LAMON K. GRIGGS, Plaintiff - Appellee
CHICKASAW COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, Defendant-Appellant
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Mississippi
CLEMENT, GRAVES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.
E. GRAVES, JR., CIRCUIT JUDGE
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
County now appeals. We AFFIRM.
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
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.
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.
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
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. .
same meeting, Supervisor Brooks asked Griggs if he knew
"what the Hatch Act is."
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.
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."
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.
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