White v. Thomas, 81-1075

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation660 F.2d 680
Docket NumberNo. 81-1075,81-1075
PartiesJames WHITE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Carl THOMAS, et al., Defendants-Appellees. Summary Calendar.
Decision Date06 November 1981

Johnston & Larson, Douglas R. Larson, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Earl Luna, Dallas, Tex., for Dallas County, Commissioners Court, County Auditor & Treasurer, et al.

Charles J. Baldree, Asst. Dist. Atty., Dallas, Tex., for Carl Thomas, Sheriff & Dallas County Sheriff's Dept.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before CHARLES CLARK, Chief Judge, RUBIN and SAM D. JOHNSON, Circuit Judges.

ALVIN B. RUBIN, Circuit Judge:

A deputy sheriff, James White, was fired because, in responding to a direct question on his employment application about prior arrests, he failed to disclose his detention while a juvenile for shooting another person. White brought a section 1983 suit against the sheriff, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department (which he alleged to be a subdivision of Dallas County), Dallas County, and various county officials in federal court, invoking federal question and civil rights jurisdiction. In a document filed ex parte prior to a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction in the action, White also invoked diversity jurisdiction. He sought an injunction commanding his reinstatement, $20,000 monetary damages from denial of his salary and other employment benefits, and $100,000 in damages for having "been the subject of public ridicule and embarrassment by being denied his Federal constitutional benefits ... and the failure of defendants to recognize their statutory and constitutional duty to honor the expunction order referred to above." In addition, White sought an additional $100,000 in exemplary damages to compensate him for the "arbitrary, wanton, reckless and grossly negligent" actions of the defendants. In a memorandum in support of White's request for a preliminary injunction he asserted that he had been deprived of liberty without due process by being refused the opportunity to have a "name clearing" hearing.

The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of all defendants, relying on an affidavit of the sheriff and the evidence at the hearing on the preliminary injunction. White filed nothing in opposition to the motion save a memorandum asserting that some of the facts were disputed. Even in cases where the party against whom summary judgment is sought fails to comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), 1 it is inappropriate to grant summary judgment on the merits on those issues whose decision depends on resolution of evident factual disputes not put beyond dispute by the affidavit, especially if a limited evidentiary hearing did not afford the party an opportunity to adduce his full case. Cubbage v. Averett, 626 F.2d 1307, 1308 (5th Cir. 1980); Beech v. United States, 345 F.2d 872 (5th Cir. 1965).

We affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of all the defendants as to White's claim for damages under section 1983. 2 We remand to the district court, however, for the limited purpose of affording White a hearing to clear his name of the allegation that he lied on his employment application. We affirm the summary judgment dismissing White's diversity claim for damages and his claims for accrued vacation pay and back pay earned for overtime work because White has not raised any issues concerning the correctness of these actions on appeal. 3 Tedder v. F.M.C. Corp., 590 F.2d 115, 117 (5th Cir. 1979).

Section 1983 neither provides a general remedy for the alleged torts of state officials nor opens the federal courthouse doors to relieve the complaints of all who suffer injury at the hands of the state or its officers. It affords a remedy only to those who suffer, as a result of state action, deprivation of "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. White claims that the sheriff deprived him of numerous rights secured by the Constitution.

First, White asserts that his termination deprived him of his liberty and property interests without due process of law. White has a property interest in continued employment as deputy sheriff only if he has an entitlement to the position in state law. 4 Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 2077, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976); Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2709, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); see McMillian v. City of Hazlehurst, 620 F.2d 484, 485 (5th Cir. 1980). To determine whether there has been a denial of due process, the rights given by state law are then weighed on federal scales to determine whether they amount to "property" in the constitutional sense.

White had neither civil service status 5 nor tenure, but served only at the sheriff's will, Tex.Civ.Code Ann. art. 6869 (Vernon 1960). He, therefore, had no state-protected right to continue in his job, and lacked any property interest in it. He has not even alleged the existence of any Texas statute or court decision that would preclude his discharge for failure to disclose his involvement in the juvenile shooting incident. Consequently, we need not determine whether such protection would suffice to create a constitutionally protected property interest.

White also claims that his dismissal violated due process because he was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty interest without a proper notice or hearing. Reputation alone is not a constitutionally protected interest although state law may create a right to damages for defamation. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976). A constitutionally protected liberty interest is implicated only if an employee is discharged in a manner that creates a false and defamatory impression about him and thus stigmatizes him and forecloses him from other employment opportunities. Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. 624, 628, 97 S.Ct. 882, 884, 51 L.Ed.2d 92 (1977); Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. at 706, 96 S.Ct. at 1163 (1976). If the employer creates a false and defamatory impression that forecloses the employee's freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities, a "detailed bill of particulars is not required." Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Corp., 613 F.2d 438, 447 (2d Cir. 1980).

In the instant case, Sheriff Thomas distributed a press release concerning White's discharge and gave an interview to journalists to discuss it. The text of the press release and the accounts of the interviews as contained in the truncated summary judgment record are, at least on their face, sufficient to create an impression that White had lied on his employment application by failing to disclose his involvement in the juvenile incident in answering the question relating to prior arrests. 6 For a policeman seeking employment to be branded as having lied on an official document is likely to jeopardize his future employment, and White has testified that this has indeed resulted.

Challenging the truthfulness of the comments made about him, as he must to state a claim, under Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. at 627-28, 97 S.Ct. at 884, White contends that he truthfully answered the question in his employment application referring to prior "arrests." He maintains that the incident he was involved in while a juvenile resulted only in a "detention." Furthermore, the very fact that White continued to ask for a name-clearing hearing in his brief to this court may be construed to be an allegation that the charges against him are false. Austin v. Board of Educ., 562 F.2d 446, 449 (7th Cir. 1977) (the plaintiff's "continuing attempt to secure a delayed Roth hearing ... can be viewed as an implied assertion that the charges are substantially false").

Therefore, we remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion concerning a name-clearing hearing. 7 While ordinarily a trial of this issue might be necessary, we do not foreclose the possibility of summary judgment if the facts are sufficiently developed in the fashion contemplated by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. White is to be afforded, however, only "an opportunity to refute the charge," Roth, 408 U.S. at 573, 92 S.Ct. at 2707, that he lied on his employment application by answering "no" to a question whether he had ever been arrested for anything other than a traffic offense. Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. at 627, 97 S.Ct. at 884.

Although White is entitled to a hearing to attempt to clear his name of the charge that he lied on his employment application, he is not entitled to any section 1983 relief because of a deprivation of a liberty interest. His discharge might have been motivated either by the allegation that he lied on his employment application, or by his participation in a shooting incident while he was a juvenile. 8 The allegation that White lied on his employment application entitles him to a name clearing hearing. However, White never disputed the substantial truth of the allegation that he shot another person while he was a juvenile. Codd v. Velger, supra. Nor does that allegation justify relief under section 1983. Once this allegation became known the sheriff had a reasonable justification for firing White. 9 If White would have been fired once the juvenile incident had been uncovered, absent the allegation that he lied by failing to disclose the incident on his employment application, then his dismissal may not be challenged even though he may have been deprived of a liberty interest without due process of law by the allegation that he lied. Mt. Healthy City School Dist. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287, 97 S.Ct. 568, 576, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977); Smith v. Price, 616 F.2d 1371, 1379 (5th Cir. 1980); Love v. Sessions, 568 F.2d 357, 361 (5th Cir. 1978).

White also claims that other constitutional rights were violated by his discharge. The Full Faith and Credit Clause, U.S.Const. art. IV, § 1, was not, however, violated by White's...

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