Scroggins v. City of Topeka, Kan.

Citation2 F.Supp.2d 1362
Decision Date02 February 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-4031-SAC.,96-4031-SAC.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas
PartiesC.E. "Sonny" SCROGGINS, Verlene Scroggins, Sharifa Scroggins-Britt, and Sakar Scroggins, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF TOPEKA, KANSAS, Defendant.

Michael F. Broemmel, Broemmel Law Office, Debra A. Haimowitz, Topeka Area SRS, Topeka, KS, for plaintiffs.

David D. Plinsky office of City Attorney Topeka, KS, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CROW, Senior District Judge.

This First Amendment case comes before the court on the defendant City of Topeka's motion for summary judgment. (Dk.22). The plaintiffs bring this suit alleging their First Amendment rights were violated when they were escorted out of a City Council meeting without completing their comments on the Mayor's appointment of Cecil Washington to the Mayor's Commission on Families. The defendant City argues it is entitled to summary judgment as the uncontroverted facts establish the non-discriminatory and rational enforcement of the City Council's rules that impose relevancy limits and bar personal attacks against individuals. The City defends these restrictions as narrowly tailored to achieve its legitimate governmental interests in having orderly and efficient meetings and in preventing the disruption of their meetings.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

A court grants a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if a genuine issue of material fact does not exist and if the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court is to determine "whether there is the need for a trial—whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will ... preclude summary judgment." Id. There are no genuine issues for trial if the record taken as a whole would not persuade a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indust. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). "[T]here are cases where the evidence is so weak that the case does not raise a genuine issue of fact." Burnette v. Dow Chemical Co., 849 F.2d 1269, 1273 (10th Cir.1988).

The initial burden is with the movant to "point to those portions of the record that demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact given the relevant substantive law." Thomas v. Wichita Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 968 F.2d 1022, 1024 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1013, 113 S.Ct. 635, 121 L.Ed.2d 566 (1992). If this burden is met, the nonmovant must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial as to elements essential to" the nonmovant's claim or position. Martin v. Nannie and Newborns, Inc., 3 F.3d 1410, 1414 (10th Cir.1993) (citations omitted). The nonmovant's burden is more than a simple showing of "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348; it requires "`present[ing] sufficient evidence in specific, factual form for a jury to return a verdict in that party's favor.'" Thomas v. International Business Machines, 48 F.3d 478, 484 (10th Cir.1995) (quoting Bacchus Industries, Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir.1991)). The court views the evidence of record and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Id. A party relying on only conclusory allegations cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 363 (10th Cir. 1995).

More than a "disfavored procedural shortcut," summary judgment is an important procedure "designed `to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.' Fed.R.Civ.P. 1." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). At the same time, a summary judgment motion does not empower a court to act as the jury and determine witness credibility, weigh the evidence, or choose between competing inferences. Windon Third Oil and Gas v. Federal Deposit Ins., 805 F.2d 342, 346 (10th Cir.1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 947, 107 S.Ct. 1605, 94 L.Ed.2d 791 (1987).

II. STATEMENT OF UNCONTROVERTED FACTS

Around May 23, 1994, the Mayor of Topeka announced that he had appointed a "Commission on Families" having as its purpose the study, evaluation, and recommendation of family issues in today's society. The Mayor appointed certain Topeka residents to this commission. One of those appointed was Cecil Washington, a pastor of a Topeka-area church. The plaintiffs1 and the Wounded Sheep Ministries organization opposed Washington's appointment to the commission.2

Prior to August of 1993, the plaintiff C.E. Scroggins told Mayor Felker that his family "had been devastated by Cecil Washington." In August of 1993, C.E. Scroggins wrote a letter and distributed copies of it "everywhere" in an effort to communicate the level of hurt and emotional outrage his family had felt as a result of Washington's actions. A copy of this letter was sent to Mayor Felker. In addition, C.E. Scroggins personally shared these same feelings with former Police Chief Beavers, the Sheriff Dave Meneley, the Mayor's wife, and all members of the City Council at that time. The plaintiff C.E. Scroggins even went to the media, including television and radio stations and newspapers, "in an effort to stop Cecil Washington." In April or May of 1994, the plaintiff Verlene Scroggins discussed with Mayor Felker her own personal feelings about Cecil Washington.

