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Seger v. City of Lancaster

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

March 12, 2013

SHAUN SEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LANCASTER, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants

For Shaun Seger, Plaintiff: Edward E. Dove, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lexington, KY.

For City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Brenda Powers, In her individual capacity, Bret Baierlein, In his individual capacity, Chris Davis, In his individual capacity, Brandon McGlone, In his individual capacity, Maggie Mick, In her individual capacity, Mike Sutton, In his individual capacity, Jesse Wagoner, In his individual capacity, Allen Weston, In his individual capacity, Defendants: Charles David Cole, Derrick T. Wright, Morgan Todd Osterloh, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney PLLC, Lexington, KY.

For Brenda Powers, In her official capacity as Mayor of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Bret Baierlein, In his offiical capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Chris Davis, In his official capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Brandon McGlone, In his official capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Maggie Mick, In her official capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Mike Sutton, In his official capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Jesse Wagoner, In his official capacity as Council Member of the City of Lancaster, Kentucky, Allen Weston, In his official capacity as Acting Chief of Lancaster Police Department, Official Defendants: Charles David Cole, Derrick T. Wright, Morgan Todd Osterloh, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney PLLC, Lexington, KY.

OPINION

Page 822

Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In 1980, the Kentucky legislature enacted what is commonly referred to as the " Police Officer's Bill of Rights." Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. (" KRS" ) § 15.520 (Michie 2008). The statute provides certain procedural protections to officers employed by local governments that receive appropriations from the Commonwealth's general fund. At times relevant to this action, Plaintiff Shaun Seger (" Seger" ) was employed as a police officer by the City of Lancaster, Kentucky (" Lancaster" ). For a nineteen-day period in December of 2011, Seger was suspended without pay while self-reported criminal charges were pending against him. After those charges were resolved, Seger was reinstated to his former position and provided with full back pay. However, the plaintiff believes that his rights under the Police Officer's Bill of Rights were violated by the defendants' actions. As a result, he brought this suit for monetary damages due to the emotional distress he allegedly suffered as a result of being temporary suspended. [Record No. 1]

The defendants originally joined as parties include: Lancaster; Brenda Powers, in her official and individual capacity as Mayor of Lancaster; Bret Baierlein, in his official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; Chris Davis, in his official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; Brandon McGlone, in his official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; Maggie Mick, in her official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; Mike Sutton, in his official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; Jesse Wagoner, in his official and individual capacity as council member of Lancaster; and Allen Weston, in his official and individual capacity as acting Chief of the Lancaster Police Department. [See Record No. 1-1.] The defendants seek dismissal of Seger's Complaint. They contend that even if KRS § 15.520 applies to suspensions that do not arise from a citizen's complaint, the plaintiff has not stated viable claims for relief.

Page 823

Seger's original Complaint contains one federal claim and one claim based on state law. The plaintiff also seeks to assert additional state law claims through an Amended Complaint which was tendered after the defendants moved to dismiss the original Complaint. [Record No. 6] Having reviewed the relevant authorities and materials submitted by the parties, the Court agrees that Seger's federal claim (Count 2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. However, the Court will not dismiss the first Count of Seger's original Complaint based on the facts alleged.

I.

When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the complaint alleges " sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met " when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although the complaint need not contain " detailed factual allegations" to survive a motion to dismiss, " a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).

In considering a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court is required to " accept all of plaintiff's factual allegations as true and determine whether any set of facts consistent with the allegations would entitle the plaintiff to relief." G.M. Eng'rs & Assoc., Inc. v. West Bloomfield Twp., 922 F.2d 328, 330 (6th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). However, the Court need not accept as true legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot be plausibly drawn from the facts, as alleged. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (" [T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." ); see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (noting that in reviewing a motion to dismiss, the district court " must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true," but that the court is " not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" ). Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) essentially " allows the Court to dismiss, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, meritless cases which would otherwise waste judicial resources and result in unnecessary discovery." Glassman, Edwards, Wade & Wyatt, P.C. v. Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, LLP, 601 F.Supp.2d 991, 997 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 10, 2009).

II.

A. Count I States a Viable Claim Under the Facts Presented.

The defendant's motion to dismiss turns on application of KRS § 15.520 to the facts as alleged by the plaintiff. [1] The statute

Page 824

provides a number of protections to police officers employed by certain local governments. As Senior United States District Judge Thomas B. Russell explained in Martin v. City of Glasgow, 882 F.Supp.2d 903, (W.D. Ky. 2012), " the statute assures that officers who are the subject of a civilian complaint will not be disciplined or terminated without an investigation or an in-person hearing." Id. at *26 (citing Laux v. City of Oak Grove, No. 5: 03-CV-141-R, at *5 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 1, 2004) (emphasis added). Thus, as the highlighted portion of Judge Russell's opinion suggests, the protections may not extend to all police officers subject to the statute.

The statute contains four numbered paragraphs. The fourth paragraph limits the protections provided by the statute to local governmental units that receive funds from the Commonwealth's Law Enforcement Foundation Program. See KRS § 15.440. To be eligible for such funding, the local unit of government must employ police officers meeting certain minimum educational and professional requirements. See KRS § 15.440(1). The second and third paragraphs relate to the manner by which a police officer may judicially challenge adverse decisions of his or her employer. KRS § § 15.520(2), (3).

The prefatory language of the first paragraph of the statute outlines its purpose ( i.e., establishing a minimum system of professional conduct for officers employed by certain local units of government). Additionally, this paragraph identifies the goal of dealing fairly with covered officers by providing certain enumerated due process protections while providing citizens with a means of redressing improprieties allegedly committed by covered officers. This paragraph then outlines the manner of accomplishing the stated objectives in subparagraphs (a) through (h). KRS § § 15.520(1)(a) -- (h).

Subparagraph (a) pertains to the manner in which complaints are received from citizens while specifically providing that a department may investigate alleged improprieties even without a citizen's complaint. Next, subparagraph (b) provides certain rights which may be exercised by officers who have been suspended. Subparagraphs (c) and (d) provide for certain rights for officers questioned regarding allegations of improper activities. Next, subparagraph (e) states that a covered officer must be given specific notice of any charge involving an alleged violation of any governmental rule or regulation. In connection with this notice requirement, subparagraph (f) prohibits public statements being made concerning the alleged violation of governmental rules or regulations. [2] Finally, subparagraph (h) contains a detailed outline of the mechanics for any administrative hearing relating to charges made against a covered police officer.

Because the defendants have chosen not to assert a defense that would result in the complete dismissal of this action (that is, that the statute only applies in the context of a citizen's complaint), it is necessary for this Court to provide full citation to, and evaluation of, the statute. It specifically provides as follows:

(1) In order to establish a minimum system of professional conduct of the police officers of local units of government of this Commonwealth, the following standards of conduct are stated as the intention of the General Assembly to deal fairly and set administrative due process rights for police officers of the local unit of government and at the same time providing a means for redress by the citizens of the Commonwealth for

Page 825

wrongs allegedly done to them by police officers covered by this section:
(a) Any complaint taken from any individual alleging misconduct on the part of any police officer, as defined herein, shall be taken as follows:
1. If the complaint alleges criminal activity on behalf of a police officer, the allegations may be investigated without a signed, sworn complaint of the individual;
2. If the complaint alleges abuse of official authority or a violation of rules and regulations of the department, an affidavit, signed by and sworn to ...

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