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Harris v. Chelan County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 30, 2019

MARCUS “MIKE” HARRIS, and BETTY J. “BETS” HARRIS, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHELAN COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, A DIVISION OF CHELAN COUNTY, A MUNICIPAL ENTITY EXISTING UNDER THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN T. RODGERS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 52 & 60. Scott M. Kane represents Plaintiffs Marcus “Mike” Harris (“Harris”) and Betty J. “Bets” Harris; the Chelan County Sheriff's Department (“Defendant”) is represented by Heather C. Yakely. The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 9. The Court has reviewed the motions, responses and reply briefs and is fully informed.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint on April 11, 2017, asserting federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over pendent state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Plaintiffs raise causes of action for (1) wrongful termination in violation of substantive and procedural due process rights; (2) wrongful termination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) violation of public policy; (4) wrongful termination without cause; (5) wrongful termination in violation of Washington State public policy; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (7) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (8) retaliation against a whistle blower in violation of Wash. Rev. Code 42.40.050; (9) defamation and libel; and (10) loss of consortium. ECF No. 1 at 30-34.

         The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment addressing all causes of action in this case, ECF Nos. 52 & 60; however, the Court herein focuses on Plaintiffs' federal claims as they provide the basis for the Court's jurisdiction.

         FACTS

         Harris was hired by the Chelan County Sheriff's Department on March 15, 1995. In July 2012, Harris advanced to the Chief of Patrol. Corparal John Wisemore (“Wisemore”) was the Undersheriff at the time Harris was appointed by Sheriff Brian Burnett as Chief of Patrol. Harris' duties as Chief of Patrol included overseeing the Armory of the Sheriff's Office.

         On or about August 2013, Harris investigated a missing Colt M16 rifle the County had purchased from the Army. In 2011, Wisemore had signed documents indicating the rifle was in the Armory, but Range Masters were not able to locate the rifle. It was thought the rifle had been destroyed; however, Harris informed Army representatives there was no supporting documentation to affirm the rifle had been destroyed. On or about January of 2014, Harris completed a report regarding the rifle and designated the rifle as missing/stolen.

         Harris has been a drug recognition expert and instructor since approximately 1998 or 1999. Harris also has a personal business (Bosco Training) in which he used his drug recognition expertise to teach classes outside of the Sheriff's Office. On or about February 5, 2014, Harris requested new drugs be supplied by the Sheriff's Office for his use in teaching a drug class. No. drugs could be checked out from the evidence room for private business purposes; only for official Sheriff's Office business. Wisemore began an investigation regarding Harris' intended use of the drugs.

         On February 18, 2014, Harris met with Sheriff Burnett and Wisemore at which time Harris was informed it was believed Harris had lied in his emails about utilization of Sheriff's Office drugs for his private business. Harris was notified that “over the next week we are going to explore options for your current situation, which are . . . demotion by the Sheriff from Chief of Patrol to the position of Sergeant, or accept a voluntary request by yourself to be reassigned to the position of Sergeant.” On February 26, 2014, Harris formally resigned as Chief of Patrol, effective March 1, 2014. Because Harris resigned, no Internal Affairs (IA) investigation was performed. Nevertheless, Harris was placed on the “Brady” list[1]by Chelan County prosecuting attorney Doug Shae as a result of the February 2014 allegations. The Brady designation of Harris was later exposed in the local newspaper.

         In November 2014, new accusations pertaining to Harris' truthfulness were introduced. It was alleged Harris violated overtime rules; specifically, a Chelan County Sherriff's Office Policy requiring eight hours of rest between shifts. Chief Dave Helvey commenced a formal IA investigation. On or about January 2015, Harris was placed on administrative leave. A Loudermill Hearing[2] was conducted in February 2015. On or about March 20, 2015, a second hearing was held. It was determined Harris violated policies of the Chelan County Sherriff's Office, and, on March 31, 2015, Harris was terminated.

         In February 2016, an arbitration hearing was held to determine whether just cause existed for Harris' termination from employment with the Chelan County Sherriff's Department. An arbitrator determined there was no cause for Harris' termination and ordered Harris be reinstated to work. Harris returned to work on June 1, 2016, approximately 14 months following his termination.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) states a party is entitled to summary judgment in its favor if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-249 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” as to a material fact if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248.

         Once the moving party has carried the burden under Rule 56, the party opposing the motion must do more than simply show there is “some metaphysical doubt” as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The party opposing the motion must present facts in evidentiary form and cannot rest merely on the pleadings. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Genuine issues are not raised by mere conclusory or speculative allegations. Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). The Court will examine the direct and circumstantial proof offered by the non-moving party and the permissible inferences which may be drawn from such evidence. A party cannot defeat a summary judgment motion by drawing strength from the weakness of the other party's argument or by showing “that it will discredit the moving party's evidence at trial and proceed in the hope that something can be developed at trial in the way of evidence to support its claim.” T.W. Elec. Service, Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n., 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Supreme Court has ruled that Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) requires entry of summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “A complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323. Therefore, the question on summary judgment is “whether the evidence is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-252. Where there is no evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party, summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 252.

         DISCUSSION

         I. 42 ...


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