United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
PATRICK ALAN BENFIELD, ET AL.
JOE MAGEE, ET AL.
ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE DISTRICT JUDGE.
Benfield ("Benfield") and Brian Warren
("Warren") were paramedics with the Desoto Parish
Emergency Medical Service ("EMS") where Joe Magee
("Magee") was the administrator. [Record Document 1
at 2-3]. Magee fired Benfield and Warren after the latter
wrote a letter critical of the management of the Desoto
Parish EMS to a member of the Desoto Parish Police Jury.
[Id. at 5, 7]. Plaintiffs filed this 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 action alleging violations of their free speech
rights and of Benfield's right of free association.
[Id. at 10-11]. Benfield also asserted a claim under
Louisiana's whistleblower statute. [Id. at 11].
Magee responded with the instant motion to which the parties
have filed an opposition and a reply. [Record Documents 5,
14, and 17]. Benfield has abandoned his Louisiana
whistleblower claim, and Magee is entitled to qualified
immunity on Benfield's free association claim; the motion
is GRANTED as to these claims. Because
Magee's motion does not address Benfield's free
speech claim, the motion is DENIED as to
that claim. The motion is also DENIED as to
Warren's free speech claim because the facts alleged
establish that his letter was protected speech.
Louisiana, paramedics must complete annual training and
biennial recertification, the records of which are sent to
the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians
("NREMT"). [Record Document 1 at 3]. The
recertification forms include a box for the medical director
to check, indicating his approval of the training hours
completed. [Id. at 4]. Allegedly at Magee's
instruction, Warren would check this box when completing the
NREMT forms without first receiving approval from Joseph
Farquhar ("Farquhar"), the medical director.
[Id. at 4, 6]. Benfield was among the employees on
whose NREMT forms Warren checked off Farquhar's approval,
but Benfield did not personally participate in Warren's
checking off Farquhar's approval. [Id. at 6-7].
2015, Warren sent a letter to Jimbo Davlin
("Davlin"), a member of the Desoto Parish Police
Jury (the "Davlin Letter"). [Id. at 5].
The letter criticized practices at the Desoto Parish EMS and
recommended multiple changes, including replacing certain
administrators. [Record Document 1-2]. Allegedly, Magee then
retaliated against Warren. [Record Document 1 at 5].
months later, the new co-medical director of the Desoto
Parish EMS asked Warren how he and Benfield had become
recertified. [Id. at 6]. Warren explained that, per
longstanding practice, he had checked the box on the NREMT
forms indicating Farquhar's approval of the training
hours. [Id.]. A week and a half later, Magee
allegedly told Warren to quit "before something bad
happened." [Id.]. Around the same time, Magee
asked Benfield to attest that Magee had not authorized Warren
indicate Farquhar's approval on the NREMT forms.
[Id. at 6-7]. Benfield refused. [Id. at 7].
Magee then terminated both men for falsifying records.
[Id. at 7-8].
Law and Analysis
Motion to Dismiss Standard
order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a
plaintiffs complaint must "state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In determining whether
the plaintiff has stated a plausible claim, the court must
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to her,
see In re Great Lakes Dredge &Dock Co. ULC, 624
F.3d 201, 210 (5 th Cir. 2010), and accept as true all
well-pleaded factual allegations, see Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555. However, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, the
Court does not have to accept as true "conclusory
allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal
conclusions." Plotkin v. IP Axess Inc, 407 F.3d
690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Southland Sec. Corp. v.
INS pire Ins. Sols, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 361 (5th Cir.
argues that Warren's First Amendment claim fails because
he did not speak on a matter of public concern and because he
insufficiently alleged a causal connection between the Davlin
Letter and his termination nineteen months later. [Record
Document 5-1 at 10-15]. Warren contends that he spoke on a
matter of public concern because the Davlin Letter addressed
EMS operations. [Record Document 14 at 8-14]. He also insists
that he adequately pleaded causation by identifying a series
of allegedly retaliatory actions that occurred between the
date of the Davlin Letter and his termination. [Id.
establish a claim for retaliatory termination following an
exercise of free speech, a plaintiff must show that
(1) she suffered an adverse employment action; (2) her speech
involved a matter of public concern; (3) her interest in
commenting on matters of public concern outweighed the
defendant's interest in promoting workplace efficiency;
and (4) her speech was a substantial or motivating factor in
the defendant's adverse employment action.
Burnside v. Kaelin, 773 F.3d 624, 626 (5th Or. 2014)
(citing DePree v. Saunders, 588 F.3d 282, 286-87
(5th Cir. 2009); Click v. Copeland, 970 F.2d 106,
113 (5th Or. 1992)).
Adverse Employment Action
is a paradigmatic adverse employment action. Serna v.
City of San Antonio, 244 F.3d 479, 483 (5th Cir. 2001)
(citing Breaux v. City of Garland, 205 F.3d 150, 157
(5th Cir. 2000)). Because Magee fired Warren, this element is
Speech Involving a Matter of Public Concern
second prong requires Warren to have spoken "as a
citizen on a matter of public concern." Garcetti v.
Ceballos,547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006) (citing Pickering
v. Bd. of Educ,391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968)). The Fifth
Circuit approaches this question of law through two
inquiries: (1) whether the plaintiff spoke in his
"capacity as citizen, not employee" and (2) whether
his speech's subject matter was of public concern.
Gibson v. Kilpatrick (Gibson III),838 F.3d 476, ...