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Young v. Town of Bar Harbor

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 23, 2015

NATHAN YOUNG, Plaintiff
v.
TOWN OF BAR HARBOR, Defendant

RECOMMENDED DECISION

JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Nathan Young alleges, inter alia, that Defendant Town of Bar Harbor violated his right to due process and discriminated against him based on a disability when Defendant terminated his employment as chief of police. The matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, V, VI, and VII (ECF No. 25) of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 23), and on Plaintiff's Motion for Trial on the Facts (ECF No. 28).[1]

As explained below, following a review of the pleadings, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, the recommendation is that the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion, and that the Court grant Plaintiff's Motion.

DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Through its Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), Defendant challenges the sufficiency of Plaintiff's allegations in support of Count I (due process), Count V (ADA), Count VI (MHRA), and Count VII (FMLA).

Background Facts

The facts set forth herein are derived from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 23), which facts are deemed true when evaluating the Motion to Dismiss.[2] Beddall v. State St. Bank & Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12, 16 (1st Cir. 1998).

Plaintiff served as Defendant's Chief of Police from 1991 through January 2014. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 40.) In May 2013, Plaintiff made Defendant's Town Manager, Dana Reed, aware of the fact that he was an alcoholic during a conversation unrelated to Plaintiff's performance. ( Id. ¶ 14.) In addition, in May 2013, as a result of unsubstantiated, non-work-related allegations against Plaintiff, several Town Councilors (Bowden, Eveland, Friedmann, Paradis, and St. Germain) expressed to the Town Manager that they wanted Plaintiff to be discharged. ( Id. ¶¶ 17-18.)

Prior to September 25, 2013, Plaintiff had "no negative documents" in his personnel file, which contained numerous documents praising Plaintiff's work as Chief of Police. ( Id. ¶ 15.) On September 25, 2013, in the course of responding to a call, Officers Judson Cake and Larry Fickett questioned Plaintiff while he was off-duty as part of a "well-being check." ( Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) The officers did not record the encounter on video equipment installed in their cruiser, did not perform a field-sobriety test, and found no alcohol or other intoxicants at the site. ( Id. ¶¶ 21, 24-25.) According to Plaintiff, one of the officers, Larry Fickett, was upset with Plaintiff because Plaintiff had called him in to work despite Fickett's request to have the evening off. ( Id. ¶ 30.) After the well-being check, Fickett wrote an incident report "asserting that he had seen things that his own partner noted he could not have seen." ( Id. ¶ 33.)

On October 1, 2013, as a result of an anonymous letter, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave with pay by the Town Manager, pending investigation into the events of September 25, 2013. When he placed Plaintiff on administrative leave, the Town Manager alluded to his May 2013 discussion with Plaintiff, at which point Plaintiff stated that the September 25, 2013, events were unrelated to his alcoholism. ( Id. ¶ 34.) Thereafter, Town employees were directed not to speak with Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 35.)

Defendant hired an investigator to investigate the events of September 25, 2013. ( Id. ¶ 36.) The investigator did not record his interviews. ( Id. ¶ 37.) The investigator determined that Plaintiff was intoxicated on the evening in question. ( Id. ¶ 38.)

The Town Manger provided Plaintiff with both notice and a hearing, and after the hearing, on January 22, 2014, the Town Manager terminated Plaintiff's employment. ( Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Plaintiff alleges that the Town Manager had decided to terminate Plaintiff before the hearing. ( Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff appealed the matter to the Town Council, which conducted a hearing on February 26, 2014. ( Id. ¶ 41.)

According to Plaintiff, "Upon information known to Chief Young, at least twelve [additional] executive sessions were held by the Town Council during Chief Young's suspension from employment where on several occasions Chief Young's employment and performance were discussed without notice to Chief Young and outside of his presence." ( Id. ¶ 43.)

Two days before the February 26 hearing, Councilor Robert Garland sent a letter to Council Chair Ruth Eveland expressing his concerns regarding the upcoming hearing. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Specifically, Councilor Garland asserted that he did not believe that he and the other councilors had enough time to read and analyze the investigative materials provided prior to the hearing, and that certain individual councilors had already made their decision regarding the final outcome of Chief Young's appeal. ( Id. ¶ 45.)

Before the hearing, the Council conducted an executive session with town counsel present. ( Id. ¶ 42.) At the hearing, Chair Eveland stated that the Council would make its decision based solely on the evidence presented before it. ( Id. ¶ 47.)

Plaintiff contends that the hearing revealed that numerous councilors had previously expressed to Town Manager Reed their desire for Plaintiff's removal from office. The Council voted 5-2 to uphold the Town Manager's decision. All five votes in favor of termination were cast by the five councilors who previously expressed to Town Manager Reed a desire to have Plaintiff removed. ( Id. ¶ 51.)

Plaintiff maintains that the record lacked evidence of any progressive discipline of Plaintiff prior to September 2013, or evidence of a prior loss of faith or trust or confidence by Town Manager Reed. ( Id. ¶ 53.) According to Plaintiff, the Town Council adjudged the facts, as well as the law, in advance of the hearing. ( Id. ¶ 54.) As alleged, the Town was unable to prove any intoxication by Plaintiff, or any threatening or intimidating actions by Plaintiff, yet based its decision on those two facts. ( Id. ¶ 58.)

After the hearing, Councilor Friedmann informed one of his constituents that there was more to the case than was presented at the hearing. ( Id. ¶ 55.) Councilor Friedmann, who made the motion to uphold the termination, noted afterward that he believed "the officers mishandled the situation because they were young and inexperienced." ( Id. ¶ 56.)[3]

Plaintiff also contends that the Town's findings provided that "the Council considered only the witnesses and Record presented by the parties at the hearing" and that "neither party raised any objection to the ability of any council member to fairly hear the issues and evidence presented at the hearing, " both of which statements were "patently false, as evidenced by the actions of members of the Town Council, the testimony of Town Manager Reed, the closing argument of Mr. Young's counsel (which outlined the prejudgment issue), and the deliberative comments of individual Councilors." ( Id. ¶ 59.)

Plaintiff asserts multiple causes of action. In Count I, Plaintiff asserts a claim for violation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As grounds for the violation, Plaintiff complains of the lack of an impartial decision maker. ( Id. ¶ 64.) In Count II, Plaintiff seeks relief under Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80B action. He maintains that his termination was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, legally erroneous, and unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. ¶ 68.) In Count III, Plaintiff asserts a claim for breach of his contract of employment, which contract required "just cause" for termination. ( Id. ¶ 70.) In Count IV, Plaintiff alleges a violation of Maine's executive session law based on his alleged exclusion from executive sessions in which his employment was discussed. ( Id. ¶ 74.) In Counts V and VI, Plaintiff alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) based on the denial of a reasonable accommodation and the decision to terminate his employment, both of which theories rely on Plaintiff's ...


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