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Smith v. Stewart

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

July 9, 2018

WILLIAM SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY STEWART, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. 27)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Anthony Stewart and Randy Franks' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 27). The motion has been fully briefed, and a hearing was held on May 3, 2018. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff William Smith, an African-American male, began working for the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) as a Corrections Officer at the Detroit Detention Center (“DDC”) on March 18, 2001. Compl. ¶ 13 (Dkt. 1). Defendant Anthony Stewart was the Warden of the DDC, and Defendant Randy Franks was the Discipline Coordinator. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. On April 26, 2014 - a Saturday - Smith allegedly became involved in an argument with his former fiancée, which led to police involvement. Def. Statement of Material Facts (“SMF”) ¶¶ 2-7 (Dkt. 27).

         On April 28, 2014 - the following Monday - the Detroit Police Department contacted Stewart, the Warden at the DDC, to inform him that Smith was allegedly involved in a felony. Id. ¶ 13. MDOC Departmental Manager, Jimmy Waters, also sent an internal memo to the deputy warden describing the alleged incident and stating that the Detroit Police intended to arrest Smith while he was at work. Statement of Additional Material Facts (“SAMF”) ¶ 22 (Dkt. 32). Smith did not come into work that day. SMF ¶ 15. The following day, Smith was arrested at his home for felonious assault and taken to the DDC. SMF ¶ 17; Smith Dep. Tr., Ex. I to Pl. Mot., at 70, PageID.1060 (Dkt. 32-9). At the DDC, Smith encountered his supervisor, Shanequa Owens, and informed her that he had had police contact. SAMF ¶ 49. Smith was suspended from work without pay. Smith Dep. Tr. at 157, PageID.1081.[1]

         An allegation of wrongdoing triggers MDOC's disciplinary procedures. An investigation is commenced to determine whether the charges have merit, and the employee is typically notified that he or she is being investigated. SAMF ¶ 1. Following the investigation, MDOC schedules a disciplinary conference with the employee to determine if there is enough evidence to substantiate an allegation that is raised in the investigatory report, and the employee will receive notice of the disciplinary conference. SAMF ¶ 9. After the conference, MDOC notifies the employee in writing of the results and the disciplinary action to be taken or recommended. SAMF ¶ 15.

         While Smith was detained at the DDC, Aaron Payne, an investigator in MDOC's Internal Affairs division, came to speak with him. SAMF ¶ 44. Smith told Payne to contact his attorney. Id. Smith was later provided with a questionnaire regarding his arrest. See Memorandum re: Investigative Questionnaire: Internal Affairs Investigation IA-14-12100, Ex. 5 to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 27-6). The questionnaire asked whether Smith was arrested on April 26, 2014 for felonious assault and if yes, asked him to explain. Smith wrote that he was not arrested on April 26, 2014. It also asked whether he reported his arrest, and to explain completely and in detail; Smith replied, “I was detained, at DDC.” The questionnaire asked about the current status of court proceedings, which Smith provided; told him to forward court documents to his personnel office within seventy-two hours of the completion of his court proceedings, which Smith stated he would do; and asked whether Smith had any other information to add, to which Smith wrote, “Attorney Byron Pitts” and a phone number. Id.

         The investigation into Smith's arrest was finished on June 20, 2014. SMF ¶ 24. The investigation report concluded that Smith appeared to have violated two work rules: Rule No. 5, Conduct Unbecoming, and Rule No. 38, Reporting Requirements. SMF ¶ 25; Investigation Report, Ex. 6 to Def. Mot., at 6, PageID.352 (Dkt. 27-7).

