United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No.
37) of Defendant David Hooten, seeking judgment on the 42
U.S.C. § 1983 claim asserted by Plaintiff Phillip
Malone. Plaintiff Malone has filed a Response (Doc. No. 51),
to which Defendant Hooten has replied (Doc. No. 59). Also
before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No.
36) filed by Defendant Board of County Commissioners of
Oklahoma County (“Board”), to which Plaintiff
Malone and the other plaintiffs in this action have jointly
responded (Doc. No. 49) and Defendant Board has replied (Doc.
Court previously summarized the factual landscape of this
Each plaintiff was an at-will employee and [with the
exception of Ms. Epps] had been hired by Carolyn Caudill, the
former County Clerk for Oklahoma County, to work in the
Oklahoma County Clerk's Office (“Clerk's
Office”). Caudill was first elected in 1996; in March
2016, she announced she would seek a sixth term as County
Clerk. The plaintiffs were volunteer workers for, and
supporters of, Caudill's re-election campaign . . . .
[Defendant David Hooten] defeated Caudill in August 2016 in a
runoff primary election and became the Republican Party
candidate for County Clerk. In November 2016, he defeated
Chris Powell in the general election and was sworn in as
County Clerk on January 3, 2017.
Order of May 30, 2018 (Doc. No. 21) at 4-5 (footnote
omitted). The plaintiffs in this action were terminated by
Defendant Hooten in January and February 2017. Id.
at 5; Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 15) ¶ 21; Answer (Doc. No.
24) ¶ 10.
Malone and the other plaintiffs in this action claim that
they were improperly terminated from their jobs as
retaliation for the exercise of their right to freedom of
speech under the First Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff
Malone alleges that shortly after Defendant Hooten took
office, Hooten terminated Malone because he had supported
Caudill and had volunteered for Caudill's campaign.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is a means of testing in advance of trial whether
the available evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find
in favor of the party asserting a claim. The Court must grant
summary judgment when “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). “An
issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence
on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). “An
issue of fact is ‘material' if under the
substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of
the claim.” Id.
that moves for summary judgment has the burden of showing
that the undisputed material facts require judgment as a
matter of law in its favor. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the movant carries
this initial burden, the nonmovant must then “go beyond
the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that
would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from
which a rational trier of fact could find for the
nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671 (quoting
prior version of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see also LCvR
56.1(c). The Court must then determine “whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).
Parties may establish the existence or nonexistence of a
material disputed fact by:
• citing to “depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials” in the record; or
• demonstrating “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)(A)-(B). While the Court views the
evidence and the inferences drawn from the record in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, see
Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Pittsburg, Inc. v.
PepsiCo, Inc., 431 F.3d 1241, 1255 (10th Cir. 2005),
“[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [nonmovant's] position will be
insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier of
fact] could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].”
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.
Public Employee First Amendment Retaliation Claims
elements of a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff “must
allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution
and laws of the United States” and “must show
that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting
under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Here, there is no question that Defendant
Hooten acted under color of state law in terminating
Clerk's Office employees. See id. at 49
(“[G]enerally, a public employee acts under color of
state law . . . while exercising his responsibilities
pursuant to state law.”). Defendant Hooten challenges
whether Plaintiff can show that, in doing so, Hooten
“‘subject[ed]” Plaintiff, “or
cause[d] [Plaintiff] to be subjected, ” “to a
deprivation of [his] lawful rights.” Porro v.
Barnes, 624 F.3d 1322, 1327 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
government employee “does not relinquish First
Amendment rights to comment on matters of public interest by
virtue of government employment.” Connick v.
Mvers, 461 U.S. 138, 140 (1983). “Rather, the
First Amendment protects a public employee's right, in
certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing
matters of public concern.” Garcetti v.
Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006). “However, the
interests of public employees in commenting on matters of
public concern must be balanced with the employer's
interests in promoting the efficiency of the public ...