Spiegla v. Hull, 03-2480.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtFlaum
Citation371 F.3d 928
PartiesNancy SPIEGLA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Major Eddie HULL, Individually as an Employee of Westville Correctional Facility; Herb Newkirk, Individually as Superintendent of Westville Correctional Facility; and Bernard Johnson, Individually as an Employee of Westville Correctional Facility, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 03-2480.,03-2480.
Decision Date14 June 2004

Michael K. Sutherlin (argued), Sutherlin & Associates, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David L. Steiner (argued), Office of the Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before FLAUM, Chief Judge, and POSNER and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Chief Judge.

Correctional officer Nancy Spiegla's shift schedule and post assignment were changed four days after she had a conversation with the Assistant Superintendent of Westville Correctional Facility ("Westville" or "the facility") in which she questioned a new vehicle search policy and reported the suspicious behavior of two Westville employees. In response to her schedule change and transfer, Spiegla filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against Major Eddie Hull, Herb Newkirk, and Bernard Johnson ("the Defendants"), officials and employees of Westville, alleging that they unlawfully retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment rights. At the time relevant to the complaint, Newkirk was the Superintendent, Johnson was the Assistant Superintendent of Operations, and Hull was Major of Westville. The district court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the bases that Spiegla's speech was not constitutionally protected and that she was not reassigned because of her speech. Spiegla now appeals the district court's ruling. For the reasons stated herein, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

In 1985, Spiegla began her employment as a correctional officer at Westville, a state prison in Westville, Indiana. Between 1993 and 1999, Spiegla was transferred back and forth between posts on the front and back gates of the facility and was responsible for searching persons and vehicles entering the prison. During her years on gate duty, Spiegla developed expertise in conducting vehicle searches, particularly ones of large trucks. Spiegla's competency as a gate officer is undisputed. Defendant Newkirk even presented her with Westville's "Correctional Officer of the Year" award just a few months before the transfer at issue in this case occurred.

On Thursday, January 13, 2000, Spiegla was working on the front gate under the direction of Sergeant Brian Moody. While on duty, Spiegla observed Defendant Hull and Captain Ernest Huff, while in a state-owned vehicle, enter the staff and visitors' parking lot located on the outside of the facility and near the front gate. According to Spiegla, the two men removed bags from their private vehicles, placed the bags into the state-owned vehicle, and then drove towards the front gate. Based on these observations, Spiegla told Moody that she intended to search the state-owned vehicle. Moody instructed Spiegla not to conduct the search and informed her of a new exemption policy for searches of state-owned vehicles. Whereas under the previous policy all incoming vehicles were searched for contraband, the new policy exempted state-owned vehicles from being searched.

Apparently, this was not the first time that Hull and Huff attracted the attention of gate security. Moody had previously witnessed the two men drive their vehicle into the staff and visitors' parking lot while they were conducting "perimeter checks" (a security check that entails driving around the facility to inspect the fence). Moreover, on several recent occasions, Moody had attempted to search vehicles occupied by Hull and Huff and on each occasion they refused to consent to search before entering the facility.1

Spielga explained in her deposition that after Moody told her about the new policy, "I duly noted it in my log because I was very upset over it because everybody has to go through the shakedown procedure...." When asked to clarify her feelings, she responded, "I was just upset because I could not go out there and do my job." Spiegla said that she was not angry, but "[j]ust, you know, frustrated type of thing. You know, just like, You got to be kidding? That type of attitude."

Later that day, Spiegla discussed Hull and Huff's conduct and the new search policy with the Assistant Superintendent of Westville, John Schrader. Specifically, Spielga asked him when the search orders changed and whether he was aware that state vehicles were not to be searched. Schrader responded that all vehicles were to be "shaken down" and then he asked her why she asked. Spiegla then told Schrader about her observations of Hull and Huff and Moody's instruction not to "shake them down." Schrader agreed that the two men should have been "shook down" and assured Spiegla that he would bring the matter to the attention of Superintendent Newkirk.

Either later that day or the following day, Schrader recounted his conversation with Spiegla at an executive staff meeting attended by Schrader, Johnson, Hull, and Newkirk. Johnson acknowledges that he was "pretty pissed" that Spiegla's concerns were raised at the meeting. Though Johnson did not express his feelings at the meeting, he was "mad at Spielga" because she did not follow her chain of command.

The following Monday, January 17, 2000, four days after her conversation with Schrader, Spiegla learned that she was being transferred2 from the front gate. That morning, Captain Hugh Vales called Spiegla at the front gate and asked her what she had done wrong. When she responded that she did not know what he was talking about, Captain Vales informed her that she had been transferred and that her shift schedule had been changed from five days on and two days off ("5-2") to the less desirable six days on and two days off ("6-2"). Thereafter, Spiegla was assigned to various non-gate perimeter postings that differed on a day-to-day basis. At these postings, Spiegla had no opportunity to use her vehicle searching expertise. Moreover, these were mobility-intensive postings that were painful for Spiegla to perform because of an osteoarthritic condition. As a result of the physical hardships she faced at the perimeter posts, Spiegla applied for the position of Teacher's Assistant IV in April 2000. In accepting this position, Spiegla suffered a 4½% reduction in pay. The following month, Spiegla's pay was further reduced.

The record does not reveal who precisely effectuated Spiegla's January 2000 transfer to a non-gate post. Though none of the Defendants have admitted to effectuating the transfer, all of them possessed authority to do so. However, all the Defendants acknowledge involvement in the decision effectuating Speigla's change in shift.

In December 2001, Spiegla filed suit against the Defendants under § 1983, alleging a deprivation of her rights secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After the close of discovery, the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the Defendants' motion determining that the speech at issue was not addressed to a matter of public concern and that Spiegla did not suffer an adverse action as a result of her speech. Spiegla appeals that decision, as well as the district court's denial of her motion to compel the production of documents.

II. Discussion
A. First Amendment Claim

We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. See Dunn v. City of Elgin, 347 F.3d 641, 645 (7th Cir.2003). A grant of summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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). A genuine issue of material fact "exists when `there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'" Puckett v. Soo Line Ry. Co., 897 F.2d 1423, 1425 (7th Cir.1990) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). On appellate review, we review the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Haefling v. UPS, 169 F.3d 494, 497 (7th Cir.1999). Summary judgment is inappropriate when alternate inferences can be drawn from the available evidence. See Hines v. British Steel Corp., 907 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir.1990).

In evaluating a § 1983 claim for retaliation in violation of First Amendment rights in the public employment context, we apply a three-step analysis premised on the Supreme Court's decision in Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977). First, we must determine whether the employee's speech was constitutionally protected. Second, the plaintiff must establish that the speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the retaliatory action. Third, the defendant has an opportunity to establish that the same action would have been taken in the absence of the employee's protected speech. See Sullivan v. Ramirez, 360 F.3d 692, 697 (7th Cir.2004); Vukadinovich v. Bd. of Sch. Trs., 278 F.3d 693, 699 (7th Cir.2002); Kokkinis v. Ivkovich, 185 F.3d 840, 843 (7th Cir.1999).

1. Protected Speech

Public employees are entitled to free speech rights under the First Amendment. See Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 568, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968). At the same time, the government must have the ability to run efficiently as an employer. See Sullivan, 360 F.3d at 697. To balance...

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