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Bruce Cameron, Tiffany Walker, Christopher v. Owyhee County

July 20, 2011

BRUCE CAMERON, TIFFANY WALKER, CHRISTOPHER EVEN, JAMES BISH, AND SHERRY OLSON, INDIVIDUALLY,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
OWYHEE COUNTY, OWYHEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, AND SHERIFF DARYL CRANDALL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald E. Bush U. S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE: OWYHEE COUNTY DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

(Docket No. 32)

Currently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 32). Having carefully reviewed the record, participated in oral argument and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

This case involves five individual Plaintiffs -- each of whom worked as employees of Defendant Owyhee County, within the Defendant Owyhee County Sheriff's Office, at the beginning of 2009. According to Plaintiffs, they were terminated and/or reassigned for openly supporting former Owyhee County Sheriff Gary Aman in the 2008 Owyhee County Sheriff election, following Defendant Sheriff Daryl Crandall's eventual assumption of that same office in January 2009. See Pls.' Compl. at ¶ 36, p. 7 (Docket No. 1) ("The employment of each Plaintiff was involuntarily terminated or significantly altered because of his or her public support for the incumbent Sheriff and his or her exercise of free speech rights. Other adverse actions were taken by Defendant Crandall in which the Plaintiffs' speech was a substantial or motivating factor."). Plaintiffs in turn asserted twelve claims against Defendants: (1) breach of contract; (2) wrongful discharge in violation of public policy; (3) breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) breach of implied contract of employment; (5) breach of implied contract provision not to terminate without just cause; (6) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - free speech; (7) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 -due process; (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress (Plaintiff Walker); (9) negligent infliction of emotional distress (Plaintiff Walker); (10) defamation; (11) constructive discharge (Plaintiff Olson); and (12) public disclosure of private facts. See id at ¶¶ 52-166.

B. Procedural Background

On December 2, 2009, Plaintiff moved for a determination of the non-applicability of Idaho Code § 6-610 or, alternatively, to have this Court set the amount of the written undertakings pursuant to that same section. See Mot. to Determine Bond Amt., p. 1 (Docket No. 15). On June 22, 2010, the Court determined that Idaho Code § 6-610 applied to Plaintiffs' state law claims against Defendant Crandall and, further, ordered "an appropriate bond amount to be $5,000 per Plaintiff, for a total of $25,000, to be secured and posted within 21 days of th[e] Memorandum Decision and Order." See 6/22/10 MDO, p. 7 (Docket No. 25). Plaintiffs were therefore required to secure and post the above-referenced bond by July 13, 2010. Plaintiffs failed to post any bond by July 13, 2010.

On August 12, 2010, Defendants moved to dismiss Defendant Crandall, arguing that Plaintiffs' failure to secure and post the requisite bond warranted the dismissal of Plaintiffs' state law claims against Defendant Crandall. See Mot. to Dismiss (Docket No. 28). Pursuant to this District's briefing protocol, Plaintiffs' response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was due on or before September 7, 2010. Plaintiffs failed to respond. Therefore, on October 27, 2010, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' state law claims against Defendant Crandall without prejudice. See 10/27/10 Order (Docket No. 29).

Despite the dismissal of Plaintiffs' state-law claims against Defendant Crandall individually, it appears that Plaintiffs' Complaint nonetheless asserts the same twelve claims against the remaining two Defendants - Owyhee County and the Owyhee County's Sheriff's Office. These Defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Plaintiffs' contract-based, state law claims (and due process claim) should be dismissed largely because Plaintiffs were at-will employees,*fn1 and (2) Plaintiffs' federal claims should be dismissed because (A) Plaintiffs' conduct was not a substantial or motivating factor for Defendants' employment actions; (B) Plaintiffs would have been terminated based on efficiency and/or effectiveness considerations in any event; and (C) Defendant Crandall is entitled to qualified immunity.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Preliminary Statement Re: Claims and Parties

On October 27, 2010, the undersigned dismissed the state-law claims against Defendant Crandall. See supra at pp. 2-3. Therefore, the only claims that currently exist against Defendant Crandall individually are Plaintiffs' Sixth and Seventh Causes of Action -- 42 U.S.C. § 1983 -free speech; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - due process.

During the May 10, 2011 hearing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs' counsel agreed to dismiss Defendant Owyhee County Sheriff's Office, representing to the Court that the allegations/claims against Defendant Owyhee County Sheriff's Office represent the same allegations/claims against Defendant Owyhee County. Therefore, no claims exist as to Defendant Owyhee County Sheriff's Office.

At that time, Plaintiffs' counsel also agreed to dismiss the Tenth Cause of Action -Defamation. Therefore, the only claims that currently exist against Defendant Owyhee County are Plaintiffs' First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Causes of Action -- breach of contract; wrongful discharge in violation of public policy; breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing; breach of implied contract of employment; breach of implied contract provision not to terminate without just cause; 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - free speech; 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - due process; intentional infliction of emotional distress (Plaintiff Walker); negligent infliction of emotional distress (Plaintiff Walker); constructive discharge (Plaintiff Olson); and public disclosure of private facts.

With all this in mind, the Court understands Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants to be represented by the following matrix:

Causes of Action

Defendant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Sheriff Daryl Crandall T T Owyhee County Sheriff's Office Owyhee County T T T T T T T T T T T

In turn, following oral argument, the Court understands that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment addresses each of these claims

B. Motion for Summary Judgment: Standard of Review

Summary judgment is used "to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

However, the evidence, including all reasonable inferences which may be drawn therefrom, must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (see id. at 255) and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir. 2000).

This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show "by [its] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

However, the Court is "not required to comb through the record to find some reason to deny a motion for summary judgment." Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1029 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Forsberg v. Pac. Northwest Bell Tel. Co., 840 F.2d 1409, 1418 (9th Cir. 1988)). Instead, the "party opposing summary judgment must direct [the Court's] attention to specific triable facts." Southern California Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003). A statement in a brief, ...


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