Rouse v. Nielson

Decision Date18 March 1994
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 3:92-0520-19.
PartiesLegrand A. ROUSE, II, Plaintiff, v. Barbara S. NIELSEN, in both her individual and official capacity as South Carolina Superintendent of Education, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina


James Lewis Cromer, Columbia, SC, for plaintiff.

Vance J. Bettis, Esq., Gignilliat, Savitz & Bettis, Columbia, SC, and Ashley Bryan Abel, of Edward, Ballard, Bishop, Sturm, Clark & Keim, Spartanburg, SC, for defendant.


SHEDD, District Judge.

This action, as well as several others, arises out of certain employment decisions made by defendant after she was elected to the position of State Superintendent of Education for South Carolina. Plaintiff, a former employee of the South Carolina Department of Education, contends that defendant unlawfully constructively discharged him in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff alleges a federal cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state law causes of action for outrage and civil conspiracy. This matter is now before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation ("the Report"), entered by United States Magistrate Judge Joseph R. McCrorey,1 in which Magistrate Judge McCrorey recommends that the Court grant defendant's motion for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff has filed Objections to the Report. After carefully reviewing the record in light of the controlling legal principles, the Court concludes the motion for summary judgment should be granted.


The Report and plaintiff's Objections thereto relate to a dispositive matter. Therefore, the Court is guided by the standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the case law interpreting those authorities. As to those portions of the Report to which plaintiff has filed specific, written Objections, the Court is required to make a de novo determination either upon the record, or after receiving additional evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed. R.Civ.P. 72(b).2 However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, those portions of the Report to which plaintiff has not properly objected. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150, 106 S.Ct. 466, 472, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985). Instead, as to those portions of the Report, the Court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules. While the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court's review of the Report is thus dependent upon whether or not plaintiff filed objections to a particular portion of the Report, in either event the Court may, after review, accept, reject, or modify any portion of the Report, and the Court may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Wallace v. Housing Auth. of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C.1992).


Plaintiff, a member of the Democratic party and a former Democratic state legislator, began working for the South Carolina Department of Education in 1970. In 1979, then State Superintendent Dr. Charlie Williams, a Democrat, appointed plaintiff to fill the newly created position of Legal Assistant to the Superintendent and Legislative Liaison ("Legal Assistant"). As Legal Assistant, plaintiff reported directly to Dr. Williams. The majority of plaintiff's job duties involved working with the South Carolina General Assembly. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he served as Dr. Williams' "voice in the legislature."

Defendant, a Republican, defeated Dr. Williams in the 1990 general election for State Superintendent. Upon assuming office in January 1991, defendant informed plaintiff that he would no longer represent the State Superintendent in the General Assembly. Further, defendant changed plaintiff's job title and job description; however, she did not change his salary. Plaintiff retired from the Department of Education on June 30, 1991.

In this action, plaintiff claims that defendant constructively discharged him because she deprived him of his legislative liaison duties and did not give him any meaningful duties to replace them. Plaintiff contends that defendant did this because of his political affiliation with, and support of, Dr. Williams and the Democratic party.3 Plaintiff has sued defendant in her individual and official capacity. For the purposes of the motion only, defendant (at page 4, footnote 2, of her memorandum in support of the motion) assumes as true plaintiff's allegation that she constructively discharged him because of his political affiliation.

In the Report, the magistrate judge recommends that the Court grant defendant's motion for summary judgment in its entirety. Underlying this general recommendation, the magistrate judge utilized the following analyses and made the following specific conclusions, all of which are detailed more fully in the Report. First, the magistrate judge concluded that the official capacity claim against defendant is barred under Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989), and is also defective because plaintiff has requested relief only as to defendant in her individual capacity.4

Second, the magistrate judge analyzed plaintiff's First Amendment claim under Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976); and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980), in which the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits a government official from discharging a public employee for the sole reason that the employee did not support the political party in power, unless the official can show that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved. The magistrate judge found that the decision whether political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for a position is a matter of law for the Court and, thereafter, determined as a matter of law that the position of Legal Assistant is one for which political affiliation is an appropriate requirement. In making this determination, the magistrate judge found that it is immaterial whether defendant actually removed plaintiff from the position of Legal Assistant for supporting Dr. Williams as opposed to doing so because plaintiff is a Democrat. The magistrate judge further concluded that because defendant had the right to transfer plaintiff for political reasons, it is immaterial under Elrod and Branti that defendant did not discharge him directly but, instead (as alleged), constructively discharged him.

Third, the magistrate judge concluded that, as an alternative basis, defendant is entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established in 1991 that transferring plaintiff from the position of Legal Assistant for political reasons violated plaintiff's constitutional rights. Finally, the magistrate judge concluded that plaintiff's state law tort claims must fail because defendant's actions were constitutionally permissible.

In a twenty-two page memorandum, plaintiff makes five specific Objections to the Report. Defendant has filed a brief response to plaintiff's Objections stating that because plaintiff has merely restated his summary judgment arguments as his Objections, she stands on her memoranda in support of the motion. Although not in the exact order presented, the Court will address each Objection below.


A. Objection No. 2: The Report Erred In Analyzing Plaintiff's Alternative First Amendment Claim That He Was Constructively Discharged Because He Openly Supported Charlie Williams In The Election Of 1990.

The starting point for the Court in resolving the issues presented is plaintiff's Objection that the magistrate judge erred by failing to analyze his "alternative" First Amendment claim that he was constructively discharged for openly supporting Dr. Williams in the 1990 general election since the resolution of this Objection controls the course of proceedings as to the other Objections. As noted, the magistrate judge analyzed plaintiff's first amendment claim under Elrod and Branti and concluded that the position of Legal Assistant is one for which political affiliation is a proper requirement. Having reached this conclusion, the magistrate judge determined that plaintiff's "alternative" first amendment claim was precluded based on the analysis set forth in Stott v. Martin, 783 F.Supp. 970 (E.D.N.C.1992) ("Stott II"), in which the district court held:

If "plaintiff's position is indeed one for which political affiliation would have been a legitimate requirement," his dismissal does not violate the First Amendment even if he actually "was fired for his political activity, not for affiliation." Therefore, that the motive behind the discharge was retaliation for the employee's support of certain candidates, rather than an innocent desire to achieve loyal implementation of a new administration's programs and policies, is immaterial. Hence, even if defendants purposefully set out to punish Democrats who supported the newly elected official's adversary, so long as those who they discharged held positions for which political affiliation is an appropriate requirement, they could be lawfully fired notwithstanding the First Amendment.

783 F.Supp. at 993 (citations omitted).

While not conceding the correctness of the magistrate judge's Elrod-Branti determination, plaintiff argues that even assuming that this determination is correct, he is nevertheless entitled to proceed on his "alternative" first amendment claim. Plaintiff contends that the magistrate judge erroneously relied upon Stott II in light of the decision in Jones v. Dodson, 727 F.2d 1329 (4th Cir.1984), which he argues...

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