         Rule No. 5 of the MDOC Employee Handbook provides,

Employees shall not behave in an inappropriate manner or a manner which may harm or adversely affect the reputation or mission of the Department. Employees have a special responsibility to serve as role models. Employees must also support and uphold the law through their own actions and personal conduct.
If an employee is arrested for or charged with a criminal offense, the behavior shall be investigated to determine whether such activity violates this rule. Violation of this rule is not contingent upon whether or not an employee has been arrested. If the investigation establishes a violation of this rule, whether it occurred on or off duty, disciplinary action up to and including discharge may result regardless of any prosecutorial action or court disposition.
Any conduct by employees involving theft shall result in discharge.

         MDOC Employee Handbook, Ex. 7 to Def. Mot., at 20, PageID.356 (Dkt. 27-8). Rule No. 38 provides,

Employees shall timely submit accurate and complete oral and written reports when required by Department policy, procedure, post order or work statement, or when requested by a supervisor or other authorized personnel. Failure to provide reports that are accurate and complete is a violation of this work rule.

Id. at 34, PageID.359. The employee rules also state that

Employees shall provide a verbal report to their immediate supervisor, or if unavailable to the next available manager in their chain of command, within 24 hours after any felony citation or arrest. This verbal report shall be followed up within 72 hours with a written report by the employee to the appropriate Deputy Director, Administrator or Warden.

Id. at 24, PageID.357. Employees are also required to provide written reports to their immediate supervisor within 24 hours after “any stage or phase of an arrest or prosecution.” Id. at 25, PageID.358. The investigation report stated that there was sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Smith violated Rule No. 5 when he was arrested for felonious assault, and sufficient evidence to support that allegation that Smith violated Rule No. 38 when he failed to notify his chain of command in writing of his felony arrest, arraignment, and/or court date(s). Investigation Report at 6, PageID.352.

         On June 21, 2014, a Notice of Disciplinary Conference was apparently “produced.” SMF ¶ 33. There is no indication that Smith received this notice: the employee signature is missing, and an Employee Disciplinary Report dated September 8, 2014 is blank in the space provided for “DATE the Employee was Served with a Written Notice of Charge, ” see Employee Disciplinary Report, Ex. G to Pl. Resp. (Dkt. 32-7). The Notice does not list a time or place for the conference. See Notice of Disciplinary Conference, Ex. 10 to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 27-11). Smith testified that he did not recall whether he had received a Notice of Disciplinary Conference, but believed that he did not “[b]ecause any of the disciplinary conference I receive I usually sign for.” Smith Dep. Tr. at 120-121, PageID.1072. The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that the employee “shall be given and be requested to sign for a copy of the written statement of charges[.]” Collective Bargaining Agreement, Ex. C to Pl. Resp., at 49, PageID.987 (Dkt. 32-3).

         A disciplinary conference was held on August 1, 2014. SMF ¶ 31. Smith attended the conference, along with a union representative, Kenneth Gibson. Id. ¶ 35; Record of Disciplinary Conference, Ex. 9 to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 27-10). Smith testified that he only knew to attend the conference because he received a phone call from a union representative within a week before the conference. Smith Dep. Tr. at 121, PageID.1072. Smith also stated that, before the conference began, Gibson asked for additional time to prepare, but his request was denied. Id. at 111, PageID.1070.

         The record of the disciplinary conference reflects that Smith informed those present that the charge of assault less than murder against him was dismissed. SAMF ¶ 37, Record of Disciplinary Conference, Ex. K to Pl. Resp., at 1, PageID.363 (Dkt. 32-11). He further stated that his next court date would be August 7, 2014, where he would be heard on charges of two counts of felonious assault, felony-firearm, and destruction of property of $20, 000. Record of Disciplinary Conference at 1, PageID.363. Smith disputed the factual allegations underlying his charges and alleged work violations. SAMF ¶ 37.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, Stewart determined that Smith's behavior violated MDOC Rules 5 and 38, and recommended that Smith be discharged. SMF ¶¶ 41-42. On September 8, 2014, MDOC Discipline Coordinator Jennifer Nanasy also decided to terminate Smith, SMF ¶ 43; Nanasy provided an affidavit stating that she independently determined that discharge was appropriate. Jennifer ...


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