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Dupree v. City of Monroe

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

January 31, 2017

THOMAS DUPREE, ALARIC COLEMAN AND JOSEPH SMITH
v.
CITY OF MONROE, QUINTEN D. HOLMES, SR., AND JAMES E. MAYO

          HAYES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Thomas Dupree (“Dupree”), Alaric Coleman (“Coleman”), and Joseph Smith (“Smith”) are police officers employed by Defendant the City of Monroe (“the City”). They bring this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City; Police Chief Quinten D. Holmes, Sr. (“Holmes”), in his individual and official capacities; and Mayor Jamie Mayo (“Mayo”) in his official capacity, [1] contending that Defendants' sick leave policy for police officers violates their federal constitutional rights because it prohibits the exercise of their right to travel, freedom of association, and right to privacy; violates their right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; constitutes punishment without due process of law; and deprives them of equal protection under the law.

         Plaintiffs also invoked the supplemental jurisdiction of the Court over state law claims that Defendants have violated Article VI, § 5 of the Louisiana Constitution because the sick leave policy conflicts with the state general law (1) under La. Rev. Stat. § 33:2214 by burdening the exercise of Plaintiffs' right to 52 weeks of paid sick leave, so as to make the leave a punishment; (2) under La. Rev. Stat. §23:1221 by denying Plaintiffs the opportunity to obtain restricted employment and collect supplemental earnings benefits; (3) under La. Rev. Stat. § 23:1226 by denying the benefit of vocational rehabilitation; (4) by failing to allow visits to or efforts to secure an attorney for representation; (5) by failing to provide for appearances at mediation and hearings in workers' compensation litigation; (6) by interfering with the jurisdiction of the workers' compensation judge under La. Rev. Stat. 23:1310.3(E); (7) by burdening police workers' compensation claimants with requirements not authorized or required by the workers' compensation law and, specifically, with La. Rev. Stat. §§ 23:1034 & 23:1034.1; and (8) by requiring workers' compensation claimants to comply with an onerous set of requirements that are not required of other workers' compensation claimants.

         Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendants contend that there is a rational basis for the sick leave policy, that Plaintiffs' constitutional rights have not been violated, that Plaintiffs' demand for wages implicates and is foreclosed by the Fair Labor Standards Act, that the sick leave policy does not violate state law, and that Holmes is entitled to qualified immunity.

         Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 9] on all of Plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 11] on the issue of liability, moving the Court to find that the sick leave policy is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Plaintiffs further move the Court for judgment as a matter of law on its request for a permanent injunction. The two motions have been fully briefed.

         For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED. Plaintiffs' claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In Louisiana, police officers subject to civil service laws are guaranteed 52 weeks of sick leave at full pay, regardless of whether they developed an injury or illness while on or off the job. See La. Rev. Stat. 33:2214(B). If the officer is injured while on the job, his or her pay by the City is off-set by the 2/3 pay received as workers' compensation benefits. See La. Rev. Stat. 33:2214(B). On November 15, 2013, the Monroe Police Department (“MPD”) adopted and made effective General Order 22.2.1, which combined the different leave programs that police officers previously used. The “Sick Leave and Worker's Compensation” section of General Order 22.2.1 provides the sick leave policy (“the Policy”) which Plaintiffs challenge. [Doc. No. 9, Exh. 6, General Order 22.2.1(C)]. The stated “purpose” of the Policy “is to set forth guidelines concerning employee conduct while on paid leave, injured on duty leave or disability leave.” Id. at p. 00719.[2" name="FN2" id="FN2">2] The Policy then details guidelines over several pages in the General Order.

         Although Plaintiffs challenge the Policy on its face and as applied, they do not object to all provisions of the Policy. Instead, they challenge subsections §2(a), § 5(d)-(f) and § 7, which provide as follows:

2. Nothing in this directive is intended to punish any employee, to deprive them of their constitutional rights or freedoms, or interfere with activities or exercises prescribed by a physician.
a. Requests for exemption from this policy may be made to the Chief of Police through the employee's chain of command within 14 days of the employee knowing that they [sic] will be on extended sick leave.
5. Conduct While on Sick Leave
d. Members who notify the Department of their inability to report to work due to illness or injury shall remain at their residence or location where they have reported themselves to be recovering during the sick leave period. The employee will be permitted to engage in the following activities: . . .
(1) To obtain medical attention or treatment at their physician's office, hospital or clinic . . . .
(2) To purchase medications prescribed by their physician.
(3) To purchase groceries for meals at their residence or place of confinement.
(4) To attend church.
(5) To vote.
(6) To attend the funeral of any relative or close friend.
(7) To engage in any limited activity specifically prescribed by an attending physician. (ie. [sic] Physical therapy)[.]
e. In any event, when employees intend to be away from their residence or recovery location, they shall notify their Division Commander or her/her designee . . . .
(1) The location they are going to;
(2) A telephone number at the location where they can be contacted, if appropriate;
(3) The reason for their going to that location;
(4) The anticipated length of absence from their residence or location of recovery;
(5) The members shall notify the Division Commander of their return to their residence or recovery location.
f. A member shall not take an extended or out-of-town trip while on paid leave without prior knowledge and permission of the Chief of Police. Requests for out of town travel will be in writing, addressed to the Division Commander. The Division Commander shall notify the Chief of Police of any such request . . . .
7. Residence Checks
a. The purpose of this regulation is to set forth the department's policy regarding telephone contact and residence checks of members on any sick leave . . .
b. The Department will establish telephone or personal contact with a member who has reported him/herself ill or injured and incapable of reporting for duty. The purpose of the interaction is to determine if the member is receiving adequate medical attention and to ensure general compliance with department regulations.
c. The Department will periodically call and/or visit those members on extended leave due to serious illness or injury to assess their continued w[e]ll being by inquiring about their medical status, emotional health and offering any appropriate support and services available through departmental programs . . . .
d. Unless specified otherwise by a Division Commander or higher authority, the following guidelines govern residence calls and checks concerning any sick leave up to seven (7) consecutive days. . . .
(1) A supervisor will, sometime during the period of time the member has reported him/herself unable to work due to illness or injury, either contact the member via telephone at the number provided by the member or visit the location where the member has reported him/herself to be recovering . . .
(2) [T]he frequency of calls/visits will depend to a large extent on the severity of the reported illness or injury, whether the department is in possession of sufficient medical documentation that attests to the individual's condition and receipt of adequate medical attention, and the member's history with respect to use of sick leave.
(3) Telephone calls or visits by a supervisor will be documented by the supervisor . . . .
(4) Should it be suspected or determined that a member is not in compliance with regulations governing conduct permitted while on sick leave, etc., the supervisor making the check shall take appropriate action as dictated by the situation and required by the policy . . . .
e. The Division Commander will determine the extent of residence and/or telephone checks during and [sic] extended leave of absence that is in excess of seven (7) consecutive days . . . .

