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Reynolds v. City of Eugene

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 22, 2013

DAWN REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF EUGENE, an Oregon municipal corporation, and MARK GISSINER, an individual, Defendants

Page 1285

For Dawn Reynolds, Plaintiff: Holly M. Lloyd, Judy Danelle Snyder, Law Offices of Judy Snyder, Portland, OR.

For City of Eugene, an Oregon municipal corporation, Mark Gissiner, an individual, Defendants: Jeffery J. Matthews, Jens Schmidt, Harrang Long Gary Rudnick, PC (Eugene), Eugene, OR.

OPINION

Ann Aiken, United States District Judge.

Page 1286

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed suit in state court alleging First Amendment and whistleblower retaliation and common law tort claims arising from the termination of her employment as Deputy Police Auditor for the City of Eugene. Defendants removed the action to federal court and successfully obtained dismissal of certain claims. See doc. 13. Defendants now move for summary judgment on plaintiff's remaining claims of First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, whistleblower retaliation under Or. Rev. Stat. § § 659A.203 and 659A.199, and intentional interference with economic relations (IIER). Defendants' motion is granted as to plaintiff's First Amendment and IIER claims, and plaintiff's whistleblower claims are remanded to state court.

BACKGROUND

In late 2006, the City of Eugene (the City) passed an ordinance establishing the Office of the Police Auditor (PA Office). The purpose of the PA Office is " to provide an independent location to lodge complaints involving police employees, monitor internal investigations to ensure objective, thorough and high quality investigations, and develop recommendations to improve police services." Gissiner Decl. Ex. 1 at 1-2. To these ends, the PA Office receives

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and processes police misconduct complaints; develops and maintains operating procedures for reviewing complaints and monitoring investigations; acts as a liaison to the Civilian Review Board (CRB)[1]; identifies systemic changes to improve police services; and provides reports to the City Council and CRB. Id. Ex. 1 at 4.

In May 2008, then-Police Auditor (PA) Christina Beamud hired plaintiff for the position of Deputy PA. In August 2008, Beamud resigned and plaintiff was named Interim PA.

Prior to and during her tenure as Interim PA, conflicts arose between plaintiff, the Eugene Police Department (EPD), the former Chief of Police, and several City Council members. Pl.'s Am. Opp'n Mem. at 8-14 (doc. 63); Reynolds Decl. Ex. 12-13; Snyder Decl. Ex. 6 at 7-8, Ex. 10 (under seal), Ex. 28 (under seal), Ex. 41; Snyder Suppl. Decl. Ex. B at 7-8. These conflicts generally stemmed from the EPD's perception that plaintiff was biased against the EPD and acted as an advocate for citizen complainants rather than as an objective police oversight authority. Snyder Decl. Ex. 4 at 3-4.[2] In turn, plaintiff complained that the former Police Chief and the EPD unfairly and improperly restricted her access to EPD offices and withheld investigative documents in violation of the PA ordinance. Matthews Decl. Ex. 1 at 10-12; Snyder Decl. Exs. 27, 36.

Ultimately, in March or April of 2009, the Eugene City Council -- the supervising body of the PA -- placed plaintiff on administrative leave due to an incident in which plaintiff allegedly disclosed confidential information to a complainant's attorney. Matthews Decl. Ex. 1 at 9; Snyder Suppl. Decl. Ex. C. Plaintiff was reinstated in April 2009, with certain restrictions and requirements imposed on plaintiff's performance of her duties. Snyder Decl. Ex. 45 (under seal); Matthews Decl. Ex. 1 at 9.

In June 2009, the City hired defendant Mark Gissiner as PA, and plaintiff returned to her previous position as Deputy PA. After Gissiner was hired, plaintiff contends that he restricted her involvement in police misconduct investigations and rarely interacted with her. Plaintiff also alleges that EPD employees and certain City Councilors sought to influence Gissiner's relationship with plaintiff because of her prior complaints and her strained relationship with the EPD.[3] As a result, plaintiff maintains that the PA Office became less collegial, and she felt increasingly isolated and scrutinized. Plaintiff also asserts that Gissiner was too closely aligned with the EPD and altered PA Office policies to minimize reports of police misconduct. According to plaintiff, Gissiner was aware of her past disputes with EPD employees and told her that she needed to be " rehabilitated"

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with the EPD and its officers. See Snyder Decl. Ex. 6 at 7.

Along with their differing philosophies about the role and management of the PA Office, Gissiner and plaintiff had differences of opinion on several issues, including plaintiff's interactions with complainants, the payment of plaintiff's attorney licensing dues, the classification of citizen complaints, retention of investigative files, and plaintiff's communications with and document production to other City offices or agencies. See Matthews Decl. Ex. 1 at 43-51; Reynolds Decl. Ex. 20; Reynolds Suppl. Decl. Ex. 1; Snyder Decl. Ex. 6 at 7-8, 10-15, Exs. 20-25, 29. Plaintiff communicated some of her concerns about Gissiner and his management of the PA Office to City Councilors and CRB members. Snyder Decl. Ex. 1 at 3-4; Brissenden Decl. ¶ ¶ 7-8; Wilkinson Decl. ¶ ¶ 7-8, 11-12. Plaintiff also contacted an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) about her belief that the " constitutional rights of individuals were being violated by the EPD officers." Matthews Decl. Ex. 1 at 24.

On May 17, 2010, Gissiner placed plaintiff on administrative leave pending dismissal. Snyder Decl. Ex. 39.

On February 7, 2011, plaintiff filed suit in state court, and defendants removed the case to federal court. Plaintiff essentially alleges that Gissiner terminated her employment in retaliation for reporting misconduct committed by Gissiner and EPD officers.

STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate " 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). If the moving party meets its burden to establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify facts which raise a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

When determining genuine issues of material fact, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Walls v. Cent. Contra Costa Transit Auth., 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011). While circumstantial evidence may create a genuine issue of material fact, a " conclusory, self-serving affidavit, lacking detailed facts and any supporting evidence" does not. Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Publ'g Clearing House, Inc., 104 F.3d 1168, 1171 (9th Cir. 1997); see also Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (2007) (" Conclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment." ).

DISCUSSION

As an initial matter, the court clarifies the relevant issues in this case. At issue is whether Gissiner terminated plaintiff in retaliation for reporting or disclosing misconduct or potential violations of law. Not at issue are whether the former and current Police Chief and certain EPD employees resented the PA Office, former PA Beamud, or plaintiff herself; whether Gissiner's management style and philosophy are less effective or less collegial than Beamud's or plaintiff's; or whether Gissiner, the EPD, and/or City Councilors genuinely are committed to monitoring and investigating complaints of police misconduct. While such background information may give context to plaintiff's claims, these issues simply are not critical to the resolution of defendants' motion and are better addressed by the relevant stakeholders and policymakers than by this court. Therefore, the court's discussion is

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limited to the elements of plaintiff's claims and the evidence presented in support of them.

A. First Amendment Retaliation

Plaintiff alleges that Gissiner fired her to placate EPD employees and in retaliation for plaintiff's reports of ...


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