Singleton v. Cecil, 97-1726

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation155 F.3d 983
Docket NumberNo. 97-1726,97-1726
Parties14 IER Cases 634 David C. SINGLETON, Appellant, v. Don CECIL, Individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police; Harley Moyer, Ivan Parker, Kevin Tidwell, Della Price, Individually and in their official capacities as Aldermen; and the City of Advance, Missouri, Appellees.
Decision Date12 November 1998

Jim R. Bruce, Kennett, Missouri, argued, for Appellant.

D. Keith Henson, St. Louis, MO, argued (Matthew R. Shetley, on the brief), for Appellee.

Before RICHARD S. ARNOLD, 1 Chief Judge, McMILLIAN and MAGILL, Circuit Judges.


David Singleton appeals the District Court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the City of Advance, Chief of Police Don Cecil, and four Advance City Council members, on his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994) that his termination as an Advance police officer violated his rights to free speech, association, privacy, and due process. After briefing and oral argument, we affirmed the judgment, one judge dissenting. See Singleton v. Cecil, 133 F.3d 631, 636 (8th Cir.1998). We then granted Mr. Singleton's petition for rehearing, thus vacating the original panel opinion and judgment. We have now reconsidered the case. We hold that dismissal of a public employee on the sole basis of a conversation between his wife and daughter is wholly arbitrary, and violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1990, David Singleton and his wife Joann moved to Advance, Missouri, and David took a job as a police officer with the City of Advance. At the time David Singleton worked for the City of Advance, Don Cecil was the Chief of Police, and Harley Moyer, Ivan Parker, Kevin Tidwell, and Della Price were the four members of Advance's City Council. William T. Bradshaw served as Advance's Mayor in 1993 and 1994. The Singletons' daughter, Sabrina Scaggs, also lived in Advance at this time.

Joann Singleton frequently talked with Sabrina on the phone in the mornings, and Sabrina often spoke to her mother on a cordless phone. On the morning of March 8, 1994, a local private investigator named David George was scanning radio frequencies with a radio scanner and happened to pick up a conversation between Joann and Sabrina. In this conversation, Joann said that she could "set up" Chief of Police Don Cecil by hiring someone to bribe him. George recorded the conversation between Sabrina and Joann.

Later that day, David George contacted Chief of Police Cecil and Mayor Bradshaw and played the recording of the conversation for them. George also provided Cecil with a copy of the recording. Cecil then visited the homes of each of the City Council members and played the recording for them. The Council members recognized the voices on the recording as belonging to Joann Singleton and Sabrina Scaggs. On March 11, Mayor Bradshaw called a special meeting of the City Council to discuss the recording. The Council members were upset (as well they should have been) that David Singleton's wife and his daughter had discussed attempting to bribe Cecil, and Cecil recommended that the City Council terminate Singleton as an Advance police officer. City Attorney Donald Rhodes advised the City Council that as an at-will employee, Singleton could be discharged without cause and without a hearing. All four members of the Council then voted in favor of terminating Singleton. Under Missouri law, this vote was sufficient to terminate Singleton's employment with the City. See Mo. Ann. Stat. § 79.240 (1998). Each City Council member later submitted an affidavit stating, "My decision to terminate [David Singleton] was based upon the statements in the conversations on the tape recording about setting up Chief of Police Cecil by having someone try to bribe him, and nothing else." Appellees' App. at 135, 140, 145, 150. Singleton was informed that he was discharged in a letter dated March 11, 1994, the day of the Council meeting.

David Singleton filed this suit against Chief Cecil, the four City Council members, and the City of Advance. Singleton alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that his termination by the defendants violated his rights of free speech and association, due process, and privacy. He also claimed that he was terminated in retaliation for his knowledge of some of Chief Cecil's allegedly illegal activities. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all of Singleton's claims. Specifically, the District Court held that Singleton's retaliatory-discharge claim failed because he could not demonstrate any causal connection between the purported protected activity and the termination. Singleton v. Cecil, 955 F.Supp. 1164, 1166-67 (E.D.Mo.1997). The Court also held that any claim of a denial of procedural due process failed because, as an at-will employee, Singleton had no liberty or property interest in his job. Id. at 1167. Finally, the District Court held that Singleton's claim that his rights of intimate association and marital privacy were denied also failed, because "the defendants had a legitimate, good faith belief that plaintiff, with his family, was engaging in improper conduct by conspiring to bribe the Chief of Police." Id.

