Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Griggs v. Chickasaw County

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 18, 2019

LAMON K. GRIGGS, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
CHICKASAW COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

          Before CLEMENT, GRAVES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.

          JAMES E. GRAVES, JR., CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Lamon Griggs served as Chickasaw County's Solid Waste Enforcement Officer for fifteen years before the County's Board of Supervisors unanimously eliminated his position in 2015. After his position was eliminated, Griggs brought a First Amendment retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chickasaw County. Griggs alleged that his position was eliminated because he was running for sheriff as an Independent and against the Board's preferred candidate, a Democrat. The matter went to trial, and a jury found for Griggs.

         The County now appeals. We AFFIRM.

         BACKGROUND

         Griggs worked as Chickasaw County's Solid Waste Enforcement Officer for fifteen years without receiving any complaints about his job performance. His duties related to illegal dumping of waste, including "investigations, searches," "identify[ing] the violator," ensuring proper cleanup, and "going to court." Griggs applied for grants each year to fund his work, and grants from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality ("MDEQ") supported at least half of Griggs' salary.

         In 2015, Griggs decided to run for Sheriff of Chickasaw County as an Independent. In July 2015, Griggs spoke with Anderson McFarland, a member of Chickasaw's five-member Board of Supervisors, about his campaign. Supervisor McFarland asked if Griggs was "going to pull out" of the sheriff race. Griggs answered no. Supervisor McFarland responded that Supervisor Jerry Hall and "them" wanted Griggs to withdraw from the race.

         In 2015, the County's Chancery Clerk notified the Board that the solid waste fund was in the red and that the County had not received funding from a grant that Griggs should have submitted in 2014. In August 2015, the Chancery Clerk shared with Griggs that the County had not received the usual grant money. While MDEQ did not have a grant application on file from the County, Griggs claimed to have submitted the grant application and did not know why MDEQ did not have it.

         On September 22, 2015, the Chancery Clerk asked Griggs to attend the Board meeting to explain to the Board what happened to the grant. At the meeting, Supervisor Hall asked the Chancery Clerk whether the County had received its grant money, and the clerk replied no. Supervisor Hall then responded, "I say we go ahead and just eliminate this program right now." The clerk advised the Board that the County had another grant and suggested that the County use that grant to fund Griggs' position through the start of the year. However, Supervisor Russell Brooks rejected the suggestion because the County did not have the "money in hand." Supervisor Hall then chimed in and also rejected the suggestion.

         The Board unanimously voted to eliminate Griggs' position of Solid Waste Enforcement Officer, and the position was reported as being eliminated "due to lack of funds." Following the elimination of Griggs' position, the Board moved Griggs into a Bailiff position. .

         At that same meeting, Supervisor Brooks asked Griggs if he knew "what the Hatch Act is."[1]

         About a week later, Griggs again spoke with Supervisor McFarland at a restaurant. Supervisor McFarland told Griggs that his termination "looked like political favoritism and that [the Board] was going to go back and revisit" the issue. Griggs had "high hopes that [the Board] would do that, but [he] never heard another thing" about it. The Board did not reconsider its decision.

         Griggs did not appeal the Board's decision to the County's circuit court. Also, he applied to the Mississippi Employment Security Commission ("MESC") for unemployment benefits. In Griggs' unemployment application, he responded that he was "laid off."

         Subsequently, Griggs sued the County and alleged that the County eliminated the Solid Waste Enforcement Officer position because of constitutionally protected political activity (i.e., running for sheriff). The County moved for summary judgment, which the district court denied. The case proceeded to trial.

         At trial, there was evidence that:

1. During a casual conversation about politics at a McDonald's, Supervisor McFarland told Griggs that Supervisor Hall and others wanted Griggs to drop out of the race.
2. During the termination meeting, Supervisor Brooks asked Griggs whether he knew "what the Hatch Act is."
3. After Griggs' position was eliminated, Supervisor McFarland said it "looked like ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.