United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Cunningham ("Plaintiff') filed the instant lawsuit
against the City of Shreveport ("the City"), Chief
of Police Alan Crump, Deputy Chief of Police Bill Goodin,
Assistant Chief of Police David Kent, and Captain Timothy
Beckius (collectively "Defendants") alleging
violations of his rights secured by the United States
Constitution, the Louisiana Constitution, and Louisiana
statutory law. Record Document 1, ¶s 1, 35 & 38. Now
before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment [Record Document 17] and Plaintiffs Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment [Record Document 19], both filed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Upon
consideration of the briefs filed by the parties and for the
reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART and Plaintiffs Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.
following paragraphs outline Plaintiffs factual allegations
as contained in his complaint. Plaintiff states that he was
an employee of the Shreveport Police Department
("SPD") for over 32 years and had attained the rank
of Captain when the events of this case took place. Record
Document 1, ¶ 4. Beginning on December 25, 2016,
Plaintiff had to take sick leave from work for several months
because of a non-duty related muscle strain. Id. at
¶s 5 & 8. During this time Plaintiff grew a beard as
he normally did during vacations and extended weekends.
Id. at ¶ 7.
states that a large part of his Christian faith includes
"the strength that comes from wearing beards as set
forth throughout the Christian Bible." Id. at
¶ 6. He claims that he and his family are strong
believers of the Christian faith and that beards have
symbolized "strength in faith and worship in his
family." Id. Plaintiff states that the men in
his family have worn beards to show their faith in God.
his extended sick leave, Plaintiff noticed that his beard
"strengthened his faith in God and his ability to
express and show his religious views to others."
Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiffs father told him that
"he was glad that [Plaintiff] had finally acted like the
Elder in the family." Id. Plaintiff also
believes that it was a "sign" that he started
growing his beard on December 25, 2016. Id.
was scheduled to report to the police academy on May 1, 2017,
to qualify with his service weapon so he could return to
work. Id. at ¶ 8. Sometime in April of 2017,
Plaintiff went to SPD to turn in his SPD-3 form that released
him to return to full effective duty and spoke to SPD's
Assistant Chief of Police David Kent ("Kent") about
obtaining a religious exemption to SPD's policy against
officers wearing beards. Id. at ¶s 8 & 11.
At that time, SPD General Order 302.01 (the "no-beard
policy"), along with SPD General Order 901.05,
prohibited officers from wearing beards. Id. at
¶ 9; Record Document 19-4, p. 18. Exemptions from this
policy were available for officers with certain medical
conditions and officers serving on certain assignments.
Id. at ¶s 9 & 10. Kent advised Plaintiff
that he needed to put his request for a religious exemption
to the no- beard policy in writing. Id. at ¶
11. Plaintiff submitted his request for an exemption in
writing on April 25, 2017. Id.
April 28, 2017, Sergeant Harlow, who worked in SPD's
Human Resources Bureau, told Plaintiff that he was being sent
for a fitness for duty examination and would not be returning
to work on the previously scheduled date. Id. at
¶ 12. Plaintiff believes that Harlow was instructed to
request this fitness for duty examination by Kent, Deputy
Chief of Police Bill Goodin ("Goodin"), or Captain
Timothy Beckius ("Beckius") in retaliation for
Plaintiffs request for a religious exemption. Id.
Plaintiff asked Kent why he was being sent for a fitness for
duty exam and about the status of his religious exemption
from the no-beard policy. Id. at ¶ 13. Kent
responded that Plaintiff needed to undergo the exam because
of his extended sick leave and back pains and that his
requested exemption had not been approved. Id. On
May 1, 2017, Plaintiff emailed Kent and requested additional
information about why he needed to undergo a fitness for duty
exam. Id. at ¶ 14. Plaintiff told Kent that he
was not experiencing any back pain and that being off work
would cost him approximately $800 a week. Id.
Kent's only response was an email stating that SPD needed
more information regarding Plaintiffs religious exemption
from the no-beard policy. Id. at¶ 14.
4, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a memo to Kent that detailed his
religious convictions about his beard and advised that he
intended to keep his beard at a "reasonable
length." Id. at ¶ 16. In this memo,
Plaintiff claimed that granting this exemption would not be
an unreasonable hardship because SPD allowed exceptions to
the no-beard policy for medical reasons. Id. The
memo also stated that Plaintiff was attempting to resolve the
issue with SPD before he resorted to filing a lawsuit.
