United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
JOSEPH LARRY MOREAU, JR.
ST. LANDRY PARISH FIRE DISTRICT NO. 3, ET AL.
WHITEHURST MAG. JUDGE.
A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Joseph Larry Moreau, Jr.
(“Moreau”) against St. Landry Fire Protection
District No. 3 (“District 3”) and the seven
individual members of the Board of Commissioners. Moreau
brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending
that his civil rights were violated because he was terminated
in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.
Additionally, in his second Amended and Superseding Complaint
Moreau asserted a procedural due process claim against
Defendants under federal and state law.
before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. No. 43]. Defendants move to dismiss all claims
against them. Moreau has filed a memorandum in opposition
[Doc. No. 65');">65]. Defendants filed a reply. [Doc. No. 73].
following reasons, the motion is GRANTED, and Moreau's
claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
3 is a fire protection district organized pursuant to La.
R.S. 40:1491, et seq. It is a political subdivision
of the State of Louisiana. District 3 is governed by the
7-member Board of Commissioners (“BOC”). At all
material times, the members of the BOC were as follows:
Chairman Wilfred Kinnerson (“Chairman
Kinnerson”), Donald Robinson, Greg Doucet, Terri
Courvelle, Frank Guidroz, Ryan Chachere and Pamela Jackson.
Candice Elkins (“Elkins”) is the secretary to the
3 employed Moreau in the classified civil service position of
Fire Captain until March 20, 2018. As a Captain, Moreau was
generally the highest-ranking officer at the fire station
where he served, and he often supervised employees. Moreau
also occasionally “stepped-up” to the position of
District Fire Chief. When he worked in that position, Moreau
was in charge of the entire shift.
Rabalais became Interim Fire Chief in July 2017 after the BOC
terminated District 3's prior Fire Chief, Ray Mendenhall.
Chief Rabalais was Interim Fire Chief up until recently when
he became District 3's permanent Fire Chief.
of 2017, Moreau was accused of refusing to participate in a
fire training exercise. In his pre-disciplinary hearing
before the BOC, Moreau produced evidence that he refused to
participate because he had suffered an on the job injury that
he did not report. The BOC voted to issue Moreau a letter of
reprimand for failing to report this injury. Chairman
Kinnerson, however, wanted to fire Moreau over this training
incident. This episode created a “personal
problem” between Moreau and Kinnerson.
about January 8, 2018, the Vermillion Parish School Board
(“the School Board”) held a meeting during which
a Vermillion Parish school teacher attempted to question the
members about a potential raise for the superintendent. The
School Board had a police officer remove the teacher from the
meeting. She was handcuffed and taken to jail.
about January 10, 2018, Moreau posted a comment on a
friend's Facebook post about the School Board
controversy. Moreau posted as follows:
[A]ll of this going on with this poor teacher being treated
so unfairly makes one thing perfectly clear. . . These
“boards” everywhere, ruled by good old boy
politics need to be dissolved ASAP..!! We have the same exact
problem at our fire department . . . A board of clueless
idiots making the decisions that affect many including the
very employees that actually do the job.. It's a joke . .
[. . .]. I hope this teacher makes them pay...and pay big
[Doc. No. 1, ¶ 12].
days later on January 12, 2018, Elkins saw the comment and
responded to it stating “ . . . that FD3 Board of
clueless idiots is about to begin fighting for a favorable
outcome on that millage on March 24th . . . I'd say in
the last year that board has made quite a bit of
progress!” [Doc. No. 43-1, p. 4, Moreau Depo., Exh. A,
pp. 54-55; Exh. LM-17 to Moreau Depo.]. Moreau deleted his
comment from Facebook.
Elkins' initial comment, Moreau and Elkins engaged in a
private Facebook message exchange. [Doc. No. 43-1, p. 4,
Moreau Depo., Exh. A, pp. 70-79, 82-88; Exh. LM-18 to Moreau
Depo.] as follows:
[MOREAU:] Not trying to be ugly here so don't get all
wound up . . . But if you're looking up my page and
trying to Police what I say because you happen be on our
board than I will have to delete you. I didn't call all
of you idiots. You know exactly the ones I'm talking
about. I'm not stupid, I spent the better part of last
summer having to literally fight for my job after working my
ass off there for 27 damn years. . Also having to actually
sit at a board meeting and explain myself after providing 2
different doctors [sic] excuse as to why I couldn't work
that day . . !! [two angry emojis]. Fucking embarrassing,
humiliating and wrong . .All because of one IDIOT on the
board . !! I did not deserve that!! Remember it was y'all
who hired that nut four years ago . . .it was y'all who
sat back and did nothing while he practically ruined our
department. It was y'all who gave him a blank check,
allowed him to treat the men like shit (especially the older
ones like myself) and then finally at the end after we were
broke did y'all wake up . All this stuff going on with
this teacher in Abbeville shows that this good old boy
political crap is for the birds and I can't wait to get
away from it . . . Going in the drop October 31st
of this year. . . I will never work a political job again
that's for certain [thumbs up emoji].
