See v. City of Elyria, No. 06-4195.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtAlgenon L. Marbley
Citation502 F.3d 484
PartiesHetzel D. SEE, Jr.; Darlene See, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CITY OF ELYRIA, Defendant, Chief Michael Medders, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 06-4195.
Decision Date19 September 2007
502 F.3d 484
Hetzel D. SEE, Jr.; Darlene See, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
CITY OF ELYRIA, Defendant,
Chief Michael Medders, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 06-4195.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
Submitted: July 25, 2007.
Decided and Filed: September 19, 2007.

[502 F.3d 486]

ON BRIEF: Kathryn A. Kerka, Jeffrey M. Elzeer, Valore & Cruse Co., Westlake, Ohio, for Appellant. Terry H. Gilbert, Friedman & Gilbert, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: COLE and GILMAN, Circuit Judges; MARBLEY, District Judge.*

OPINION

ALGENON L. MARBLEY, District Judge.


Defendant-Appellant Chief of Police Michael Medders ("Medders") brings this interlocutory appeal of the district court's denial of Medders's Motion for Summary Judgment based on qualified immunity. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff-Appellee police officer, Hetzel D. See, Jr. ("See") brought suit against Medders and the City of Elyria ("City") alleging, among other things, a violation of See's First Amendment rights when disciplinary actions were taken against him after he made statements to the FBI about activities in the police department. See's wife is a co-plaintiff on one count, claiming a loss of consortium. Medders and the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the district court granted in favor of the City, but denied with respect to Medders's assertion of qualified immunity. Specifically, the court stated that "factual disputes exist as to the truthfulness of the complaints made by Mr. See to the FBI, and so, therefore, Medders is not entitled to qualified immunity at this point as a matter of law." Medders argues that the district court erred when it inquired as to the truthfulness of the statements instead of determining whether Medders reasonably believed that See's allegations of wrongdoing were false or recklessly made. Because a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether a reasonable official in Medders's position would have believed that See made the statements to the FBI knowing they were false, or with reckless disregard for their truthfulness, this Court AFFIRMS the district court's denial of summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Plaintiff-Appellee See was appointed as a patrol officer for the City of Elyria Police Department on January 11, 1993. See is also a member of the Elyria Police Patrol Officer's Union, and served as union president from November 1999 to January 2003. Defendant-Appellant Medders has served as Chief of Police for the City's Police Department since December 1997.

Plaintiffs' complaint stems from two disciplinary actions taken against See for violations of various police department rules and regulations. See contends that these disciplinary actions were not taken for legitimate violations of departmental rules, but in retaliation for the following exercises of his First Amendment rights: statements made in an April 10, 2001 newspaper advertisement criticizing Chief

502 F.3d 487

Medders1; See's general activities as a union official; and — relevant to this appeal — See's 2001 statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") regarding allegedly corrupt activities within the City's police department.

In April 2001, See contacted the FBI to report alleged illegal or immoral activity within the police department. Specifically, See voiced concerns about the grand jury procedures used by the department, the policies prohibiting officers from speaking to the press, the "blank check" that Medders gave to Captain Dennis Will permitting Will to work unnecessary overtime, and See's belief that Medders had manipulated results of an investigation in order to protect a public official. Lt. Larry Whitt and Officers Ben Currier and Bill Whitt also met with the FBI to discuss these activities. See followed up with the FBI on one or two more occasions. After See met with the FBI, Medders allegedly told another officer who planned to join See at the next FBI meeting that it would be negative for the department if the FBI investigated internal procedures. Medders stated that someone in the FBI revealed to him that See was making accusations against Medders's conduct in the department, and that Medders subsequently invited the FBI to review any department files without subpoena. No official resolution of See's complaint to the FBI has ever been issued, and no charges have ever been filed.

The first disciplinary action against See occurred in September 2001 when See was charged with several rule violations concerning a citizen complaint. See's behavior during the investigation of the complaint was also questioned. Medders recommended a forty-five day suspension to the Safety Service Director. After an October 15, 2001 hearing, the Director suspended See for a period of thirty days, effective November 1, 2001. See filed a grievance pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, and the matter went to arbitration. In an August 23, 2002 opinion and award, the arbitrator found that See had violated three of the four cited rules, but reduced See's suspension to fifteen days.

The second disciplinary action occurred on March 19, 2002, when two of See's supervisors submitted reports indicating that See had violated the departmental rule on insubordination after See refused a request to perform his duties as an Evidence Technician. See was formally charged on March 26, 2002, and Medders recommended that See be terminated from his employment with the City. After a disciplinary hearing, the Safety Service Director terminated See's employment on April 2, 2002. See filed a grievance and the matter went to arbitration. In a November 26, 2002 opinion and award, the arbitrator found that See had engaged in insubordination, but because See ultimately performed his duties, he did not violate rules against unbecoming conduct and unsatisfactory performance. As a result, the arbitrator reduced the termination to a thirty-day suspension. See was reinstated on December 2, 2002.

B. Procedural History

On October 28, 2003, Plaintiffs-Appellees brought suit against the City and Medders, asserting a violation of See's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint

502 F.3d 488

with new counsel on October 29, 2004, setting forth seven claims for relief, including that Medders: (1) violated See's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because he disciplined See in retaliation for See's union activities and speech on matters of public concern, and that the violations actually charged were pretextual and instituted to silence See's speech on matters of public concern; (2) chilled See's free speech rights; and (3) engaged in a conspiracy to deprive See of his constitutional rights. Plaintiffs also claimed that the policies of the City violated See's right to freedom of speech, Defendants inflicted serious emotional distress upon See, Defendants violated the Constitution of the State of Ohio, and Darlene See lost the services and consortium of her husband.