Id. at pp. 00719, 00721. According to Defendants, the Policy was designed to ensure that police officers do not abuse sick leave or malinger while on sick leave, to reduce overtime (of the police officers having to cover for those on sick leave), and to return injured or ill officers to duty as quickly as possible. Before and during its implementation, the MPD made the Policy available to officers on MPD computers, which are accessible to all police officers.

         During their employment with the City, Dupree, Coleman, and Smith each took sick leave under the policy applicable to them.

         Dupree began his career with MPD in 1991 as a reserve officer. He was hired by the City as a full-time active officer in 1995 and worked in several divisions, including road patrol. On February 4, 2013, Dupree suffered a back injury while on the job. As a result of this injury, Dupree could not perform the normal duties of his position, such as running, making arrests, or other physically demanding tasks. Dupree filed a workers' compensation claim, and he was placed on light duty. On March 11, 2014, Chief Holmes placed Dupree on sick leave under the Policy and applied its restrictions and reporting requirements. Dupree remained on sick leave for one (1) year and three months, until his retirement on June 1, 2015, because of his back injury. At the time of the filing of the parties' motions, Dupree had an on-going workers' compensation claim.

         While under these restrictions, Dupree received a write up for having lunch at Piccadilly restaurant with his wife after a medical appointment. Additionally, he was unable to have dinner after church with family members, to attend his grandchildren's extracurricular school and sports activities and birthday parties, to visit relatives out of state, and to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with his wife. While he sought a waiver once and was denied in part, Dupree never sought any other waivers. He admittedly ignored the restrictions on other occasions, attending his grandchildren's graduation and filling his wife's vehicle up with gas.

         Coleman began his career with MPD as a police officer in the Road Patrol Division in February 2009. At the time of his injury, he was working twelve-hour shifts from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. In November 2013, while on duty, Coleman was playing an intramural basketball game against the Monroe Fire Department and injured his groin. Coleman filed a workers' compensation claim and was placed on sick leave. In March 2014, Chief Holmes began applying the Policy restrictions and reporting requirements to Coleman. Coleman remained on sick leave until September 15, 2014. He remained under the Policy until October or November 2014.[3]

         While under the Policy restrictions, although released to light duty, Coleman was not allowed to return to work because MPD had no light duty positions available. He was unable to attend birthday and anniversary celebrations, to take his children to the movies, and to participate in family summer activities. He was written up after Defendants learned that he had traveled to Baton Rouge without permission to interview for a job. Finally, Coleman was not allowed to return to work for one to two months after his physician released him, but remained on administrative leave with pay.

         Smith began his career with MPD as a police officer on March 16, 1992. Prior to his injury, Smith was promoted to Corporal. He was injured on the job on January 11, 2011, but continued working. He was promoted to Sergeant in 2012. However, in September 2013, Chief Holmes placed Smith on light duty. On October 23, 2013, Smith took workers' compensation leave. At that time, Chief Holmes placed him on sick leave to run concurrently with his workers' compensation leave. Chief Holmes did not begin applying the Policy's restrictions and reporting requirements to Smith until March 11, 2014. After he exhausted his statutory sick leave at full pay, Smith continued to receive workers' compensation pay until October 2015 when he returned to duty as a Sergeant in the Road Patrol Division. Smith admits that he was retained after the time the City had the right to terminate his employment. He remained under the Policy's restrictions and reporting requirements until he returned to duty.

         While under the Policy restrictions, Smith, who is single, asserts that he could not date. Additionally, he was denied permission to visit the homes of his immediate family who live in the area, to work out at a local gym, and to travel to Tennessee to visit his mother and step-father, who was ill. However, Smith ignored the restrictions, taking a vacation to Mexico with a female companion.

         On February 17, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this Court. After discovery was complete, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 9], and Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 11]. The motions have been fully briefed, and the Court is now prepared to rule.

         II. ...


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