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Gibson v. Mechanicsburg Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

June 2, 2017

MICHAEL GIBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MECHANICSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

         DECISION AND ENTRY OVERRULING PLAINTIFF MICHAEL GIBSON'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON HIS CLAIM THAT DEFENDANT FAILED TO GIVE HIM DUE PROCESS (DOC. #19); OVERRULING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS RE: SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE (DOC. #20); SUSTAINING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO ALL CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS MECHANICSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT AND VILLAGE OF MECHANICSBURG (DOC. #21); DISMISSING COUNTS I AND III WITH PREJUDICE; DISMISSING COUNT II WITHOUT PREJUDICE; OVERRULING AS MOOT DEFENDANTS MECHANICSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT AND VILLAGE OF MECHANICSBURG'S MOTION IN LIMINE (DOC. #26); JUDGMENT TO ENTER IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF; TERMINATION ENTRY

          WALTER H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Following termination from his position as a police officer, Plaintiff Michael Gibson filed suit against the Mechanicsburg Police Department and the Village of Mechanicsburg, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and/or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112, and, in addition, denial of his federal and state due process rights.

         This matter is currently before the Court on four motions: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on his Due Process Claims, Doc. #19; (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions Re: Spoliation of Evidence, Doc. #20; (3) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims, Doc. #21; and (4) Defendants Mechanicsburg Police Department's and Village of Mechanicsburg's Motion in Limine, Doc. #26.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         In 2000, Michael Gibson began working part-time as a police officer for the Village of Mechanicsburg. Around 2005, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He checks his blood sugar up to three times a day, and controls his diabetes with diet, exercise and injectable insulin. Doc. #16-1, PageID#82-83. In 2013, he was hired by the Village on a full-time basis. Id. at PageID#70. Gibson typically worked the third shift, midnight until 8:00 a.m. Id. at PageID#72-73.

         In January of 2014, John Alexander, previously a patrol officer for the Village, was appointed Police Chief. Gibson testified that Alexander had worked with him on many occasions, and knew that he was diabetic. Id. at PageID#79; Doc. #19-3, PageID#408. Alexander, however, does not recall knowing that Gibson was a diabetic. Doc. #18-1, PageID#351.

         Shortly after Alexander took over as Chief, he issued a policy, effective January 24, 2014, prohibiting officers from leaving the Village limits while they were on duty unless an enumerated exception applied. Id. at PageID#313; Doc.#18-3, PageID#363. Alexander instituted the policy because he had heard from several citizens that Mechanicsburg police cruisers had been spotted outside the Village limits. Doc. #18-1, PageID#314. The Village had two police cruisers, but typically only one officer was on duty at a time. Id. at PageID##316-1 7. It was important that the officer on duty stay within the Village limits so that he or she could respond quickly to calls for assistance. Id. at PageID#31 6.

         After Chief Alexander issued this new policy, Gibson told him that he might occasionally need to leave the Village limits to go home to get an insulin shot. Chief Alexander allegedly told him to "do what you've got to do." Gibson interpreted this statement to mean that, if he did leave the Village limits while on duty, he would probably be in trouble. Doc. #16-1, PageID#88-89. Alexander does not recall this conversation. Doc. #18-1, PageID#323-24.

         Thereafter, Chief Alexander had a GPS device placed on Gibson's cruiser. Doc. #18-1, PageID#321. No officer other than Gibson was tracked, because Alexander had not received complaints about any other officer leaving the Village limits while on duty. Id. at PageID##322-23. According to the GPS device, Gibson left the Village limits without permission on February 6th, 11th, 12th, and 14th. Id. at PageID#321.

         On February 18, 2014, Chief Alexander placed Gibson on paid administrative leave, and gave him a Notice of Predisciplinary Conference, scheduled for February 20, 2014. Doc. #16-1, PageID#92. That Notice read as follows:

