United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DENNIS G. WHITTIE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF RIVER ROUGE, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
Corbett O'Meara, United States District Judge
the court are Plaintiff's motion for partial summary
judgment and Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The
court heard oral argument on August 24, 2017, and took the
matter under advisement.
consolidated case, Plaintiff Dennis Whittie filed his
original complaint in 2014. Whittie was employed as a
part-time police officer for the City of River Rouge. In the
original complaint, Whittie alleged that Defendants
retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment
rights and the Michigan Whistleblowers' Protection Act by
changing his shift and by failing to hire him as a full-time
officer. Defendants sought summary judgment, which the court
denied with respect to Plaintiff's First Amendment
retaliation claim. The court declined to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
Whistleblowers' Protection Act claim.
Whittie was terminated from his employment by the City.
Whittie filed a second complaint, which was later amended,
alleging that his termination violated his due process and
First Amendment rights and constituted a breach of the
City's Charter. The cases were consolidated. Whittie
seeks summary judgment on his due process and breach of
contract claims; Defendants seek summary judgment on all of
was hired by the City of River Rouge in 2008 as a part-time
police officer. The City and the police officers' union
agreed to the creation of part-time police officer positions
as a result of financial challenges facing the City. The City
contends that it intended these part-time police officers to
be at-will employees.
part-time police officer positions were created pursuant to a
Letter of Agreement between the union and the City, which
POLC Unit I agrees to allow the City to facilitate the Use of
Part Time Officers. . . . The POLC Unit I understands that
the City is having financial problems and is willing to allow
the City to contract out One, (1) DEA position on a temporary
basis. This position will be considered an at will position.
The person filling this position will be an at will employees
[sic], and will never make a wage more than that of a Three
Year Patrolman's Base Wage of $47, 396.47, at the signing
of this agreement.
Pl.'s Ex. 7 (Letter of Agreement). At the time of his
hiring, Whittie signed an oath of office, which provides:
By offering this oath of office and requiring a signature, no
written or implied contract for employment or continued
employment is being offered. For any reason that an employee
is found to be incapable, unqualified or unfit for employment
or continued employment, or the employee's best efforts
to comply with the required obligations, responsibilities,
duties and task performances associated with this oath are
unsatisfactory, that employee is subject to removal.
Def.'s Ex. 4. As a part-time officer, Plaintiff was not a
member of the union, which represents full-time police
Plaintiff filed his original lawsuit in 2014, Defendant
Police Chief Jeffrey Harris retired in January 2015.
Defendant Deborah Price became the chief of the City's
police department. Plaintiff contends that he and Price had a
good working relationship for several years, but that Price
became increasingly hostile toward him as he raised various
problems in the department.
April 2015, Plaintiff posted at the police station a
photograph with superimposed comments (a “meme”)
of a sergeant sleeping in his police vehicle while on duty.
When Price raised the issue at a staff meeting, Plaintiff
admitted posting the photo. Later, Price told Plaintiff to
“stop playing like that.” Plaintiff states that
Price did not indicate that he would disciplined. Price,
however, testified that she considered this issue “the
straw that broke the camel's back.” Def.'s Ex.
7, Price Dep. at 134. According to Price, Plaintiff was
“being insubordinate, usurping my authority, creating
divisiveness, not being courteous to his fellow officers,
creating dissention among the troops.” Id. at
mid-April 2015, the City received notice from MIOSHA about a
complaint Plaintiff had made regarding the police
department's handling of safety related to blood-borne
pathogens. For the police department's violations, MIOSHA
imposed a $2, 800 fine.
alleges that around the same time, Price's secretary and
a lieutenant began printing up police reports related to
citizen complaints about Plaintiff, some of which were five
years old, “for no good reason.” After the
“meme” incident, the City hired attorney James
Acho to investigate Plaintiff. Acho testified that, after
interviewing the majority of the officers in the department,
the general sentiment was that Plaintiff was a “cancer
in the department” because of his “undermining
nature and a desire to supersede those who oversee
him.” Acho Dep. at 19.
2015, Plaintiff met with Price to express his concerns about
various incidents: civil rights violations of one of his
fellow officers, ongoing LIEN violations in the department,
racist rants on Facebook by an officer, the unlawful release
of a prisoner, wage and hour violations, and that an officer
allegedly received sexual favors in exchange for not making
an arrest. See Pl.'s Ex. 3 at ¶ 78;
Defs.' Ex. 28. Plaintiff contends that “Price's
reactions at the meeting were negative toward me.”
Pl.'s Ex. 3 at ¶ 80.
went on workers' compensation leave due to a back injury
on June 22, 2015. Having graduated from law school in January
2015, Plaintiff formed a law firm called the Whittie Law
Center in June 2015. While on workers' compensation
leave, Plaintiff represented clients as a practicing
Plaintiff's medical leave, the City hired Lance Owens,
who had worked as a part-time police officer, as a full-time
officer. Defendants contend that Owens was hired as a
full-time officer because he received another offer of
employment and the City wanted to retain him. See
Def.'s Ex. 37.
Plaintiff returned from leave in February 2016, he was
presented with a letter from Price notifying him that
“your actions have been found to be in violation of
your responsibilities as an employee of the City of River
Rouge.” Defs.' Ex. 12. “Your decision to
reproduce a photograph of a fellow officer in a compromised
position and disseminate this image, utilize your own
letterhead despite being directed to refrain from such use,
and your decision to engage in unauthorized outside
employment all constitute violations of your responsibilities
as a City of River Rouge Police Officer.” Id.
Price informed Plaintiff that he would have an opportunity to
respond to the charges set forth in the letter at a hearing
scheduled for February 22, 2016.
hearing, Plaintiff stated that he received the letter
outlining the charges against him, but that he was “at
a loss to even properly respond yet because there's just
a laundry list of charges but no application. . . . [N]o
analysis.” Defs.' Ex. 17 at 1. The City's
attorney told Plaintiff, “this is your opportunity to
respond to these charges.” Id. Plaintiff asked
numerous questions about the charges and stated that he felt
he was singled out for discipline and retaliated against.
Subsequently, Plaintiff also responded to ...