Id. at ¶ 17.
underwent a fitness for duty exam and was cleared to return
to work by the City's physician. Id. at ¶s
18 & 19. Plaintiff claims that Kent and Beckius
interfered with his ability to obtain a necessary form for
his exam in retaliation for his request for an exemption to
the no-beard policy. Id. at ¶ 18. Despite being
cleared for duty, Plaintiff received a letter from Beckius on
May 8, 2017, that placed him on departmental leave without
giving a reason. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff submits
that SPD guidelines state that departmental leave is
"the absence from scheduled duty following a traumatic
event, administrative or criminal investigation, approved
training or other reasons approved by the chief of police
and/or designee." Id.
9, 2017, Plaintiff emailed Beckius asking for an explanation
as to why he was placed on departmental leave. Id.
at ¶ 20. Plaintiff told Beckius that he was concerned
that he was being placed on departmental leave because of his
religious exemption request. Id. Beckius never
responded to this email. Id. Plaintiff was never
told why he was placed on departmental leave and claims that
"the only possible conclusion is that these actions were
taken as a result of his religious beliefs and request for
23, 2017, Kent sent Plaintiff a memo stating that his request
for a religious exemption from the no-beard policy had been
denied. Id. at ¶ 21. The memo explained that
the no-beard policy was in place "for officer safety
reasons and to promote a uniform appearance of all officers
of [SPD] to the general public." Id. The memo
concluded that no reasonable accommodation could be made for
Plaintiffs request. Id.
reported to SPD on June 26, 2017, to qualify with his service
weapon. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff saw Kent that
day and Kent told Plaintiff that he would not be considered
fit for duty if he returned to work with a beard.
Id. After he qualified with his service weapon,
Plaintiff met with Kent and Goodin to discuss his return to
work and his beard. Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff
asked what safety interests prevented him from having a beard
that did not prevent officers from having beards for medical
reasons. Id. Goodin responded that he would have to
check with the City Attorney and that beards were against SPD
policy. Id. Goodin also stated that Chief of Police
Alan Crump ("Crump") made the decision to deny
Plaintiffs request. Id. The meeting ended with
Goodin telling Plaintiff that his request for an exemption
from the no-beard policy was still denied. Id. at
¶ 24. Plaintiff perceived that statement to mean that if
he returned to work with his beard, he would be subject to
discipline and further harassment by SPD. Id.
27, 2017, Plaintiff, through his legal counsel, submitted a
letter directly to Crump regarding his religious exemption
request. Id. at ¶ 26. The letter outlined the
alleged harassment that Plaintiff was subjected to after
submitting his request for a religious exemption from the
no-beard policy, the denial of his request, and the existence
of medical exemptions from the no-beard policy. Id.
The letter stated that denying Plaintiffs request for a
religious exemption would violate the United States
Constitution, the Louisiana Constitution, and Louisiana
statutory law. Id. at ¶ 26. The letter also
requested that Crump "immediately advise [Plaintiff]
that he could report to work with his beard without any
disciplinary consequences." Id. Crump never
responded to this letter. Id.
reported to work on June 30, 2017, wearing "acceptable
nonuniform business attire" and his beard. Id.
at ¶ 28. Kent saw Plaintiff when he entered SPD and
advised him that he was unfit for duty because of his beard.
Id. Kent told Plaintiff to wait in his office while
Kent went to speak to Goodin. Id. Kent returned and
advised Plaintiff that he was being placed on departmental
leave by the Internal Affairs Bureau ("TAB").
Id. at ¶ 29. Sergeant Michael Tyler
("Tyler") with the IAB came to Kent's office
and delivered Plaintiff a memo from Captain Gayle McFarland,
commander of IAB. Id. The memo stated that Plaintiff
was being placed on departmental leave by IAB and that he was
required to report to IAB by telephone every weekday.
Id. Plaintiff claims that this is not standard
procedure for departmental leave. Id. The memo did
not state that Plaintiff had committed any rule violation.
Id. Plaintiff claims that he was placed under IAB
supervision because he was being investigated regarding his
beard. Id. Tyler proceeded to take Plaintiffs
service weapon and commission card. Id. Plaintiff
states that those items are typically only taken from an
officer "if SPD and the Chief or his designee have
decided that the officer has committed an offense likely to
result in termination or some other severe discipline."
claims that Defendants' actions forced him to submit his
retirement papers, resulting in a constructive discharge.
