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White v. Taylor

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

May 17, 2019

CHRISTOPHER WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF TURNER POLICE CHIEF DON TAYLOR, by and through the CITY OF TURNER POLICE DEPARTMENT, a political subdivision of TURNER, OREGON; CITY OF TURNER MANAGER DAVID SAWYER, by and through the CITY OF TURNER POLICE DEPARTMENT, a political subdivision of TURNER, OREGON, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Christopher White is a deputy sheriff at the Marion County Sheriff's Office. He previously worked as a police officer for the City of Turner Police Department in Turner, Oregon. Mr. White brings this action against the City of Turner and two of its employees for allegedly filing a libelous complaint with the Marion County Sheriff in retaliation for critical statements Mr. White made about his former employer. Mr. White asserts one claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for First Amendment retaliation and one state-law claim for defamation. Defendants move in relevant part to dismiss the Section 1983 claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and to strike the defamation claim pursuant to Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.150. Because a public official's defamatory statements, standing alone, cannot give rise to a cognizable claim for First Amendment retaliation, and because the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claim, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED and their motion to strike DENIED as moot. Mr. White's Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. White worked as a police officer for the City of Turner Police Department from May 9, 2013 to November 8, 2015. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12, ECF No. 1. Upon resigning his position with the City of Turner, Mr. White joined the Marion County Sheriff's Office as a deputy sheriff. Compl. ¶ 12. His wife, non-party Larissa White, was hired on October 27, 2015 to replace him as a police officer at the City of Turner Police Department. Compl. ¶ 13.

         Mrs. White worked at the City of Turner Police Department until she was terminated on July 31, 2017. Compl. ¶ 19. Although the circumstances of her termination are disputed and the subject of separate constitutional and whistleblower litigation, see White v. Taylor, No. 6:18-cv-00550-MK (D. Or. filed Mar. 30, 2018), the City of Turner represents that Mrs. White was dismissed for falsely reporting hours on her time sheets, Compl. ¶¶ 18-19.[1]

         After her termination, Mrs. White applied for unemployment benefits with the Oregon Employment Department (“OED”). Compl. ¶ 20. An investigation of her application by the OED concluded that Mrs. White had not committed a “willful or wantonly negligent violation” of the City of Turner's personnel policy. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22. She was therefore eligible for unemployment benefits and awarded the same on August 18, 2017. Compl. ¶ 22.

         The City of Turner appealed the OED's decision. As part of that appeal, Mr. White submitted a declaration in support of his wife's application for benefits. Compl. ¶¶ 23-24. The declaration, recorded on November 14, 2017, contained the following statements:

1. During my time as a police officer with the City of Turner, there was no formal policy regarding the use of sick leave, comp time, or flex time.
2. During my time as a police officer with the City of Turner, the City provided no formal training regarding the use of sick leave, comp time, or flex time.
3. During my time as a police officer with the City of Turner, I was not required to ask permission to use sick leave, comp time, and/or flex time.

Compl. ¶ 24. The City of Turner ultimately withdrew its appeal, but not before viewing Mr. White's declaration. See Compl. ¶¶ 24-25, 27.

         Shortly thereafter, City of Turner Manager David Sawyer lodged a formal written complaint with Mr. White's current employer, the Marion County Sheriff's Office. Compl. ¶ 27. In his complaint, Mr. Sawyer alleged that Mr. White had submitted false statements as part of Mrs. White's unemployment proceeding. Compl. ¶ 27. Specifically, Mr. Sawyer maintained that Mr. White's description of the City of Turner's timekeeping policies and practices in his declaration was “false and dishonest.” Compl. ¶ 27.

         In response, on December 12, 2017, the Marion County Sheriff's Office opened an internal affairs investigation into Mr. White. Compl. ¶ 28. Mr. White was provided with a formal Notice of Investigation and interviewed in connection with the investigation on January 17, 2019. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30. The Marion County Sherriff's Office failed to find any “evidence of untruthfulness” and, unable to sustain the allegations that Mr. White had submitted false or dishonest statements, closed its investigation without further action. Compl. ¶ 31.

         Mr. White filed the instant action on November 1, 2018. He brings one claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for First Amendment retaliation against Mr. Sawyer, Mr. Taylor, and the City of Turner.[2] He also brings one claim for state-law defamation against Mr. Sawyer. All three defendants move to dismiss the Section 1983 claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Mr. Sawyer also moves to dismiss the defamation claim ...


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