[ELKINS:] Dude . . . didn't look up your page to police
anything. Scrolling through fb this morning and there it was
for any of your friends to see. Just to clarify, I'm not
on the board so I didn't take offense. I work for the
board, I happen to love Fire District 3, and will work with
the board and the entire staff of firefighters to make it
great again! That's my goal.
[MOREAU:] Well, I've seen an awful lot of dirty s[t]uff
go on over there is 27 years . . . !! Just tired of it. Ready
to go do something else. And for the record I do thin
y'all are on the right track . . .If they don't make
Rabalais chief, I might just outright quit. He's
definitely without a doubt the right man for the job. . .
.But this board has a history in the past of not always doing
the “right” things . . .
[ELKINS:] The Board, and all of us affiliated with FD3, have
worked tirelessly in the last year to turn things around.
Some of us prefer to look towards the future rather than
dwell on the past. It's a different board now and they
are trying hard to do the right thing. You misspoke when you
referred to them as clueless idiots, but that's just my
opinion. You probably should not speak negatively, nor post
negatively on social media, about the agency which has
provided your likelihood for the past 27 years, no matter how
tired you are of it. Just offering my 2 cents, for what
it's worth. Have a good weekend!
[MOREAU:] I'm sorry but Kennerson is a clueless idiot who
should not even be allowed near a board of any kind that
makes decisions . . .Don't think I misspoke one bit. And
it's not easy to just forget the past when you've
just given up 27 years of your life seeing and living it. It
has been a prison at times not a livelihood. . . and my
sentence is almost up. At this point I'm just hoping my
last few years is a little more pleasant than the first 27
have been . .
[MOREAU:] I really don't think y'all realize just how
bad the moral [sic] of the men is over there. . . !!!
It's literally completely in the toilet.!! Hopefully
that'll get better as well . .
[Doc. No. 43-2; Moreau Depo., Exh. A, pp. 70-69, 82-88 &
Ex. LM-18 to Moreau Depo.]. Elkins responded with a picture
of a sign that reads in part: “HAPPY IS WHAT WE MAKE
IT.” Moreau then responds: “Maybe where you work
. . . .” Id.
made a complaint about the comments to Chief Rabalais, who
requested authority from the BOC to open two employee
disciplinary investigations. He did not provide details, but
the BOC gave its approval.
January 23, 2018, Moreau received a written notice of
investigation. The notice informed Moreau that he was being
investigated for responding “to a post on Facebook in
which [he] included disparaging remarks about the St. Landry
Parish Fire District No. 3 Board of Commissioners.”
[Doc. No. 43, Exh. A, Moreau Depo., Exhs. LM-12 & 13 to
January 29, 2018, Chief Rabalais questioned Moreau. Moreau
denied that his post was negative about the BOC, but a
general statement about boards “of what can happen when
boards, basically don't have their act together.”
[Doc. No. 43, Exh. A, Moreau Depo., Exh. LM-14 to Moreau
Depo.]. Moreau then referred him to the Facebook messenger
exchange he had with Elkins, but told Rabalais that he did
not keep the messages. [Doc. No. 43, Exh. A, Moreau Depo.,
LM-14 to Moreau Depo.].
obtained the messages from Elkins.
February 28, 2018, Moreau received a written notice of
pre-disciplinary hearing indicating that a pre-disciplinary
hearing would take place before the BOC at its March 20, 2018
meeting. That notice apprised him that the BOC would be
considering disciplinary action and that he could present
witnesses and evidence. In addition to the social media
policy violation, the notice apprised Moreau that he was
being charged with committing the following violations listed
in the state civil service law, La. Rev. Stat. §
(3) The commission or omission of any act to the prejudice of
the departmental service or contrary to the public interest
(5) Conduct of a discourteous or wantonly offensive nature
toward the public, any municipal officer or employee; and,
any dishonest, disgraceful, or immoral conduct.
(14) The willful violation of any provision of this Part or
of any rule, regulation, or order thereunder.
[Doc. No. 43, Exh. A, Moreau Depo., Exh. LM-15 to Moreau
one week prior to that March 20, 2018 BOC meeting, Rabalais
hand-delivered disciplinary packets to the individual BOC
members containing, among other things, a copy of
Moreau's Facebook comment and a copy of the transcript of
the January 29, 2018 interrogation. Chief Rabalais gave
Moreau copies of the messages that he obtained from Elkins,
but did not provide those messages to the BOC.
supplied copies of the Moreau/Elkins messages to the BOC
during Moreau's March 20, 2018 pre-disciplinary hearing.
March 20, 2018, Moreau was present for a pre-disciplinary
hearing. During the meeting, the following exchanges took
FRANK GUIDROZ: So on your social media post, where you had
put, "These boards everywhere ruled by good-old-boy
politics need to be resolved. We have the same exact problem
in our fire department." So when you say, "our fire
department," that's Fire District Three right?
JOSEPH MOREAU: Yes. As I told Chief Rabalais in his
interview, I was in the context of the conversation I was
having with this other person, I was actually referring to
Fire District Three, but older boards, not the current board,
which I think I told him in the interview, when he came [sic]
interviewed me. It should be in there somewhere. It's a