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Young v. Town of Bar Harbor

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 27, 2016

NATHAN YOUNG, Plaintiff,


          GEORGE Z. SINGAL, District Judge.

         Before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Town of Bar Harbor (ECF No. 55) (the "Motion for Summary Judgment"). For the reasons explained herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISSES the remaining claims WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


         Generally, a party is entitled to summary judgment if, on the record before the Court, it appears "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id . at 248. A "material fact" is one that has "the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248) (additional citation omitted).

         The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether this burden is met, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences in its favor. Santoni v. Potter, 369 F.3d 594, 598 (1st Cir. 2004).

         Once the moving party has made this preliminary showing, the nonmoving party must "produce specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a trialworthy issue." Triangle Trading Co. v. Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1999) (citation and internal punctuation omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "Mere allegations, or conjecture unsupported in the record, are insufficient." Barros-Villahermosa v. United States, 642 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Rivera-Marcano v. Normeat Royal Dane Quality A/S, 998 F.2d 34, 37 (1st Cir. 1993)); see also Wilson v. Moulison N. Corp., 639 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2011) ("A properly supported summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, periphrastic circumlocutions, or rank speculation." (citations omitted)). "As to any essential factual element of its claim on which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment to the moving party." In re Spigel, 260 F.3d 27, 31 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting In re Ralar Distribs., Inc., 4 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 1993)).


         For the purposes of this Order, the Court draws the factual narrative that follows from the stipulation of facts agreed to by the parties (ECF No. 53) ("SOF"), the statement of material facts provided by Defendant Town of Bar Harbor (the "Town" or "Defendant") (ECF No. 56) ("DSMF"), the statement of material facts provided by Plaintiff Nathan Young ("Young" or "Plaintiff"), which includes responses to Defendant's statement of material facts (ECF No. 60) ("PSMF") and Defendant's responses to Plaintiff's statement of material facts (ECF No. 64) ("DRSMF"). However, the Court limits its factual recitation to those facts that are relevant to the discussion section that follows.

         A. Young's Employment with the Town of Bar Harbor

         Young was the Chief of Police of the Town for 23 years. (SOF at PageID # 973.) Young most recently served as Chief of Police pursuant to an employment agreement with the Town that commenced on July 1, 2012, with a stated three-year term (the "Employment Agreement"). (ECF No. 52-1 at PageID # 435.) Under the Employment Agreement, the Town was permitted to terminate Young's employment only for cause, in compliance with the requirements of 30-A M.R.S.A. § 2671(1). (Id. at PageID # 436.)

         In February of 2013, Young spoke with the Town Manager, Dana Reed ("Reed") and self-reported a problem with excessive drinking. In response, Reed explained that certain employee assistance plan ("EAP") services were available to Young. (DRSMF at PageID # 1116.) The parties agree that at no time while he served as Chief of Police was Young's ability to perform his duties affected or impaired by his consumption of alcohol. (SOF at PageID # 973.)

         In the spring of 2013, a number of the members of the Town's council (the "Town Council") expressed to Reed that they were concerned about Young's behavior and problems in his personal life. (PSMF at PageID # 1084; DRSMF at PageID # 1116.) According to Reed, the concerns raised by members of the Town Council at this time related to rumors about a domestic disturbance involving Young and his wife. (Reed Dep. (ECF No. 52-2) at PageID # 470.) The five members of the Town Council who told Reed about concerns or rumors they had heard about Young later voted to uphold Reed's decision to terminate Young's employment. (PSMF at PageID # 1087; DRSMF at PageID # 1118.) In May of 2013, Town Council member David Bowden allegedly told Christopher Walsh, then a member of the Town Council, that Young needed to go, in connection with allegations that Young had engaged in an extramarital affair with another employee of the Town. (DRSMF at PageID #s 1120-21.) Also in May of 2013, Reed allegedly told Young he had enough votes on the Town Council to remove Young. (Young Dep. (ECF No. 52-1) at PageID # 325.)

         Walsh has stated that Young told him in May of 2013 that he was an alcoholic, but that the conversation concerned Young's off-duty drinking, and not his work and job performance. (Walsh Dep. (ECF No. 52-4) at PageID #s 802-03.) According to Walsh, he told Reed about this conversation.[1] (Id. at PageID # 803.) To the contrary, Young has stated that he never described himself as an alcoholic to anyone prior to October of 2013. (DRSMF at PageID # 1119.) That same month, Reed spoke with Jonathan Goodman, an attorney in private practice in Maine, concerning a possible investigation that ultimately did not occur. (PSMF at PageID # 1088.) Reed stated that the contact with Goodman at this time concerned the alleged domestic disturbance incident involving Young. (Reed Dep. (ECF No. 52-2) at PageID # 468; Tr. Hearing in re: Termination of Young (ECF No. 52-3) at PageID # 574.)

