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Spencer v. Barton County Ambulance District

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

April 25, 2017

ROBERT E. SPENCER, Plaintiff,
v.
BARTON COUNTY AMBULANCE DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING BARTON COUNTY AMBULANCE DISTRICT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this suit against the Barton County Ambulance District ("the District") and five of the District's six Board Members. The Board Members were dismissed on January 13, 2017. Now pending is the District's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, which seeks summary judgment on (1) Count III, because the claim is barred by sovereign immunity, and (2) Count IV, for the same reasons Count IV was dismissed as to the individual defendants. As discussed below, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 62) is GRANTED.[1]

         Background

          Most (if not all) of the relevant facts are undisputed. Plaintiff began working for the District as a part-time paramedic in November 2011, was given more responsibility over time, and eventually became the "Director" or "Administrator" in March 2013. In November 2014, Plaintiff and the District entered into an Employment Agreement that memorialized the terms of Plaintiffs employment. The Employment Agreement states that its term "shall be for a 10 year period of time, beginning January 1, 2015, and continuing until the end of the term provided." The Employment Agreement also provides:

The District shall have the right to terminate this Agreement with or without cause upon 90 days' notice to the Employee, but only after having an official Board Meeting and a roll call vote of the full Board (all members are physically present and no action may be taken with vacancies on the Board), and a unanimous vote to terminate is upon this roll call vote.

(Doc. 22 at ¶ 66 (emphasis supplied).)

         In March 2016, the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff's employment. All six members of the Board were present, but only five voted to terminate Plaintiff's employment. The sixth board member, Robert Holt, abstained. The reasons for Plaintiff's termination are disputed, but for purposes of this motion the Court accepts as true Plaintiff's allegation that he was terminated because he reported that a Board Member's sister was intoxicated while on duty, or because he reported that another employee was engaged in fraudulent conduct.

         The District is a political subdivision formed under Missouri law. During the relevant time period the District was protected by only one insurance policy. The policy was issued by the Missouri Public Entity Risk Management Fund, (the "MOPERM Policy"), and it provides coverage for claims arising under Missouri law, but only if those claims involve the operation of motorized vehicles or involve dangerous conditions on property.

         The Amended Complaint asserts four claims. Count I alleges that Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for his assertion of FLSA rights. Count II alleges the Employment Contract was breached. Count III asserts a claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Count IV alleges a Due Process violation. The Board Members, who were named only in Counts I and IV, were dismissed on January 13, 2017. The District is a defendant in all four counts, but as stated earlier the District seeks summary judgment on Counts III and IV only.

         Discussion

          A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only upon a showing that "there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See generally Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). "[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). In applying this standard, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 (8th Cir. 1984), cert, denied, 470 U.S. 1057 (1985). A party opposing a motion for summary judgment may not simply deny the allegations, but must point to evidence in the record demonstrating the existence of a factual dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Conseco Life Ins. Co. v. Williams, 620 F.3d 902, 909-10 (8th Cir. 2010).

         I. Count III

         The District contends that, as a political subdivision, it is entitled to sovereign immunity, and for that reason summary judgment on Count III is appropriate. Plaintiff did not respond to this argument, so the Court's analysis will be brief.

         By statute, political subdivisions enjoy sovereign immunity. Langley v. Curators ofUniv. of Missouri,73 S.W.3d 808, 811 (Mo. App. 2002) (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.600). '"Liability of a political subdivision for torts is the exception to the general rule of sovereign immunity, hence it is incumbent on a party seeking to establish such liability to demonstrate an exception exists.'" Id. (quoting State ex rel. Ripley ...


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