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Greer v. Petersburg Bureau of Police

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 19, 2017



          Henry E. Hudson United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Derrick Jason Greer ("Plaintiff) filed his five-count Compliant on October 19, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs allegations center on the events surrounding the termination of his employment as a police officer for the city of Petersburg, Virginia. Plaintiff alleges defamation, retaliation in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia, violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and supervisor liability for the alleged retaliation.

         The Complaint names seven defendants. They include the Petersburg Bureau of Police ("Bureau"), four individual police officers, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, and the former Petersburg City Attorney. Six of the Defendants have filed motions to dismiss. Defendant Tiffany Buckner ("Buckner"), Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Petersburg, has moved to dismiss the defamation and retaliation claims raised against her. (ECF No. 18.) Defendant John I. Dixon, III ("Chief Dixon"), former Chief of the Petersburg Bureau of Police, has moved to dismiss the defamation and supervisor liability claims raised against him. (ECF No. 14.) The Bureau, Sergeant Hervie Cheatham ("Sgt. Cheatham"), and Sergeant Haywood James, III (" Sgt. James") have moved to dismiss the defamation claims raised against them. (ECF No. 30.) And Captain Edwin Jones ("Capt. Jones") has moved to dismiss the supervisor liability claim raised against him. (ECF No. 30.) The only other defendant, Brian K. Telfair, former Petersburg City Attorney, has not moved to dismiss any claims but rather filed an answer. (ECF No. 17.)

         All parties have filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the Court, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 7(J).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court assumes Plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations to be true and views all facts in the light most favorable to him. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan, LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). At this stage, the Court's analysis is both informed and constrained by the four corners of Plaintiffs Complaint. Viewed through this lens, the facts are as follows.

         Plaintiff worked as a Petersburg police officer from June 2014 until his termination in November 2015. (See Compl. ¶¶ 21, 109.) At all relevant times, Chief Dixon, Capt. Jones, Sgt. Cheatham, and Sgt. James also worked for the Bureau. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16, 19, 20.)

         On January 29, 2015, Plaintiff executed a search warrant on the Petersburg residence of Jeffrey Fisher. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiffs partner, Detective Shane Noblin, and several other Petersburg police officers assisted in the search. (Id. ¶ 25.) Afterward, Fisher was charged with multiple drug and firearm-related crimes. (Id. ¶ 60.)

         Plaintiff alleges that, during the search, he witnessed officers intentionally destroying private property and evidence. (See Id. ¶¶ 30-47.) On September 10, 2015, during an investigation into the search of Fisher's residence, Plaintiff gave a formal statement to Sgt. James in which he described the officer misconduct. (Id. ¶¶ 162-63.) In his statement, Plaintiff also admitted that while searching the house, he noticed some candy on the floor, which he picked up, unwrapped, and ate. (See Id. ¶¶ 48-52, 164.)

         Detective Noblin retired from the Bureau in May 2015. (Id. ¶ 62.) Plaintiff was thus required to take over many of Detective Noblin's pending cases. (Id. at 63.) But Plaintiff was troubled by some of Detective Noblin's previous conduct. So, in June 2015, Plaintiff approached Buckner and expressed his discomfort in continuing the investigations of Detective Noblin's pending cases. (Id. ¶¶ 64-65.) He urged Buckner to dismiss Detective Noblin's cases, stating that "everybody knows [Detective Noblin] is dirty." (Id. ¶ 66.) However, Buckner disregarded Plaintiffs concerns. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         On October 5, 2015, Plaintiff attended a preliminary hearing for one of Detective Noblin's former cases. (Id. ¶ 78.) Still wary of Detective Noblin's prior conduct, Plaintiff met with the defendant's attorney and an investigator for the Petersburg Public Defender's Office. (Id. ¶ 79.) Plaintiff explained to them his belief that "Detective Noblin was dirty." (Id. ¶ 80.) He also stated that he had raised his concerns with Buckner, but that she had ignored them. (Id. ¶ 82.)

         The investigator for the Public Defender's Office communicated Plaintiffs concerns to Fisher's attorney. (See Id. ¶ 83.) Accordingly, armed with the allegations about Detective Noblin's dishonest conduct and Buckner's indifference, Fisher moved for Buckner to be removed from his case and for her to be replaced by a special prosecutor. (Id. ¶¶ 83-85.) The court granted that motion during a hearing on October 20, 2015. (See Id. ¶ 88.)

         Shortly after the hearing, "Buckner approached Plaintiff and yelled at [him]." (Id. ¶ 89.) Buckner then reported to Chief Dixon that "Plaintiff made false statements concerning Detective Noblin." (Id. ¶¶ 129, 132.)

         On the same day, October 20, 2015, Sgt. Cheatham issued Plaintiff a "Notification to Employee of Investigation, " marked with the identifier IAU# 15-08. (Id. ¶ 90.) IAU# 15-08 included the statement: "The Chief of Police has received allegations from Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Tiffany Buckner regarding the subject employee that has brought the Bureau into disrepute. The credibility of the officer's prior and future testimonies are questionable at this juncture." (Id. ...

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