Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cunningham v. City of Shreveport

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

August 22, 2019

LARRY CUNNINGHAM
v.
CITY OF SHREVEPORT, ET AL.

         JUDGE ELIZABETH FOOTE

         MAGISTRATE JUDGE HORNSBY

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Larry 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.

         I. Factual Background

         The 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.

         Plaintiff 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. Id.

         During 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.

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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.

         On 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.

         On May 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         On May 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 accommodation." Id.

         On June 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         On June 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.

         Plaintiff 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." Id.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal 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).

         If the 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. 1993).

         Additionally, 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.

         III. Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         Defendants' 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.[2] Id. at 7-8.

         A. Official Capacity Claims Against Individual Defendants

         Plaintiff 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.

         B. Individual Capacity Claims Against Beckius

         In his 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.

         C. Individual Capacity Claims ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.