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Dorris v. City of McKinney

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

April 10, 2017

STEPHEN DORRIS
v.
CITY OF MCKINNEY, TEXAS, DANIEL KISTNER, NAMED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, AND JOSE MADRIGAL, NAMED IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are Defendant Daniel Kistner's and Defendant Jose Madrigal's Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, or in the Alternative, Motion for Rule 7(a) Reply (Dkts. #21, #22) and Plaintiff's Rule 7(a) Reply (Dkt. #45). Having considered the pleadings, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated plausible claims to overcome Defendant Daniel Kistner's and Defendant Jose Madrigal's qualified immunity defense. The Court denies Defendant Daniel Kistner's and Defendant Jose Madrigal's motions to dismiss the federal claims against them in their individual capacities (Dkts. #21, #22).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff worked for the City of McKinney, Texas (the “City”) Fire Department from March 2003 to July 16, 2015. During his employment with the Fire Department, Plaintiff served as the elected president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2661 (“Local 2661”). Plaintiff alleges that the City terminated his employment after he organized a photo shoot for Local 2661's political action committee and its endorsed candidates for City Council. Plaintiff was not present at the photo shoot. During the photo shoot, photographs were taken of the endorsed candidates and off-duty members of Local 2661 standing in front of a City fire truck. No City insignia were visible in the photographs. Plaintiff alleges that he was not personally involved with the movement of the City fire truck during the photo shoot. The City Attorney's office had previously informed Plaintiff that Local 2661 could not use photographs of on-duty fire personnel for political campaigns, even if all references to the City were removed.

         The political action committee and one of the endorsed candidates used the photographs in political advertisements. After the political action committee posted the photographs on its Facebook page, City Fire Chief Daniel Kistner (“Defendant Kistner”) asked the City Police Department to open an administrative inquiry to determine whether the post violated any City policy or rule. After an initial inquiry, Defendant Kistner commenced a full Internal Affairs investigation into Plaintiff. On July 16, 2015, at the conclusion of the Internal Affairs investigation, Defendant Kistner signed a Notice of Disciplinary Action (the “Notice”) terminating Plaintiff for violating the City's policy on insubordination. The Notice stated that Plaintiff failed to follow an order given by the City Manager's office not to use City equipment for the purpose of endorsing candidates and failed to use his chain of command for his request to use City-owned property. Deputy City Manager Jose Madrigal (“Defendant Madrigal”) approved Plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff appealed his termination and on October 23, 2015, three management-level City officials held an administrative hearing regarding Plaintiff's appeal. On October 27, 2015, the City upheld Plaintiff's termination.

         On April 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint alleging that the City, Defendant Kistner, and Defendant Madrigal violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment and under Texas law. On April 20, 2016, Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal each filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or in the alternative, Motion For Rule 7(a) Reply (Dkts. #21, #22). Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal argued they were entitled to qualified immunity and requested that the Court order Plaintiff to re-plead his claims against them to overcome the qualified immunity defense (Dkts. #21, #22).

         On October 4, 2016, the Court denied the City's motion to dismiss the federal claims against it, but dismissed the state law claims against the City (Dkt. #44). The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal's motions to dismiss. The Court dismissed the federal claims against Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal in their official capacities as duplicative of the claims against the City (Dkt. #44). The Court denied Defendant Kistner's and Defendant Madrigal's motions to dismiss the state law claims against them in their official capacities. The Court directed Plaintiff to file a Rule 7(a) Reply addressing why Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal are not entitled to a qualified immunity defense for the constitutional claims against them in their individual capacities. Specifically, the Court directed Plaintiff to explain why his interest in commenting on matters of public concern outweighed Defendants' interest in promoting efficiency. The Court would then determine whether Plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts that (1) the officials violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.

         On October 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Rule 7(a) Reply (Dkt. #45). On November 26, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Leave to File Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Rule 7 Reply (Dkt. #46). On January 5, 2017, the Court granted leave to file a response (Dkt. #48). On January 6, 2016, Defendant Kistner and Defendant Madrigal filed Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Rule 7 Reply (Dkt. #49).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To establish § 1983 liability, a plaintiff “must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Public officials whose positions entail the exercise of discretion may be protected by the defense of qualified immunity from personal liability. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). When a defendant asserts the defense of qualified immunity and has established that the alleged actions were conducted pursuant to the exercise of his discretionary authority, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to rebut this defense. McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002).

         Courts have historically engaged in a two-pronged analysis to determine whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). First, a court must determine whether a “constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged.” Flores v. City of Palacios, 381 F.3d 391, 395 (5th Cir. 2004). Second, if a constitutional right was violated, a court then determines whether “the defendant's actions violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. The law may be deemed to be clearly established if a reasonable official would understand that his conduct violates the asserted right. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). The official's subjective motivation is irrelevant to the qualified immunity defense except as far as it is relevant to the underlying constitutional claim. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 588 (1998). A government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, “[t]he contours of the right [are] sufficiently clear” such that every “reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Creighton, 483 U.S. at 640. The clearly established inquiry does not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. See Id. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The Supreme Court recently instructed courts “to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236-37 (2009).

         ANALYSIS

         Whether a Constitutional Right Would Have Been Violated on the Facts Alleged

         In the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint and Rule 7(a) Reply, Plaintiff sufficiently alleged a ...


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