         On September 25, 2013, at approximately 11:30 P.M., the Town's police department received a call reporting that a vehicle was parked in the parking lot of Town Hill Market in the Town, and that there appeared to be a man slumped over in the driver's seat of the vehicle. (SOF at PageID #s 973-74.) Officer Judson Cake ("Cake") and Officer Larry Fickett ("Fickett"), each police officers of the Town's police department, were patrolling together and responded to the call. (SOF at PageID # 974.) Cake and Fickett observed a vehicle in the parking lot, which Fickett recognized as belonging to Young. (Id.)

         Cake and Fickett both exited their car and approached Young's vehicle.[2] (PSMF at PageID # 1065.) Cake approached the driver's side window, while Fickett stayed towards the back of the truck. (Id.) Cake knocked on the driver's side window more than once before Young responded to the knocks and opened the door. (Id.) Cake asked Young if he was "okay, " and Young stated that he was. (Id. at PageID # 1066.) Cake observed that Young appeared to be waking up. (Id.) Cake believed that he smelled alcohol when Young opened his car door. (Id.) Cake concluded, based on his observations, that Young had been drinking and was intoxicated. (Id. at PageID # 1069.)

         When Cake identified Fickett as the other on-duty officer present, Young made a negative remark about Fickett. (Id. at PageID # 1066-67.) Cake repeatedly requested that Fickett approach the driver's side door to interact with Young, and he eventually did so. (Id. at PageID # 1067.) Fickett smelled alcohol as he approached the driver's side door. (Id.; Fickett Dep. (ECF No. 52-8) at PageID # 881.) Neither Cake nor Fickett observed physical evidence of alcohol consumption external to Young's person, such as open alcoholic beverage containers. (Id. at PageID #s 1067-68.) Neither Cake nor Fickett observed Young operating his vehicle, and neither performed a field sobriety test on Young. (Id. at PageID #s 1067, 1069.) After an interaction with Young spanning about three or four minutes, Cake and Fickett departed in their police vehicle. (Id.)

         After leaving the scene, Fickett called the Town's police station and spoke with Officer Eric McLaughlin. (SOF at PageID # 974.) After conversing with Officer McLaughlin, Cake and Fickett returned to the Town Hill Market parking lot, but observed that Young's vehicle was no longer in the parking lot. (Id.)

         B. Investigation of Young and Termination of Young's Employment

         On October 1, 2013, Reed met with Young and informed him that Young would be placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the incident at the Town Hill Market parking lot. (SOF at PageID # 975.) Reed then retained Jonathan Goodman to conduct the investigation. (Id.) Young subsequently sought medical leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et. seq. (the "FMLA"), in order to obtain in-patient treatment for alcohol abuse, and the Town approved his request. (Id.) Reed then informed the Town Council, in an executive session, that Young was on FMLA leave. (Id.) Former Town Council member Walsh contends that Reed said to the Town Council "that [Young] figured out a way to get another paycheck and that he was going to be holding this up." (Walsh Dep. (ECF No. 52-4) at PageID # 799.) Walsh further stated that Town Council members Paradis, St. Germain, and Bowden indicated that Young was dragging out the investigation process. (Id. at PageID # 807.) Reed has stated that any such comments concerned the fact that Young had allegedly not contacted Reed after returning from in-patient treatment or immediately after his FMLA leave concluded. (DRSMF at PageID # 1132.) During the duration of Young's FMLA leave, which concluded on November 29, 2013, he remained on administrative leave from his position as Chief of Police.

         On December 24, 2013, attorney Goodman issued a report on his investigation. (SOF at PageID # 975.) Goodman concluded that Young had been intoxicated at the time that he interacted with Cake and Fickett on September 25, 2013 and that Young was "hostile toward the officers, which dissuaded them from taking appropriate action...." (Goodman Dep. (ECF No. 52-10) at PageID # 962.) On January 15, 2014, Reed sent Young a copy of the report and informed him that based on the contents of the report, and on Young's conduct during his administrative leave, he was contemplating taking disciplinary action against Young, up to and including a potential termination of Young's employment. (SOF at PageID #s 975-76.) Following a meeting with Young on January 20, 2014, Reed terminated Young's employment on January 22, 2014 and advised him of his right to appeal the termination to the Town Council. (SOF at PageID # 976.)

         Young appealed the termination decision and requested a public hearing. (Id.) The Town Council held a public hearing on February 26, 2014. (Id.) At the conclusion of the hearing, and after deliberating, the Town Council voted 5-2 to ...

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