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McCaffrey v. Chapman

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

October 12, 2017

MARK F. McCAFFREY, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL L. CHAPMAN, et al., Defendants.


          Anthony J. Trenga Judge.

         Plaintiff Mark F. McCaffrey was a Deputy Sheriff in the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office (“LCSO”) until December 31, 2015. In this action, he alleges that Defendant Michael L.Chapman, the incumbent Sheriff of Loudoun County, failed to reappoint him in retaliation for McCaffrey's support of Chapman's political opponent and that Loudoun County and its Board of Supervisors (“County Defendants”) had an obligation to intervene and failed to do so. More specifically, McCaffrey alleges that Defendants' actions infringed his rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as his rights under Article I, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution (“Section 12”), which he asserts creates a common law cause of action for damages.

         Presently pending before the Court are Defendant Chapman's Motion to Strike [Doc. No. 5]; Defendant Chapman's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 7]; Defendants Loudoun County and the Board of Supervisors of Loudoun County's (“County Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss Counts II and IV of the Complaint [Doc. No. 9]; and Plaintiff McCaffrey's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 17]. For the reasons set forth below, McCaffrey, by virtue of the nature of his position as Deputy Sheriff, as alleged in his Complaint, falls within the Elrod-Branti exception to the general rule that public employees may not be terminated in retaliation for political speech. Accordingly, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss will be GRANTED, McCaffrey's Motion DENIED, all other motions DENIED as moot and this action DISMISSED.


         McCaffrey alleges the following facts, which the Court accepts as true for the purposes of the pending motions.

         Prior to December 31, 2015, McCaffrey was a detective in the LCSO major crimes unit. Complaint [Doc. No. 1, Exhibit 2] (“Compl.”) ¶ 11. Before coming to the LCSO in 2005, McCaffrey was a police officer for twenty years in Westchester County, New York and New York City. Compl. ¶ 11. In the course of his duties in the major crimes unit at LCSO, McCaffrey “served as the lead detective in complex, high-profile cases, including rape, robbery and homicide investigations.” Compl. ¶ 12. McCaffrey's duties as deputy sheriff and lead investigator included communicating with the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Medical Examiner's Office on behalf of the LCSO and coordinating their resources with those of the LCSO. Comp. ¶ 74h.

         Chapman has been Sheriff of Loudoun County, Virginia since January 2012. Compl. ¶ 15. Sheriffs in the Commonwealth of Virginia are elected to four year terms. While in office, sheriffs are authorized to appoint deputy sheriffs to assist in the conduct of the sheriff's duties. These deputies' appointments last only as long as the sheriff's term. At the end of a sheriff's term, even if the sheriff is reelected, all the sheriff's deputies must be reappointed and re-sworn to keep their positions in the new term. It is customary in the LCSO that all of the approximately 600 deputies are re-sworn at the beginning of each term. Compl. ¶ 34.

         During Chapman's first term as Sheriff of Loudoun County, McCaffrey became concerned about Chapman's competence and fitness for the office of sheriff. Compl. ¶ 65. The Complaint alleges, inter alia, that Chapman used his position as sheriff to do favors for friends, family, and campaign contributors, Compl. ¶ 67, discriminated against minority deputies in assigning undesirable work, Compl ¶ 69, was verbally abusive of the deputies in the LCSO, Compl. ¶ 74, and mismanaged the LCSO to the detriment of the Office's effectiveness, Compl. ¶¶ 75-78. For these reasons, McCaffrey supported Eric Noble, rather than Chapman, for the Republican nomination for the office of Sheriff of Loudoun County in the 2015 election cycle. Compl. ¶ 79. McCaffrey's support of Noble consisted of placing a sign in front of his house supporting Noble and serving as a delegate for Noble at the Republican nominating convention. Compl. ¶ 80.

         Chapman won the Republican nomination at the convention and ultimately won the general election to keep his seat as sheriff. Upon learning of McCaffrey's support for Noble, Chapman allegedly told McCaffrey's Division Chief, Captain Marc Caminitti, to “keep his shop” in line. Compl. ¶ 86. The Complaint also alleges that Chapman told LCSO Public Affairs Officer, Liz Mills, that “Mark [McCaffrey] was there with Eric [Noble]. I'm going to get him, ” in reference to McCaffrey's support for Noble at the nominating convention. Compl. ¶ 87. Additionally, Major Richard Fiano, a Senior Commander in the LCSO, told McCaffrey that he should not have been a delegate for Noble and “[y]ou live by the sword; you die by the sword.” Compl. ¶ 89. On December 10, 2015, McCaffrey received a letter from Chapman advising that his appointment as deputy sheriff “ends at midnight on December 31, 2015, ” and not indicate that he was to be reappointed. Compl. ¶ 90. The letter did not indicate why McCaffrey was not to be re-appointed to his position. Compl. ¶ 91. McCaffrey was in fact not re-sworn as a deputy sheriff after his prior appointment ended December 31, 2015. Additionally, the Complaint alleges that Chapman ordered McCaffrey's supervisors to lower the score of his final evaluation, preventing McCaffrey from receiving a performance bonus. Compl. ¶ 94.

         McCaffrey further alleges that the County Defendants “assumed responsibility to ensure the protection of [constitutional rights] of LCSO employees.” Compl. ¶ 123. The Complaint alleges that Chapman and the County Defendants entered into a Cooperative Agreement, which applies certain regulations otherwise only applicable to County employees to LCSO employees.[1]Compl. ¶ 39. The Cooperative Agreement provides that the Sheriff Chapman could only take personnel actions consistent with the County's “personnel policies and regulations, ” Compl. ¶ 41, and that all personnel actions must be submitted to and approved by the County's Human Resources Department 30 days before they become effective, Compl. ¶ 42.

         Despite the County Defendants' alleged obligations under the Cooperative Agreement, McCaffrey alleges they “followed (a) a practice of deliberate indifference to defendant Chapman's abuse of his power and (b) failed to act to carry out their responsibility under the Cooperative Agreement to halt the retaliation against Mr. McCaffrey.” Compl. ¶ 123. McCaffrey alleges that the County Defendants had ample means to intervene on his behalf against Chapman in light of the fact that the they provide 75% of the budget for the LCSO and that the County Defendants have aggressively enforced its personnel rules against the LCSO under past sheriffs. Compl. ¶¶ 124-25. The Complaint additionally alleges that Laurie Hunter, a Senior Management Analyst in the Loudon County Department of Human Resources, knew of Chapman's intent not to reappoint McCaffrey and approved it pursuant to the County Defendants' Obligations under the Cooperative Agreement.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Randall v. United States, 30 F.3d 518, 522 (4th Cir. 1994); Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1994). In considering a motion to dismiss, “the material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted, ” Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969) (citations omitted), and the court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint, Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991). Moreover, “the complaint is to be liberally construed in favor of plaintiff.” Id.; see also Bd. of Trustees v. Sullivant Ave. Properties, LLC, 508 F.Supp.2d 473, 475 (E.D. Va. 2007). A motion to dismiss must be assessed in light of Rule 8's liberal pleading standards, which require only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Nevertheless, while Rule 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” a plaintiff must still provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” to one that is “plausible on its face”); see also Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). As the Supreme Court stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2008), “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged.”

         III. ...

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