United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
OPINION AND ORDER
LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Richardson, a former Blytheville police officer, brings this
action against the City of Blytheville and its Chief of
Police, Ross Thompson, who terminated Richardson's
employment on November 17, 2015. Richardson alleges that the
defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution through 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and the Arkansas Constitution through the Arkansas Civil
Rights Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101 et seq.
Richardson has filed a motion for partial summary judgment
arguing that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
two issues pertinent to his claim for violation of his
Fourteenth Amendment rights: (1) he was not an at-will
employee; and (2) the procedures available to him to contest
his termination did not satisfy due process. The defendants
have filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that
Richardson was an at-will employee and arguing that Thompson
is entitled to qualified immunity. For the following reasons,
Richardson's motion is denied, the defendants' motion
is granted as to Richardson's federal claims, and the
Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
Richardson's state law claims.
following facts are undisputed. Richardson became a
Blytheville police officer on July 18, 2008. Thompson
terminated Richardson's employment on or about December
16, 2012, but the City Council voted 6-0 to overturn the
decision and reinstate him. Thompson terminated
Richardson's employment a second time on November 17,
2015, and provided Richardson a written letter, in which he
Since September 2, 2015, you have been the subject of an
investigation by this and other agencies. On two separate
occasions, you were deceptive in your answer to questions
posed to you during those official investigations. On one
occasion, you admitted to violating department policy.
In addition to violating department policy, the
investigations have resulted in substantial Brady material
rendering you unable to perform the basic job functions as a
#18-2 at 23. On the two separate occasions to which Thompson
refers in the letter, Richardson submitted to polygraph
tests, one in conjunction with a federal operation known as
Blynd Justice and one follow-up test as part of a police
department internal investigation. The polygraph results
indicated some deception.
November 18, 2015, Richardson notified the Mayor of
Blytheville and the City Clerk that he intended to appeal his
termination. In the written notice, Richardson requested an
expedited hearing and expressed his desire to continue
working as a Blytheville police officer. A hearing was
scheduled for December 17, 2015, but because of scheduling
conflicts no hearing took place.
hearing was scheduled for March 21, 2016. Richardson says
that when he and his lawyer appeared before the City Council
for the second hearing, they were told that the matter would
be handled in an executive session, with only the City
Council, the mayor, and Richardson in attendance. Richardson
and his lawyer objected, demanding a public hearing, the
right to have a lawyer present, and the right to present
witness testimony. No hearing took place. The defendants
dispute Richardson's characterization of the March 21
should grant summary judgment if the evidence demonstrates
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden
of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute for trial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106
S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party
meets that burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with
specific facts that establish a genuine dispute of material
fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89
L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Torgerson v. City of Rochester,
643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). A genuine
dispute of material fact exists only if the evidence is
sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in
favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must give
that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can
be drawn from the record. Pedersen v. Bio-Med.
Applications of Minn., 775 F.3d 1049, 1053 (8th Cir.
2015). If the nonmoving party fails to present evidence
sufficient to establish an essential element of a claim on
which that party bears the burden of proof, then the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from depriving any
person of life, liberty, or property without due process of
law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. A public employee is
entitled to procedural due process-notice and an opportunity
to be heard-and substantive due process protections if he
stands to lose a constitutionally protected property or
liberty interest. See Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v.
Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 538, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 84
L.Ed.2d 494 (1985). A property interest arises from a
“legitimate claim of entitlement” to continuing
employment. Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564,
577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Floyd-Gimon v.
Univ. of Ark. for Med. Scis. ex rel. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of
Ark., 716 F.3d 1141, 1146 (8th Cir. 2013). Richardson
asserts that he had a property interest in his continued
employment as a police officer and was thus entitled to
procedural due process prior to his termination.
an employee possesses a property interest in continued
employment depends on state law. See Roth, 408 U.S.
at 578, 92 S.Ct. at 2709 (“[Property interests] are
created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or
understandings that stem from an independent source such as
state law-rules or understandings that secure certain
benefits and that support claims of entitlements to those
benefits.”). In Arkansas, when an employee's
contract of employment is for an indefinite term, either
party generally may terminate the relationship for good
cause, bad cause, or no cause at all. See Tripcony v.
Ark. School for Deaf, 2012 Ark. 188, 9, 403 S.W.3d 559,
563. In other words, either party generally may terminate the
relationship “at will.” The at-will doctrine does