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Sanders v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 7, 2015

CHRISTOPHER SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For CHRISTOPHER SANDERS, Plaintiff: David Robert Cashdan, LEAD ATTORNEY, CASHDAN & KANE, PLLC, Washington, DC; Michael Gerard Kane, LEAD ATTORNEY, CASHDAN & KANE, PLLC, Westfield, NJ.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, CHARLES H. RAMSEY, Metropolitan Police Department, JEFFREY HEROLD, In his Individual and official capacity, CATHY L. LANIER, ALFRED BROADBENT, Defendants: Michael K. Addo, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; Wayne C. Beyer, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC; Darrell Chambers, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC.

OPINION

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PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Sanders, a former Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department, accuses the Department and various police officials of violating his First Amendment and procedural due process rights. Both Sanders and the defendants have now moved for summary judgment. On March 31, 2015, after careful consideration of the parties' papers, attached exhibits, relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court granted judgment to the defendants on one portion of Count I, dismissed Count II without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and denied as moot plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. This Opinion explains the reasoning underlying that March 31, 2015 Order.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

The story of this case spans almost two decades.[2] Plaintiff Christopher Sanders joined the Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ) in 1990 and served until September or October of 2002. Def. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 5; Second Am. Compl. ¶ 7. In 1996, the MPD selected him to serve as a supervisor in the Special Emphasis Unit, a

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unit within the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division. Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ ¶ 2-3. There, plaintiff noticed a pattern of certain employees abusing time and attendance policies. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff reported the abuses to his superiors and testified before the District of Columbia Council; his testimony was covered in the local media. Id.; see also Def. Mot. Ex. 1 (transcript of plaintiff's testimony before the D.C. Council).

Shortly after giving his testimony, plaintiff filed suit in this Court, alleging that the MPD and various police officials retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights. See Complaint, Sanders v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-2938 (PLF) [Dkt. No. 1]. The parties eventually reached an agreement settling all claims, which was signed by all the parties, including, on September 3, 2002, counsel for the District of Columbia. Pl. Mot. Ex. 3 (settlement agreement); see also Def. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 2. Under the terms of that agreement, plaintiff received a lump sum payment and the MPD was required to promote him to Lieutenant. Pl. Mot. Ex. 3; see also Second Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

In January of 2002, before the suit was settled, plaintiff took extended leave, with the approval of his supervisor, defendant Jeffrey Herold, to care for his mother in Florida. Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ ¶ 15-17 (Sanders' Declaration); Def. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 38. Plaintiff returned in August of 2002. Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ 18.

On September 5, 2002, defendant Herold reported to his supervisor, defendant Cathy Lanier, that plaintiff had been Absent Without Leave (" AWOL" ) because he had failed to report for duty the prior week despite allegedly stating that he would. Def. Mot. Ex. 6 at 3 (Herold deposition transcript). Later that same day, plaintiff met with defendants Herold and Lanier to discuss either taking a leave of absence or resigning in order to pursue a Masters of Business Administration degree at Marymount University. Pl. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ ¶ 4-6. Defendants Lanier and Herold did not inform plaintiff that he had been reported AWOL. Pl. Mot. Ex. 5 at 31-32 (Herold deposition transcript); Ex. 7 at 47-48 (Lanier deposition transcript); Ex. 1 ¶ 22 (Sanders' Declaration) (" At no time was I made aware that I was under investigation for misconduct." ).[3] At that meeting, plaintiff claims that defendant Lanier stated that " if [plaintiff] resigned, [he] was always free to come back to the MPD within one year." Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ 21.

Later that day, plaintiff submitted a letter requesting permission to resign from the MPD. Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ ¶ 23-25; Def.

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Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 9. Although resignation requests generally require thirty days' notice, plaintiff requested that such period be waived. Def. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 9. Plaintiff received no response to his resignation request. Pl. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 15. Twenty-five days later, however, plaintiff submitted a second letter seeking to rescind his prior resignation request. Def. Stmt Mat. Facts ¶ 12. Plaintiff again received no response. Pl. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 21. He also did not receive or complete any of the administrative forms normally required to separate from the MPD. Id. ¶ ¶ 54-55. Plaintiff continued on MPD's payroll, receiving sick leave pay, until October 19, 2002. Id. ¶ ¶ 23-24.

Between November 2002 and June 2003, plaintiff and his attorney sent numerous communications to then Chief of Police, defendant Charles Ramsey, and to a D.C. Assistant Corporation Counsel, Thomas Foltz, requesting that plaintiff's separation be halted or, in the alternative, that plaintiff be reinstated. Pl. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ ¶ 26-36. At some point during this period, defendant Alfred Broadbent ordered defendant Herold to complete plaintiff's disciplinary investigation. Def. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ 53; Def. Mot. at 12. Defendant Herold completed the investigation and concluded that plaintiff had been AWOL and had made a false statement. Def. Mot. Ex. 6 (disciplinary investigation report). Defendant Herold's report was forwarded to defendant Ramsey who then sent a letter to plaintiff on August 15, 2003, denying plaintiff's request for reinstatement. Pl. Stmt. Mat. Facts ¶ ¶ 38, 48; Pl. Mot. Ex. 24 at 107-08 (Ramsey deposition transcript).

In late 2005 or early 2006, plaintiff received a package from an anonymous source containing (1) documents pertaining to the 2003 disciplinary investigation and (2) a copy of plaintiff's initial resignation letter bearing the initials of various MPD officials and appearing to show that plaintiff's request to resign had been approved on September 6, 2002. Pl. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ 27; Def. Mot. Ex. 7. Plaintiff then filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the MPD, former Chief of Police Ramsey, Captain Herold, and John Doe, alleging violations of his First Amendment and due process rights. Compl. ¶ ¶ 1-7. The Court later granted plaintiff leave to amend the complaint and replace defendant John Doe with now Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and former Assistant Chief Alfred Broadbent. Feb. 2009 Op. at 2-4.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when " the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). In making that determination, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (per curiam); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d 303, 308, 395 U.S.App.D.C. 7 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

A disputed fact is " material" if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d at 308 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248). A dispute over a material fact is " genuine" if it could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. See Scott v. ...


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