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Hagans v. City of Norfolk

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

April 23, 2019

RANDY L. HAGANS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NORFOLK, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Arenda L. Wright Allen United States District Judge

         The matters before the Court are a Motion for Summary Judgment, a request for hearing, and a Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony filed by the City of Norfolk ("Defendant" or "City"). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22) is GRANTED; the request for hearing (ECF No. 26) is DENIED; the Motion in Limine (ECF No. 27) is DENIED as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Hagans ("Plaintiff) was employed beginning in December 2003 as a Child Counselor III by the City in its Department of Human Services at a juvenile detention center operated by the City. On September 12, 2015, Mr. Hagans was involved in a restraint situation with a then-seventeen-year-old resident of the detention center. The resident became agitated after Mr. Hagans told him to go to his room following verbal insubordination.

         The restraint incident was referred to the Virginia Beach Child Protective Services ("CPS") Office, which opened an investigation. A CPS Investigator, Meghan Denham, conducted an investigation and disclosed her findings of "founded Level 1 disposition of physical abuse of a child." Following Ms. Denham's conclusion, Mr. Hagans was placed on pre-disciplinary leave.

         In November 2015, Ms. Denham issued a letter detailing her findings (the "Denham Letter"). A letter was issued to Mr. Hagans notifying him of his right to an administrative appeal of its findings. Mr. Hagans appeared with counsel at the pre-disciplinary conference. Following the conference, the City issued a Request for Termination. This request was approved by the Director of Human Resources, Mr. Hawks, and Mr. Hagans' employment was terminated.

         Mr. Hagans timely requested a grievance panel hearing regarding his termination. In response to Mr. Hagans' request, the City convened a grievance panel and received evidence from Mr. Hagans and the City regarding his termination.[1] At the hearing, over Mr. Hagans' objection, the City introduced the Denham Letter into evidence. Ms. Denham was not in attendance, and Mr. Hagans did not cross-examine her. At the conclusion of the hearing, the grievance panel upheld Mr. Hagans' termination.

         Mr. Hagans filed this federal lawsuit against the City of Norfolk. In his Complaint, Mr. Hagans presented four claims against the City: deprivation of property interests in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); deprivation of liberty interests in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); declaratory judgment (Count III); and negligence (Count IV). The City filed a Motion to Dismiss. In Mr. Hagans' Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, he voluntarily dismissed Counts III and IV. The Court dismissed Count II. The remaining claim before the Court is Count I, deprivation of property interests in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         The City of Norfolk moves for summary judgment on Count I, the remaining procedural due process claim. Because there is "no factual dispute on the essentials of what transpired in the procedures leading to the termination, the question of whether due process was accorded [is] determinable as a matter of law." Rodgers v. Norfolk Sch Bd, 755 F.2d 59, 62 (4th Cir. 1985). The City also requests a hearing on the Motion. ECF No. 26. The Court resolves the Motion on the parties' briefing, and a hearing is unnecessary.

         a. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Furthermore, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment; factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be considered by a court in its determination. Id. at 248.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of an essential element of the nonmoving party's case and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Honor v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 383 F.3d 180, 185 (4th Cir. 2004). A movant's "burden may be discharged by demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Goldberg v. B. Green and Co., Inc., 836 F.2d 845, 847 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         After a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party must show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In order to successfully defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, "mere speculation," the "building of one inference upon another," the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence," or the appearance of "some metaphysical doubt" concerning a material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002). There must be "sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

         At this stage, a court's function is not to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 249. In doing so, the court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. See Id. ...


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