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Kerbs v. Madison County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 5, 2014

NATHAN KERBS and HOLLY KERBS, husband and wife, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON COUNTY, IDAHO and the MADISON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, a political subdivision of Madison County, Idaho, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14) and Motion to Strike (Dkt. 20). Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Nathan Kerbs and Holly Kerbs sued Madison County and the Madison County Sheriff's Department alleging Madison County violated Nathan Kerbs' substantive due process right when his employment was terminated in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Plaintiffs also allege state law claims against Madison County for breach of contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent training and supervision. Holly Kerbs claims she suffered from "mental anguish and a loss of companionship, society and comfort" with her husband as result of each cause of action.

Mr. Kerbs began working for the Madison County Sheriff's Department on February 5, 2007. Mr. Kerbs was provided a copy of the Madison County Personnel Policy ("MMPP"). (Aff. of Troy Evans, Dkt. 14-4, Ex. A). The MMPP states it is not a contract and the manual cannot create a contract for employment unless there is a contract signed in accordance with proper procedures and contains the name of the employee who would be benefitted by the contract. Id. Mr. Kerbs admits he read the MMPP. Mr. Kerbs did not produce a written contract of employment during discovery.

Mr. Kerbs satisfactorily completed his one year probationary period and Madison County Sheriff Roy Klingler testified that after one year, it is his understanding an employee can only be terminated for cause.

The MMPP provides for employee discipline procedures and principles which includes suspension with or without pay and dismissal. The discipline procedures also provide for the right to an appeal hearing. (Dkt. 14-4, Ex. A, pp. 22-23). The MMPP also provides for voluntary resignations if made in writing. (Id. at p.24).

On August 7, 2010, Mr. Kerbs was involved in an incident in Jefferson County, Idaho. Mr. Kerbs was off duty and had been drinking. Mr. Kerbs' father was involved in an altercation which Mr. Kerbs did not witness, but law enforcement was called to the scene. Mr. Kerbs was interviewed by the investigating officers of the Rigby Police Department and identified himself as a Madison County detective. It is undisputed from the audio and video evidence of the incident as wells as Mr. Kerbs' deposition testimony that Mr. Kerbs made some derogatory remarks about the Rigby Police Department, used vulgar language and stated the Rigby Police Chief was corrupt. The investigating officers appeared to accuse Mr. Kerbs of lying. It is also undisputed that Mr. Kerbs was not charged with any unlawful conduct and was allowed to leave the scene of the incident after he had been interviewed. Mr. Kerbs' father was cited for his role in the altercation.

Mr. Kerbs' supervisor, Captain Travis Williams, was informed of the incident by someone from the Rigby Police Department. Captain Williams discussed the matter with Chief Deputy Ryan Kaufman who instructed Captain Williams to compile reports and evidence related to the incident. Captain Williams compiled the information and wrote a memorandum on August 23, 2010 finding that Mr. Kerbs had not witnessed the altercation and had not lied to investigating officers implying there was no malfeasance on the part of Mr. Kerbs. (Aff. of Travis Williams, Dkt. 17, Ex. B). Williams recommended Mr. Kerbs be counseled about being a bar patron and when it is appropriate to identify himself as a police officer as his actions off duty represent the Madison County Sheriff's Office. Id. The memorandum does not discuss any derogatory statements about the Rigby Police Department or the Rigby Chief of Police. Chief Deputy Kaufman and Sheriff Klingler did not agree with all the conclusions in Williams' August 23, 2010 memo.

On August 26, 2010, Mr. Kerbs received a Personal and Confidential memorandum from Sheriff Klingler notifying him that he was suspended with pay pending an investigation relating to conduct unbecoming an officer, off-duty police action, use of alcohol and drugs and MMPP Rules of Employee Conduct Section A and A. 8.[1] (Aff. of Blake Hall, Dkt. 14-5, including excerpts of Kerbs' deposition and deposition exhibit 4 which is the memo and related policy sections). The memo indicates if the investigation indicated personnel action was warranted Mr. Kerbs would be given an opportunity to present a response prior to a final decision being made. Id. Finally, the memorandum indicates if Mr. Kerbs did not accept the suspension with pay, but preferred to resign, such resignation needed to be in writing. Id.

On August 31, 2010, Mr. Kerbs was provided with Sheriff Klingler's memo which gave notice of termination as the proposed personnel action. ( Id., Kerbs' deposition exhibit 5). The memo indicates Sheriff Klingler reviewed and relied upon all the video, audio and police reports related to the incident. Id. The memo also references the sections of the policies the Sheriff believes were violated. Id. The memo provided a time frame for Mr. Kerbs to submit a response. Id.

Plaintiff requested a hearing and a hearing was set for September 7, 2010. Present at the hearing were Sheriff Klingler, Chief Deputy Kaufman and Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Troy Evans. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. Plaintiff was given the option to present evidence but did not. Following the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel requested Mr. Kerbs be given the opportunity to resign in the event the Sheriff found the allegations warranted termination of Mr. Kerb's employment.

On September 27, 2010, Troy Evans sent a letter to Mr. Kerbs' counsel informing Mr. Kerbs that the Sheriff intended to make his final written decision on September 29, 2010 so if he wanted to resign, it needed to be received by September 28, 2010. (Dkt. 14-4, p.34). The letter did not indicate what the Sheriff's final decision would be. Id.

Before Sheriff Klingler entered his written decision, Mr. Kerbs provided the Sheriff with a Notice of Resignation effective October 1, 2010. (Dkt. 14-5, Kerbs' Deposition Exhibit 6). Sheriff Klingler accepted the resignation by letter to Mr. Kerbs on September 29, 2010. ( Id., Exhibit 7). No final written decision was entered by Sheriff Klingler regarding the proposed termination.

Mr. Kerbs' claims he has been unable to find new law enforcement employment. However, there is no evidence in the record that any employee of Madison County publicly disclosed the confidential personnel proceedings involving Mr. Kerbs to any third party. Mr. Kerbs' claims in his affidavit he applied for work with St. Anthony's and was told they had heard what happened and could not hire him. Defendants object to this statement as being hearsay and argue that portion of the affidavit should be stricken.

Mr. Kerbs claims his substantive due process rights were violated as the Madison County Sheriff's Office Policy Manuel on Personnel Complaint Procedures, Section 1020, was not complied with as no investigation was completed. Sheriff Klingler states in his affidavit the Section 1020.1 of the Madison County Sheriff's Office Policy Manual is not applicable to the current situation as it is the policy used for complaints from the public about an officer's conduct, not a supervisor's investigation of conduct pursuant to the MMPP. (Aff. of Roy Klingler, Dkt. 19-1). There was no complaint filed against Mr. Kerbs by a member of the public. Alternatively, the Sheriff maintains an investigation was completed and the MMPP does not require an employee be interviewed prior to personnel discipline occurring.

Mr. Kerbs claims he was not given the report from the investigation, only the memo of proposed action. Madison County responds evidence relied on by the Sheriff was identified and the nature of the charges were set forth in the August 31, 2010 memo. It is unclear from the record whether or not Mr. Kerbs requested a copy of the audio, video and police reports of the August 7, 2010 incident. It is undisputed that Mr. ...


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