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Shreve v. City of Romulus

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 9, 2017

STACEY SHREVE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ROMULUS and ROBERT J. DICKERSON, Defendants.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford United States Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          PAUL D. BORMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stacey Shreve was roughly two weeks into his probationary period as a newly sworn officer of the Romulus Police Department when he was severely injured in an auto accident. The accident occurred while he was sitting in the passenger seat of a patrol car during a training exercise. The physical effects of the accident on Plaintiff were enduring, and in some respects permanent. He was on disability leave for approximately fifteen months after the accident, returned to work for around six months, went on disability leave again when his injuries turned out to be more severe and persistent than initially diagnosed, and was terminated about a year later.

         Plaintiff originally brought this six-count action against Defendant City of Romulus (“the City”) and Defendant Robert Dickerson (Chief of Police and later Director of Public Safety for the City), asserting that Defendants committed due process violations, racial discrimination, disability discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff has since conceded that he cannot maintain any claims against Dickerson, and that he cannot maintain his race discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against the City. The Court will dismiss these claims accordingly, leaving Plaintiffs due process and disability discrimination claims in the action.

         A hearing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as it relates to the remaining claims in this action was held on May 4, 2017. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiffs Employment with the City (July 2012 to December 2012)

         Plaintiff began to work for the Romulus Police Department after a chance encounter with Dickerson, then chief of police, in the summer of 2012. Plaintiff had unsuccessfully applied to work for the department earlier that year, and he was working as a service technician for a television installation company when he was assigned to make an installation at Dickerson's home. Dickerson admired Plaintiffs work ethic, and later arranged to sponsor Plaintiffs attendance at the Macomb Police Academy, which Dickerson testified (and Plaintiff was told at the time) was unusual. (ECF No. 26, Defs.' Mot. Ex. B, Deposition of Stacey Shreve at 18:17-21:8; Defs.' Mot. Ex. A, Deposition of Robert J. Dickerson at 6:12-10:8.)

         In a letter dated July 27, 2012, Dickerson formally extended Plaintiff a conditional offer of a full-time Police Officer position. The letter stated that before being sworn in as an officer, Plaintiff would have to successfully complete all phases of training at the Macomb Police Academy, which would run from August 13, 2012 to December 12, 2012. (ECF No. 32, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A, Employment Offer Letter, Pg ID 358.)

         Plaintiff attended the academy and graduated without incident. (Shreve Dep. 22:8-15.) Plaintiff then began his Field Training Officer Program (“FTO”), a program for newly sworn officers during which each new officer is assigned a fulltime training officer, who provides on-the-job training and periodic evaluations of the new hire's progress. (Shreve Dep. 30:12-22.) The length of the FTO period varies from officer to officer, but is typically completed in four to six months. (Dickerson Dep. 13:16-14:21.)

         According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) in effect at the time, employees who are not certified officers on their date of hire (as was true of Plaintiff) are subject to a fifteen-month probationary period that is separate from the FTO. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. C, Collective Bargaining Agreement at 7, Pg ID 288.) The CBA provides that while the probationary period is in effect, the “employee may be terminated at the sole discretion of the Department with or without cause. This termination will not be subject to the grievance procedure.” (Id.)

         B. Plaintiffs Injury and First Disability Leave Period (December 2012 to April 2014)

         During a road patrol with his FTO supervisor on December 29, 2012-roughly two weeks after beginning his FTO-Plaintiff was severely injured in a car accident while he was seated in the passenger seat of a patrol vehicle. In the accident, Plaintiff sustained a dislocated hip, a shattered pelvis, a knee injury, and a spinal disc injury. (Shreve Dep. 23:6-24:14.) He was hospitalized for approximately two weeks following the accident, and received surgery on his hip and on his knee. (Shreve Dep. 25:2-25.)

         Plaintiff was on disability leave from when the accident occurred in December 2012 until April of 2014, during which time he received worker's compensation benefits, and during which time the City paid him the difference between those benefits and his salary. (Id.; Dickerson Dep. 22:9-16.)

         C. Plaintiffs Return to Work (April 2014 - October 2014)

         In April of 2014, Plaintiff's doctor cleared him to return to work without restrictions. (Shreve Dep. 40:20-41:1.) Plaintiff resumed his FTO training when he returned to work, but had difficulty passing certain phases of the training. (Shreve Dep. 43:11-17.) John Leacher, the City's Director of Public Safety at the time, testified that when it was brought to his attention that Plaintiff was struggling to complete the program, he directed his staff to give Plaintiff more time by restarting his FTO period. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. E, Deposition of John Leacher at 11:10-12:17.)

         Plaintiff continued to experience pain in his back and leg throughout this period, and was unable to sit for a certain length of time without having to change his position or stretch his leg. (Shreve Dep. 41:2-42:14.) A superior directed Plaintiff to have a medical examination, after which the examining physician determined that Plaintiffs workload should be restricted to 75% of what it otherwise would be. (Shreve Dep. 83:6-17.) It was also determined that Plaintiff should not engage in bending, kneeling, lifting, or squatting. (Shreve Dep. 44:3-10; Dickerson Dep. 30:9-22.)

