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Heidt v. City of McMinnville

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 5, 2017


          Jeffrey H. Boiler, Boiler Law Firm, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Steven A. Kraemer and Leslie A. Edenhofer, Kraemer & Edenhofer, Of Attorneys for Defendants City of McMinnville, Ron Noble, and Matt Scales.

          Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Tracy J. White, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Oregon Department of Justice, Of Attorneys for Defendant Bradley Berry.


          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) by Plaintiff Timothy Heidt (“Heidt”), which is his fourth attempt sufficiently to allege a claim. Heidt, a sergeant with the McMinnville Police Department, brings one claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging procedural due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment against his employer, City of McMinnville, acting by and through the McMinnville Police Department (“MPD”), as well as against former MPD police chief Ron Noble (“Noble”), current MPD police chief Matt Scales (“Scales”) (collectively, “City Defendants”), and Yamhill County District Attorney Bradley Berry (“Berry”) (collectively, “Defendants”).

         The Court previously dismissed Heidt's procedural due process violation claim without prejudice, granting Heidt leave to replead if he can sufficiently plead a constitutionally-protected property interest. Because the Court finds that Heidt has failed to do so, the Court grants the motions to dismiss filed by the City Defendants and Defendant Berry.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim may be granted only when there is no cognizable legal theory to support the claim or when the complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations to state a facially plausible claim for relief. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded material facts alleged in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012); Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). To be entitled to a presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint “may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). All reasonable inferences from the factual allegations must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Newcal Indus. v. Ikon Office Sol., 513 F.3d 1038, 1043 n.2 (9th Cir. 2008). The court need not, however, credit the plaintiff's legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

         A complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.” Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         B. Procedural Due Process

         “The Due Process Clause forbids the governmental deprivation of substantive rights without constitutionally adequate procedure.” Shanks v. Dressel, 540 F.3d 1082, 1090-01 (9th Cir. 2008). The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that “the Government has a much freer hand in dealing ‘with citizen employees than it does when it brings its sovereign power to bear on citizens at large.'” NASA v. Nelson, 562 U.S. 134, 148 (2011) (quoting Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 598 (2008)). “This distinction is grounded on the ‘common-sense realization' that if every ‘employment decision became a constitutional matter, ' the Government could not function.” Id. at 148-49 (quoting Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 143 (1983)); see also Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 350 (1976) (“The Due Process Clause . . . is not a guarantee against incorrect or ill-advised personnel decisions.”).

         To prevail on a procedural due process claim, a plaintiff must establish: (1) a constitutionally-protected liberty or property interest; (2) a deprivation of that interest by the government; and (3) the lack of adequate process. Shanks, 540 F.3d at 1090. Thus, “[a] threshold requirement to a . . . procedural due process claim is the plaintiff's showing of a liberty[1] or property interest protected by the Constitution.” Wedges/Ledges of California, Inc. v. City of Phoenix, 24 F.3d 56, 62 (9th Cir. 1994).

         An employee holds a protected property interest only if she or he has a reasonable expectation of entitlement to it. Stiesberg v. State of California, 80 F.3d 353, 356 (9th Cir. 1996); Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). Public employees have a “property interest” in the terms and conditions of their employment if that interest is established “by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law-rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits.” Board of Regents, 408 U.S. at 577; see also Ulrich v. City & Cty of S.F., 308 F.3d 968, 975 (9th Cir. 2002). A reasonable expectation of entitlement is derived from the wording of the independent source of law, and the “extent to which the entitlement is couched in mandatory terms.” Stiesberg, 80 F.3d at 356 (quoting Wedges/Ledges, 24 F.3d at 62). When the independent source of law details procedural requirements, even those requirements do not automatically transform an employees' “unilateral expectations into a protected property interest.” Wedges/Ledges, 24 F.3d at 62. Such an interest is only created if the “procedural requirements are intended to be a significant substantive restriction on . . . decision making.” T.T. v. Bellevue Sch. Dist., 376 F. App'x. 769, 771 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Stiesberg, 80 F.3d at 356).


         The background of this case has been discussed in the Court's previous opinions. The critical facts relevant to this motion are that after his personnel issues, including Defendant Berry issuing a “Brady letter”[2] informing Heidt that based on reports of his conduct the Yamhill County District Attorney had “‘no choice but to disqualify you as a witness for the State due to a lack of confidence in you as a witness'” (hereinafter referred to as the “Brady Determination”), the MPD and Defendant Scales changed Heidt's work duties and shift assignments. Heidt alleges that the changes in his position have resulted in “second-class” officer status, which has been humiliating and caused damage to his reputation and future employment opportunities.


         A. Due Process Claim

         Heidt raises a single claim for relief against all Defendants, alleging procedural due process violations. To survive Defendants' motions to dismiss, Heidt's TAC must allege facts showing that an independent source of law gives him an entitlement to the property interests he asserts and that the provisions of that independent source of law are couched in mandatory terms and are intended to be a significant substantive restriction on MPD's decision making. See Stiesberg, 80 F.3d at 356.

         Heidt alleges that the City Defendants and Defendant Berry's involvement in the Brady Determination and resultant change in Heidt's job duties and opportunities deprived him of four constitutionally-protected property interests. Specifically, Heidt alleges he is entitled under his collective bargaining agreement (“union contract”) and provisions of Oregon law to: (1) overtime hours and pay; (2) previous job duties; (3) promotions and future employability as a police officer; and (4) training opportunities. The Court addresses each of Heidt's alleged property interests in turn.

         1. ...

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