional racial discrimination in "... the making, performance, modification, and termination of employment contracts," as well as "... the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms and conditions of the contractual relationship." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b). Hence, the Act maximizes the overlap between Title VII and § 1981 and allows an aggrieved party alleging intentional discrimination to alternatively seek recourse under both statutes.3

The Defendants argue that the bulk of plaintiff's claim is couched in retaliation which is not actionable under ...

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