Id. at ¶ 31. Plaintiff states that Crump,
Goodin, Kent, Beckius, and SPD "made it clear to
[Plaintiff] that they would continue to harass him" and
that being investigated meant he would most likely be
terminated. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that
it is the standard practice of SPD and Crump to notify the
media when an officer is placed on departmental leave and
subject to investigation by the IAB, even though such a
practice is contrary to Louisiana civil service law.
Id. at ¶ 30. Plaintiff claims that he submitted
his retirement papers in part to avoid his placement on
departmental leave from being made public, which would have
caused him to suffer public embarrassment and could have hurt
his ability to find other employment. Id. at ¶s
30 & 31.
filed the instant lawsuit on August 21, 2017. Record Document
1. Plaintiff alleges that Crump, Kent, Goodin, and Beckius
are liable to him in their individual and official capacities
for violations of his right to the free exercise of religion
protected by both the Louisiana and the United States
Constitutions, as well as violations of Louisiana Revised
Statutes § 23:303 and § 23:332, which prohibit
religious discrimination against employees. Id. at
¶s 1, 35, 36, & 38. He also claims that the City
should be held liable to him because SPD's no-beard
policy was the moving force behind the violation of his
constitutional rights. Id. at ¶ 37. Plaintiff
requests compensatory damages including income lost while not
being able to perform off-duty employment, lost wages,
benefits, retirement contributions and income due to his
constructive discharge, and general damages. Id. at
¶ 39. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages,
attorney's fees, and court costs. Id. at ¶s
39 & 40.
Summary Judgment Standard
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to "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." Summary judgment is
appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories,
admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that
there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party,
the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the
elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need
only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See
Id. at 322-23. However, "if the movant bears the
burden of proof on an issue, ... he must establish beyond
peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or
defense to warrant judgment in his favor." Fontenot
v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986).
movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is
no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must
demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for trial
by going "beyond the pleadings" and
"designat[ing] specific facts" for support.
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325).
"This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts," by conclusory or
unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere "scintilla of
evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). However, "[t]he evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing
Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
158-59 (1970)). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating
the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary
judgment where the critical evidence in support of the
nonmovant is so "weak or tenuous" that it could not
support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor.
Armstrong v. City of Dall, 997 F.2d 62, 67 (5th Cir.
Local Rule 56.1 requires the movant to file a statement of
material facts as to which it "contends there is no
genuine issue to be tried." The opposing party must then
set forth a "short and concise statement of the material
facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be
tried." W.D. La. R. 56.2. All material facts set forth
in the movant's statement "will be deemed admitted,
for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required
by this rule." Id.
Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary
motion for partial summary judgment argues that Plaintiffs
claims against the individual Defendants in their official
capacities must be dismissed as a matter of law. Record
Document 17-2, p. 5. The motion also asserts that Plaintiff
cannot show that Goodin, Kent, or Beckius caused any
constitutional harm because Crump was the final
decision-maker behind all of the major events in this case.
Id. at 6. Defendants argue that because Crump was
the only one with authority to take any of the actions
complained of by Plaintiff, the claims against Goodin, Kent,
and Beckius should be dismissed. Id. at 7-8.
Official Capacity Claims Against Individual
brings claims against the City and against Crump, Goodin,
Kent, and Beckius in their individual and official
capacities. Record Document 1, ¶ 1. An official capacity
suit against a municipal officer duplicates a suit against
the officer's municipality. Turner v. Houma Mun. Fire
& Police Civil Serv. Bd, 229 F.3d 478, 483 (5th Cir.
2000) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165
(1985)). A district court faced with both claims may dismiss
the official capacity claim. Castro Romero v.
Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing
Mores v. Cameron Cty., 92 F.3d 258, 261 (5th Cir.
1996)). Therefore, Defendants' motion for partial summary
judgment is GRANTED as to the official
capacity claims against Crump, Goodin, Kent, and Beckius.
Those claims are hereby DISMISSED WITH
PREJUDICE as duplicative of the municipal liability
claims against the City.
Individual Capacity Claims Against Beckius
opposition, Plaintiff concedes that summary judgment is
proper as to Beckius and that the claims against him should
be dismissed. Record Document 21, p. 7. Therefore,
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED as to the individual capacity claims
against Beckius. Plaintiffs claims against Beckius are hereby
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, and he is no
longer a party to this action.
Individual Capacity Claims ...