Alleged Offense: Incompetence, gross neglect of duty, insubordination, failure to obey direct orders, and violation of the Village's Personnel Policy Manual.
Summary of Charges: On January 27, 2014 you were informed about the Village Policy prohibiting officers from leaving the Village jurisdiction while on duty. On February 6, 11, 12, and 14 of 2014 you left the Village in violation of policy and direct order. During several shifts you recklessly operated your vehicle at excessive speeds. You have falsified records through the submission of inaccurate daily logs. You were ordered to write-up an officer and failed to do so. You failed to attend a Mechanicsburg Police Department staff meeting as ordered. On or about January 11, 2014 you were responsible for transporting to the Tri-County Jail a prisoner who had been arrested for felonious assault. Before the Tri-County Officer could take possession of the prisoner you began uncuffing him. The Officer asked you to leave the cuffs on so he could do a proper pat-down. You replied, "if they want to play games I will play games" and the Officer was forced to transport the prisoner uncuffed into the booking area.
You have the right to (1) appear at the conference to present a statement or explanation for your actions; (2) appear at the conference with your chosen representative; or (3) elect in writing to waive your opportunity to have a predisciplinary conference by signing the attached form and returning it to the undersigned. Failure to respond or respond truthfully during the conference may result in disciplinary action.
At the conference you may present an explanation regarding the allegation(s) which explain whether or not the alleged misconduct occurred. You may be represented by any person you choose. No conference will be delayed more than 24 hours to enable your representative to attend.
A written report will be prepared by the person who conducts the conference concluding whether or not the alleged misconduct occurred. A copy of this report will be provided to you within five (5) workdays following its preparation if you so request.

Doc. #19-3, PageID#411.

         Gibson appeared at the conference on February 20, 2014, and was questioned for approximately one hour by the Village's human resources consultant, Anthony Esposito. Id. at PageID#408.

         That same day, at Gibson's request, the Village Administrator, April Huggins-Davis, sent Gibson a copy of Section 8.04 of the Village's Policy and Procedure Manual, setting forth grievance procedures, and a copy of the grievance form. Id. at PageID##409, 419. According to the instructions on the grievance form, Gibson had to file the form with his immediate supervisor within five working days of the incident giving rise to the grievance. If the grievance was denied, it could be appealed to the Mayor within five working days. If denied by the Mayor, it could be appealed to the Village Council within another five working days. Id. at PageID##420-21.

         On February 21, 2014, Gibson was given another Notice of a Predisciplinary Conference to be held on February 24, 2014. Id. at PageID#413. This Notice raised additional allegations of misconduct:

Alleged Offense: Incompetence, gross neglect of duty, and violation of the Village's Personnel Policy Manual.
Summary of Charges: You have told at least two different Village employees that you drink alcohol and drive. On one particular occasion you stated that you could drink 18 beers and still be able to drive home.

Id. The Notice again informed Gibson of his right to appear, on his own or with a representative, to present an explanation for the allegations. Id.

         Gibson appeared on February 24, 2014, and was questioned by Esposito for approximately 30 minutes. At the end of the hearing, Esposito offered Gibson an opportunity to resign. Id. at PageID#408. On February 25, 2014, Esposito submitted a report to Chief Alexander. He found that all allegations were substantiated, except for the allegation that Gibson had falsified daily activity logs. "Given the multitude and seriousness of the various acts of misconduct, " Esposito recommended that Gibson's employment be terminated. Id. at PageID##414-18.

         On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Chief Alexander notified Gibson that he was recommending to Mayor Gregg Kimball that Gibson be terminated for insubordination, gross neglect of duty, incompetence, failure to obey direct orders, falsification of records, and violation of Village policies. Doc. #16-2, PageID#228. On February 26, 2014, Mayor Kimball officially terminated Gibson's employment. Id. at PageID#229. Gibson received Kimball's letter on February 27, 2014. Doc. #19-3, PageID#409.

         On March 3, 2014, Gibson submitted a grievance form to Chief Alexander, challenging his termination. In an attached written statement, Gibson disputed several of Esposito's findings, and argued why he should not be discharged. Doc. #16-2, PageID##230-33. The same day, Gibson received notice that Chief Alexander and Mayor Kimball had both denied the grievance. Id. at PageID##230-31. On March 7, 2014, Gibson appealed the grievance to the Village Council. Doc. #19-3, PageID#410.

         On March 18, 2014, the Village Solicitor sent Gibson a letter informing him that the Village Council had voted to deny the appeal as untimely. It explained that Ohio Revised Code § 737.19(B) required removal of a police officer to be appealed within 5 days from the date of the Mayor's decision. The Village deemed the Mayor's removal decision to have been rendered not on March 3, 2014, when the Mayor denied Gibson's grievance, but on February 27, 2014, when Gibson received Mayor Kimball's notice that he was terminated. Gibson's appeal was not filed until March 7, 2014, and was, therefore, untimely. Id. at PageID#425-26.

         On April 30, 2014, Gibson filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission ("EEOC"). Id. at PageID#410. On August 31, 2015, the EEOC issued a ...


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