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Gatti v. Smith

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 18, 2018

ROBERT GATTI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RANDY L. SMITH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GEORGE J. LIMBERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The above case is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Randy L. Smith (“Defendant Smith”) and the Office of the Trumbull County Engineer (“Defendant Engineer's Office”) (collectively “Defendants”). ECF Dkt. #56. For the following reasons, this Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment and DISMISSES in its entirety the second amended complaint of Plaintiffs Robert Gatti (“Plaintiff Gatti”), Christopher Charnas (“Plaintiff Charnas”), Kendall Lee Stauffer (“Plaintiff Stauffer”), Timothy Davis (“Plaintiff Davis”), and Jason Loomis (“Plaintiff Loomis”) WITH PREJUDICE. Id.

         1. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 7, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint alleging that at all times material to the complaint, they were employees of Defendant Engineer's Office. ECF Dkt. #8 at 2. Plaintiffs averred that they were suing Defendant Smith in his individual and official capacities as the County Engineer of Trumbull County, Ohio. Id. at 3. They alleged that Defendant Smith was the chief policy-maker for Defendant Engineer's Office and acting within the scope of his employment at all times relevant to the complaint. Id.

         In Count One of the second amended complaint, Plaintiffs sue Defendant Smith in his individual capacity, alleging that he, acting under the color of state law, initiated and imposedthe following adverse actions against them based upon his open animus toward those employeeswho supported or associated with his political opponents and/or those who engaged in union activities:

a. On the job harassment (Stauffer, Davis, Loomis, Gatti),
b. Termination (Stauffer, Charnas),
c. Unwarranted civil lawsuit (Gatti),
d. Threats relating to employment (Gatti, Stauffer),
e. Unwarranted disciplinary actions (Gatti, Davis, Stauffer);
f. Discriminatory job assignments (Gatti, Stauffer, Charnas)
g. Posting a list of purported union sympathizers in the workplace and taking adverse employment actions against each person named on that list (All Plaintiffs)
h. Generally disparate job treatment (All Plaintiffs).

ECF Dkt. #8 at 4. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Smith's actions had a chilling effect on their clearly established rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and equal protection under the law. Id. at 4-5.

         In Count Two of their second amended complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Engineer's Office is liable because Defendant Smith was its chief policy-maker and consistently attacked the First Amendment rights of Plaintiffs, which constitutes the official policy and practice of Defendant Engineer's Office. ECF Dkt. #8 at 6.

         Each Plaintiff requests compensatory damages in the amount of $1.5 million, punitive damages of $1.5 million, attorney fees, and any other relief deemed just. ECF Dkt. #8 at 6-7.

         On October 25, 2016, the parties consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction. ECF Dkt.#24.

         On October 2, 2017, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. ECF Dkt. #56. On November 1, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a response to the motion for summary judgment. ECF Dkt. #59. On November 16, 2017, Defendants filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #61.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part that the Court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, Advisory Committee Notes ("The standard for granting summary judgment remains unchanged" despite 2010 amendments to Rule 56). Rule 56(c)(1) outlines the procedures for supporting or opposing a motion for summary judgment, stating that:

(1) Supporting Factual Positions. A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). "The court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Biegas v. Quickway Carriers, Inc., 573 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2009). Rule 56(c)(3) provides that the Court need only consider cited materials in determining a motion for summary judgment, although the Court may consider other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing there exists no genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.., 475 U.S. at 587. If the moving party meets his burden, the nonmoving party must take affirmative steps to avoid the entry of a summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). To refute such a showing, the nonmoving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material, factual dispute. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough; the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A court may grant summary judgment "only if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed under subdivision (e)(2)- show that the movant is entitled to it." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), Advisory Committee Note, 2010 Amendment.

         B. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs assert that they were subjected to adverse employment actions by Defendant Smith in retaliation for their political support of his opponent and their involvement in the union. ECF Dkt. #59 at 5. In order to succeed on a First Amendment retaliation claim, each Plaintiff in the instant case must present a prima facie case of retaliation by showing: “(1) he engaged in constitutionally protected speech or conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against him that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; (3) there is a casual connection between elements one and two - that is, the adverse action was motivated at least in part by his protected conduct.” Dye v. Office of the Racing Comm'n, 702 F.3d 286, 294 (6th Cir. 2012), quoting Scarbrough v. Morgan Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 470 F.3d 250, 255 (6th Cir. 2006). If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the employer to show “by a preponderance of the evidence that the employment decision would have been the same absent the protected conduct.” Benison v. Ross, 765 F.3d 649, 658 (6th Cir. 2014), quoting Dye, 702 F.3d at 294 (quoting Eckerman v. Tenn. Dep't of Safety, 636 F.3d 202, 208 (6th Cir.2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). After this burden shift, the Court should grant summary judgment if, “in light of the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, no reasonable juror could fail to return a verdict for the defendant.” Benison, 765 F.3d at 658, quoting Dye, 702 F.3d at 294-295.

         In the instant case, Defendants apparently concede that Plaintiffs meet the first element of the prima facie case as they do not present any argument as to whether Plaintiffs were engaged in political support or association or such conduct through union activity. Rather, Defendants focus on the latter two elements, contending that Plaintiffs fail to establish sufficiently adverse employment actions and they fail to provide any evidence that the alleged retaliatory acts were causally connected to their protected activities. ECF Dkt. #56 at 6-30.

         1. Supervisors' Statements about “Hit ...


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