         Plaintiff testified that around this time, he asked Sergeant Sadler, a supervising officer, whether there was any “light-duty” work available for him, and that after the officer put the question to the human resources department, “I was told no, there were no light-duty work for me.” (Shreve Dep. 82:14-83:23.) Plaintiff went on disability leave again shortly thereafter, on October 10, 2014. (Shreve Dep. 41:2-6.)

         D. Plaintiffs Second Disability Leave Period (October 2014 to October 2015)

         Plaintiff was still on disability leave when Dickerson, who by then was chief of staff for the mayor's office, called a meeting on February 26, 2015 at Romulus City Hall with Plaintiff and Captain Joshua Monte, the officer responsible for the police department's patrol division. (Shreve Dep. 48:9-21, 49:13-21; Defs.' Mot. Ex. D, Deposition of Joshua Monte at 4:20-22.) Two topics relevant to this lawsuit were discussed at that meeting: the status of Plaintiff's certification as a police officer by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (“MCOLES”), [1] and the possibility of Plaintiff being reassigned to a dispatcher position.

         Dickerson told Plaintiff at the February 2015 meeting that his MCOLES certification had lapsed while he was on disability leave, and handed him a printout reflecting that fact. (Shreve Dep. 50:6-22; Dickerson Dep. 35:13-36:7.) This was later determined to be erroneous, and Plaintiff's certification was reinstated. (Shreve Dep. 50:17-22; Dickerson Dep. 36:13-37:7.)

         The February 2015 meeting also involved a conversation about the prospect of Plaintiff working as a dispatcher rather than a police officer. Plaintiff testified that Dickerson broached the subject at the meeting, and told him that “there may be a position opening up in June or July.” (Shreve Dep. 51:9-15.) Plaintiff responded that he “still wanted to be a police officer, that was my main goal, was to try and get better to stay as a police officer.”[2] (Shreve Dep. 51:16-20.) Although there was an anticipated vacancy at the time of this meeting, there was not a dispatcher position actually available. (Dickerson Dep. 26:9-27:20.) The City did not offer Plaintiff a dispatcher position when one did open up, according to Dickerson's testimony, because of his statements at the February 2015 meeting. (Dickerson Dep. 27:21-24.) At no point did Plaintiff himself apply for a dispatcher position with the City. (Shreve Dep. 51:21-23.)

         E. Plaintiffs Termination (October 2015)

         Plaintiff was terminated on October 30, 2015, in a meeting with Dickerson, then-police chief Jadie Settles, and union representative Officer Chris Hines. (Shreve Dep. 61:3-18.) Dickerson testified that the decision to terminate Plaintiff was made jointly by Dickerson and Settles, and that the reason for the decision was that Plaintiff was unable to meet the physical requirements of the position. (Dickerson Dep. 38:4-15.) Plaintiff himself testified that the reason for his termination was that he was no longer able to perform the essential functions of his job. (Shreve Dep. 47:4-15.) Plaintiff also testified that he had not completed the FTO program as of the date of his discharge. (Shreve Dep. 45:8-25.)

         The termination letter that was issued to Plaintiff by the City and signed by Dickerson stated in relevant part:

[A]fter reviewing recent information from your physician as well as the Independent Medical Examiner (IME) on your physical condition, it appears as though you will be unable to return to work as a police officer without restrictions anytime soon, so granting any further extensions, like we did in the past, is no longer an option.
After reviewing your actual work history, you have physically worked a total of seven months and have been off work on a worker's compensation claim for approximately twenty-four months, which far exceeds the limitations listed within the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Therefore, your employment with the city of Romulus is being terminated effective immediately.

(Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 8, Termination Letter, Pg ID 503.)

         F. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that his termination was wrongful and that the City failed to accommodate his disability. (Shreve Dep. 67:12-68:19.) The EEOC closed its investigation into the matter and issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on or about March 4, 2016. (ECF No. 1, Compl. ¶ 44.)

         Plaintiff filed this action on June 4, 2016. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff's Complaint asserted a total of six claims against both the City and Dickerson in his individual and official capacities: deprivation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count II); disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12102 et seq. (Count III); race discrimination in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.2201 et seq. (Count IV); disability discrimination in violation of Michigan's Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”), Mich. Comp. Laws 37.1201 et seq. (Count V); and the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) under Michigan common law (Count VI).

         On January 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel (ECF No. 20), claiming that the City improperly withheld discoverable documents, including “complete policy and procedures manuals for the City of Romulus and its Police Department.” (See Id. at 6, Pg ID 114.) That Motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford (ECF No. 21), but before the scheduled hearing was held, the parties stipulated that ‚ÄúDefendant has now complied with Plaintiff's Discovery Requests, ...


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