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.

Moreau v. St. Landry Parish Fire District No. 3

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

September 10, 2019

JOSEPH LARRY MOREAU, JR.
v.
ST. LANDRY PARISH FIRE DISTRICT NO. 3, ET AL.

          WHITEHURST MAG. JUDGE.

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is 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.

         Pending 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].

         For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED, and Moreau's claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         District 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 BOC.

         District 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.

         Chief 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.

         In May 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.

         On or 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.

         On or 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 time.!!

[Doc. No. 1, ¶ 12].

         Two 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.

         After 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.

         Elkins 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.

         On 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 Moreau Depo.].

         On 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.].

         Rabalais obtained the messages from Elkins.

         On 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. § 33:2500:373[1]:

(3) The commission or omission of any act to the prejudice of the departmental service or contrary to the public interest or policy.
(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 Depo.].

         Approximately 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.

         Elkins supplied copies of the Moreau/Elkins messages to the BOC during Moreau's March 20, 2018 pre-disciplinary hearing.

         On March 20, 2018, Moreau was present for a pre-disciplinary hearing. During the meeting, the following exchanges took place:

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 ...

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.