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Morris v. City of Springfield

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 10, 2015

LINDA MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, a municipal corporation; GRETA UTECHT; RANDALL B. GROVES; and PETER FEHRS, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Between December 2006 and November 2013, plaintiff Linda Morris worked for the City of Springfield as a Clerk and later as a Program Technician. On November 19, 2013, plaintiff's coworker, Gerry Becker, reported to defendant Randall Groves that plaintiff had fraudulently submitted a magazine subscription form in Becker's name. Following this report, plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation and defendant Peter Fehrs hired a third-party forensic document examiner, James Green, to assess the subscription form and additional handwriting samples. On November 21, 2013, Green issued a report concluding that plaintiff had filled out the subscription form. On November 25, 2013, plaintiff attended a resolution options meeting in which she was provided two alternative options: (1) resignation/retirement or (2) further disciplinary investigation. Despite repeated requests for additional information, defendants provided plaintiff with only a cursory description of the allegations against her: non-work-related services or products were purchased in plaintiff's handwriting in someone else's name. Plaintiff was given approximately twenty-four hours to decide whether she would retire. Plaintiff retired the following day.

This Court is asked to consider whether the City of Springfield constructively discharged plaintiff pursuant to a "formal governmental policy or a longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the standard operating procedure." See Gillette v. Delmore, 979 F.2d 1342, 1346 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Because plaintiff failed to establish that defendants acted pursuant to a policy, longstanding practice, or custom, this Court finds that the City of Springfield is not liable under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Thus, defendants' motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 12, is GRANTED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action arises out of an alleged constructive discharge. Plaintiff began working for the City of Springfield as a Clerk in December 2006. See Decl. of Greta Utecht 1, ECF No. 15-1. Plaintiff was promoted to a Program Technician on February 22, 2011. Id. at 2-4.

In late 2013, Becker received the magazine Old House Journal in the mail with an invoice charging her for the subscription. See Decl. of Andrea D. Coit 6, ECF No. 16-1.[1] Becker, who had not ordered the magazine, disputed the invoice charges and requested a copy of the completed subscription form. Id. Old House Journal subsequently provided Becker with the requested copy. Id. at 6, 11.

On November 19, 2013, Becker reported the fraudulent subscription to defendant Groves. Id. at 6-7. Becker informed Groves that she believed plaintiff had submitted the subscription in her name. Id. Becker then provided Groves with a copy of the subscription form and handwriting samples removed from plaintiff's steno pad. See id. at 7, 12-14.

Plaintiff, along with defendant Groves, defendant Fehrs, Brian Evanoff, and Andy Limbird, [2] attended an initial disciplinary meeting in Grove's office later that afternoon. See Decl. of Peter Fehrs 1, ECF No. 13-1. During that meeting, Groves informed plaintiff:

[T]his morning we received information, an allegation into certain activities, behaviors on your part that we're going to have to investigate. And it's... going to take a little bit to pull everything together, but in the meantime, they're of a nature that I'm placing you on paid administrative leave.

Id. at 2. Groves declined to provide any additional information. See id. 2-3; see also Pl.'s Resp. Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 17-1 ("I was not told the nature of the allegations against me.").

Also on November 19, 2013, defendant Fehrs hired forensic document examiner Green to determine whether plaintiff had submitted the subscription in Becker's name. See Decl. of Peter Fehrs 2, ECF No. 13. Fehrs provided Green with the subscription form and handwriting samples taken from plaintiff's steno pad. See id.

On November 21, 2013, Green issued his examination report in which he determined that "[a]s a result of the comparison process, it is highly probable Ms. Morris wrote the name and address information on the form." Id. at 6, ECF No. 13-1. The report defined "highly probable" as "did write." Id. at 9. Following receipt of the report, Fehrs contacted Limbird and advised him that "the City had gathered information that showed that Plaintiff had forged the signature of a co-worker on a magazine subscription form." Id. at 2, ECF No. 13.[3] Fehrs further informed Limbird that plaintiff could either: (1) resign/retire on November 25, 2013 or (2) undergo a formal disciplinary investigation. Id. Fehrs provided Limbird with a redacted version of Green's report, which was later provided to plaintiff. Id.; see also id. at 12-18, ECF No. 13-1 (redacted report); Decl. of Andrea D. Coit 39, ECF No. 16-1.

On November 25, 2013, plaintiff, along with defendant Utecht, defendant Fehrs, and Limbird, attended a "resolution options meeting." See Decl. of Peter Fehrs 19-35, ECF No. 13-1. At that meeting, Utecht[4] presented plaintiff with two alternative options: (1) resignation/retirement or (2) disciplinary investigation. Pursuant to the first option, Utecht informed plaintiff that: she would receive compensation for her vacation time and sick leave; all documents relating to the subscription investigation would be removed from her personnel file, including the record of administrative leave; and the disciplinary investigation would be terminated. See id. at 21-22, 27. Pursuant to the second option, defendants would conduct a further disciplinary investigation into the underlying forgery allegation. If the forgery allegations were confirmed, plaintiff would be terminated; she would not receive compensation for her accumulated sick leave; and the matter would be referred to the district attorney for prosecution. See id. at 20-21, 29. In discussing this second option, Utecht noted that she had previously consulted with the police and believed that the police would follow her advice as to whether to criminally charge plaintiff for criminal forgery. Id. at 20, 23, 29.

During the course of the meeting, plaintiff and Limbird repeatedly asked defendants for a more specific description of the allegations against plaintiff. See id. at 23-27. Defendants declined to provide a copy of the subscription form or identify the source of the allegations. See id. at 24. Defendants eventually described the alleged forgery as follows: "[non-work-related] services or products were purchased in [plaintiff's] handwriting.... [i]n someone else's name." ...


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