Defendants Medders and the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 3, 2006, on several grounds, including that Medders is entitled to qualified immunity. In a telephonic status conference held on August 14, 2006, the district court announced its decision denying in part and granting in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The court found that the expressions for which See was allegedly retaliated against included: statements made in an advertisement run in the Elyria Chronicle Telegraph on April 10, 2001; general activity by See on behalf of the union; and See's complaints to the FBI in 2001. The court held that the statements related to the newspaper advertisement and the general union activity did not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of protected speech implicating See's First Amendment rights. The court, therefore, granted summary judgment to all Defendants to the extent that the retaliation claims rest on expressions made in those activities. The court went on to say that "factual disputes remain with respect to complaints to the FBI, and so summary judgment will be denied on the retaliation claims to that extent." (JA 427.)

The court held that Plaintiffs have no Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim apart from the First Amendment claim and that, because Medders did not have final authority to discipline See, the City had no liability under § 1983. The court, therefore, granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment claims and also fully granted the City's Motion for Summary Judgment. The court concluded, however, that "[f]actual disputes exist as to the truthfulness of complaints made by Mr. See to the FBI, and so, therefore, Medders is not entitled to qualified immunity at this point as a matter of law. Summary judgment will be denied as to that." (JA 428.) The court further explained its conclusion in the telephone status conference:

Relying on this Court's decision in Hadad v. Croucher, 970 F.Supp. 1227, Medders argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity because the statements made . . . to the FBI were false. Judge Gallas in Hadad correctly pointed out that false statements do not constitute protected speech, and a public employer who takes disciplinary action in response to false statements made by an employee has qualified immunity.

[F]rom the record in the pending motion, it cannot be determined if the statements were false or not. It is probative but not dispositive that See's comments resulted in no indictments. Therefore, factual disputes remain that prevent summary judgment on the qualified immunity issue.

(JA 445.)

Medders now brings this narrow interlocutory appeal arguing that: (1) the district court applied the wrong test for qualified immunity when it focused its inquiry

502 F.3d 489

on the truthfulness of See's statements to the FBI instead of the reasonableness of Medders's belief that the statements were false;...

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107 practice notes
  • Khatri v. Ohio State Univ., CASE No. 5:18CV2962
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • 17 Enero 2020
    ...even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment); See v. City of Elyria, 502 F.3d 484, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (holding that a city police officer's statements to the FBI alleging corruption within the city police department were c......
  • Moldowan v. City of Warren, No. 07-2115.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 1 Julio 2009
    ...established law is reviewable, while a determination that an issue of fact is `genuine' is unreviewable." See v. City of Elyria, 502 F.3d 484, 490 (6th This jurisdictional limitation requires that, if "the defendant disputes the plaintiff's version of the story, the defendant must......
  • Bennett v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., No. 19-5818
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 6 Octubre 2020
    ...of public employers and that the operation of such entities is "of substantial concern to the public." See v. City of Elyria , 502 F.3d 484, 492 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting City of San Diego v. Roe , 543 U.S. 77, 82, 125 S.Ct. 521, 160 L.Ed.2d 410 (2004) ); see also Garcetti , 547 U.......
  • Crawford v. Columbus State Cmty. Coll., Case No. 2:15-cv-2438
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 11 Julio 2016
    ...[his] department," Handy – Clay , 695 F.3d at 542 ; or to an "outside law enforcement agency," See v. City of Elyria , 502 F.3d 484, 493 (6th Cir.2007). But Crawford made no such allegations.Instead, looking to the overall "content and context" of Crawford's speech—......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
104 cases
  • Khatri v. Ohio State Univ., CASE No. 5:18CV2962
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • 17 Enero 2020
    ...even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment); See v. City of Elyria, 502 F.3d 484, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (holding that a city police officer's statements to the FBI alleging corruption within the city police department were c......
  • Moldowan v. City of Warren, No. 07-2115.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 1 Julio 2009
    ...clearly established law is reviewable, while a determination that an issue of fact is `genuine' is unreviewable." See v. City of Elyria, 502 F.3d 484, 490 (6th This jurisdictional limitation requires that, if "the defendant disputes the plaintiff's version of the story, the defendant must n......
  • Bennett v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., No. 19-5818
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 6 Octubre 2020
    ...operations of public employers and that the operation of such entities is "of substantial concern to the public." See v. City of Elyria , 502 F.3d 484, 492 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting City of San Diego v. Roe , 543 U.S. 77, 82, 125 S.Ct. 521, 160 L.Ed.2d 410 (2004) ); see also Garcetti , 547 U......
  • Crawford v. Columbus State Cmty. Coll., Case No. 2:15-cv-2438
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 11 Julio 2016
    ...inside and outside [his] department," Handy – Clay , 695 F.3d at 542 ; or to an "outside law enforcement agency," See v. City of Elyria , 502 F.3d 484, 493 (6th Cir.2007). But Crawford made no such allegations.Instead, looking to the overall "content and context" of Crawford's speech—the Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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