Because of what he believed were abuses of pastoral authority by Cecil Washington, C.E. Scroggins was outraged when he learned that the Mayor had appointed Washington to the Commission on Families. As a result, C.E. Scroggins compiled and distributed a packet of documents which were intended to evidence the wrongs that Washington had committed. The material was distributed to Police Chief Beavers, Sheriff Dave Meneley, Mayor Felker and to all council members at the time. According to C.E. Scroggins, all of the plaintiffs' concerns with Washington's appointment were contained in that packet of documents. Consequently, prior to the council meeting on June 14, 1994, the plaintiffs had already communicated to the Mayor and City Council their dissatisfaction with Washington's appointment.

Sometime prior to June 14, 1994, C.E. Scroggins met with Barbara Mellen, the Council Administrator for the Topeka City Council. He told Ms. Mellen that he and his family members were going to appear at the public comment section of a council meeting and inform everyone of the adultery between his wife and Washington. Ms. Mellen told C.E. Scroggins that such topics were inappropriate for a public meeting and that he would be humiliating his wife. Mr. Scroggins told Ms. Mellen that they were not ashamed of this matter and that his wife's repentance included public acknowledgment of what she had done. Ms. Mellen reiterated her concern that such highly personal information really had no place in public forums reserved for city government issues. Mr. Scroggins disagreed with her assessment. Ms. Mellen later told Mayor Felker of her same concerns over C.E. Scroggins' intent to discuss this highly personal information at a council meeting.

On June 14, 1994, C.E. Scroggins telephoned the Topeka City Clerk's office. He informed the office that he and the other three plaintiffs wanted to appear during the public comment portion of the council's meeting on June 14, 1994. The memorandum from that telephone call informed Mayor Felker that all of the plaintiffs would make public comments on the "appointment of Cecil Washington to the Mayor's Commission on Family Status."

When C.E. Scroggins went to the council meeting on June 14, 1994, his plans were as follows:

I planned to talk about Timothy 5:19,20; Matthew 18:15-17 of the Good Book. I planned to talk about him, a felony, forging people's signatures on checks, opening other people's mail, and the carrying on with my wife and family that he did, and just talk about how violated the trust and how it damaged by family, and we did not want that to happen to any other family. That was our main thing for appearing, to make sure that they were aware and dealing with all of the facts as it related to the appointment of Cecil Washington.

(Dk.23, Ex. B, pp. 59-60). The plaintiffs, Verlene and C.E. Scroggins, knew the City Council had a policy and rule prohibiting speakers from making personal attacks on members of the public.

The City Council's rule against personal attacks provided that: "Any person making personal, rude or slanderous remarks, or who becomes boisterous, while addressing the Council shall be requested to leave the meeting and may be at once barred by the presiding officer from further audience before the Council." (Dk.23, Ex. H). The Council's rule on relevancy limits comments "to topics directly relevant to business of the City Council." (Dk.23, Ex. H).

The transcript from the videotaped council meeting on June 14, 1994, reflects the following exchange of comments and events:

Mayor Felker: We are back in open session for public comment. We had four people that called the Clerk's office two people that are here that asked to be recognized this evening. So we'll start. The first person to call in was Sonny Scroggins. Mr. Scroggins.

Sonny Scroggins: Mr. Mayor. In the sweet Name of Jesus I cannot understand why you would appoint Cecil Washington to the Commission on the Status of Families in light of you and the public knowing what he has done to my family and others. Just forget about what he has done to, to, to my family. This man has forged checks and opened other peoples'...

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