We agree with most of the reasoning of the original panel opinion, which affirmed the District Court's rejection of Singleton's arguments that the actions of the Advance City Council and Chief Cecil infringed on his rights to intimate association and marital privacy. See Singleton v. Cecil, 133 F.3d at 634-35. However, Singleton raised another argument on appeal, not explicitly addressed in the first panel opinion. Singleton argued that he was discharged solely because of statements made by his wife, and that dismissal for this reason was arbitrary, capricious, and violative of his substantive-due-process rights. See Appellant's Br. at 14-15, which makes this argument quite clearly:

Under these circumstance [sic] it is clear that the sole motivation for discharging David Singleton was the fact that his wife had made a statement which angered and "upset" the Council members.... That is precisely the kind of arbitrary and capricious logic that fails to pass even the most relaxed scrutiny of under [sic] substantive due process.

We agree with this argument and, accordingly, we now reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand for further proceedings.

The Fourteenth Amendment prevents state governments from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." The Due Process Clause has long been held to prevent irrational or arbitrary actions by government officials. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523U.S. 833, ---- - ----, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 1716-17, 140 L.Ed.2d 1043 (1998); Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, 353 U.S. 232, 239, 77 S.Ct. 752, 1 L.Ed.2d 796 (1957); Chesterfield Development Corp. v. City of Chesterfield, 963 F.2d 1102, 1104 (8th Cir.1992) ("[S]ubstantive-due-process claims should be limited to 'truly irrational' governmental actions. An example would be attempting to apply a zoning ordinance only to persons whose names begin with a letter in the first half of the alphabet.") The constitutional guarantee against arbitrary state action is part of the Due Process Clause's "substantive sphere," as opposed to its guarantee of fair procedures. County of Sacramento, 523 U.S. at ----, 118 S.Ct. at 1713. In cases involving the termination of government employees, federal courts are not to review every error in "the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies." Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 349, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976) (footnote omitted). However, if a government employer's decision or policy is "so irrational that it may be branded 'arbitrary,' " an employee may plausibly assert that he has been denied his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 248, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 (1976) (citation omitted). See Lowman v. Davies, 704 F.2d 1044, 1046 (8th Cir.1983).

This is one of those rare cases in which, on the basis of the facts in the record now before us, a government employee can plausibly argue that he has been denied substantive due process because his employer's actions in terminating him were irrational and arbitrary. The evidence in this case establishes that David Singleton was terminated because of the conversation between Joann Singleton, his wife, and Sabrina Scaggs, his daughter, about bribing Chief of Police Don Cecil. In affidavits, each City Council member who voted to discharge Singleton stated that he or she decided to terminate Singleton on the basis of David George's taped recordings, "and nothing else." Appellees' App. at 135, 140, 145, 150. As the defendants noted in their motion for summary judgment, all the evidence in this case "establishes that [Singleton] was terminated solely for the statements made in the taped conversation." Appellees' App. at 73. In granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the District Court said that "uncontradicted evidence" showed that the defendants had a "legitimate, good faith belief" that Singleton was improperly conspiring to bribe Cecil. 955 F.Supp. at 1167. Evidence to that effect would make a big difference in this case, but the City Council members never testified to any such legitimate, good-faith belief, and we can find no evidence to that effect in the record. Therefore, it seems that the City Council terminated Singleton simply because of the conversation between his wife and daughter.

In this country, guilt is individual. We do not, as a general rule, punish A for the sins of B. Nor does the law today generally impute the actions of one spouse to another, or the actions of an adult child to the parent. See Forbes v....

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