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Bumbales v. City of Vandalia

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

July 25, 2018

RAYMOND BUMBALES, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF VANDALIA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Chase Waggoner's (“Waggoner”) Motion for Summary Judgment on Count IV of the [First] Amended Complaint (ECF No. 22).[1]Plaintiffs Raymond Bumbales (“Bumbales”), William Parker (“Parker”), and William Jones (“Jones”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) have filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Waggoner's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         According to the allegations in the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs were police officers employed by the City of Vandalia (“Vandalia”), a fourth-class city located in Audrain County, Missouri. (Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 13 at ¶¶ 21-23) Jones also served as assistant police chief and interim police chief. (Id. at ¶ 42) At the time of the events giving rise to the instant action, Waggoner was the city administrator of Vandalia. (Id. at ¶ 5)

         In Count IV of the First Amended Complaint, Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy, Plaintiffs allege a claim of wrongful termination against public policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-27, 136-46) Plaintiffs allege that they were employed by Defendants as police officers with the Vandalia Police Department. (Id. at ¶ 137) Bumbales and Parker allege that their employment was terminated because they reported wrongdoings and violations of law committed by Waggoner and they filed EEOC complaints. (Id. at ¶¶ 138, 140-41, 144) Jones alleges that his employment was terminated because he reported wrongdoings and violations of law committed by Waggoner as well as reporting instances of national origin and disability discrimination to his supervisors. (Id. at ¶¶ 142, 144)

         Waggoner filed a summary judgment motion requesting the Court to enter judgment on Plaintiffs' wrongful termination claim against him in Count IV on the ground he was not Plaintiffs' employer.

         Plaintiffs filed a Memorandum in Opposition (and affidavit in support) (“Affidavit”) (ECF No. 25) and a Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts Presenting Genuine Issues (ECF No. 26). Plaintiffs contend that Waggoner's motion for summary judgment is premature and request relief pursuant to Rule 56(d), arguing that “[t]he record must be developed to determine whether genuine issues of material fact exists regarding the employer/employee relationship between Defendant Waggoner and these Plaintiffs.” (ECF No. 25 at 3)

         In his reply, Waggoner maintains that Plaintiffs' opposition and Affidavit in support fail to comply with Rules 56(c)(1) and (4) and consequently, their opposition fails to establish that a fact is genuinely disputed. Waggoner also argues no discovery is necessary because Missouri statutory law delineates the extent of control a city administrator exercises over employees.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court may grant summary judgment if all of the information before the court shows “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. See Celotex Corp. V. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and must identify “those portions of [the record] ... which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). A party asserting that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed must support the assertion by “materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). Material facts are those “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and a genuine material fact is one “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In response, the nonmovant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” and must come forward with “specific facts showing that there is genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In order to survive a motion for summary judgment, “the nonmoving party must substantiate his allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in his favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.” Barber v. C1Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 801 (8th Cir. 2011). Therefore, “if a nonmoving party who has the burden of persuasion at trial does not present sufficient evidence as to any element of the cause of action, then summary judgment is appropriate.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

         In considering motions for summary judgment, courts view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (quotations and internal citations omitted). But that requirement applies “only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.” Id. “A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to defeat summary judgment and if a nonmoving party who has the burden of persuasion at trial does not present sufficient evidence as to any element of the cause of action, then summary judgment is appropriate.” Pederson v. Bio-Medical App. of Minn. 775 F.3d 1049, 1053 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Brunsting v. Lutsen Mountains Corp., 601 F.3d 813, 820 (8th Cir. 2010)). Further, if the nonmoving party has failed to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, ... there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         Rule 56(c)(1) requires that a “party asserting that a fact … is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record … or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence … of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). As to affidavits in support, Rule 56(c)(4) requires that “an affidavit … used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 602 (“A witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter….”); 10B Wright, Miller, & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2738 at 337-38 (4th ed. 2016) (“Attorneys' affidavits are governed by the same rules that apply to other affidavits under Rule 56. Thus, an attorney's affidavit is admissible only to prove facts that are within the attorney's personal knowledge and as to which the attorney is competent to testify, an affidavit stating what the attorney believes or intends to prove at trial will be disregarded.”)

         Pursuant to Rule 56(d), “[i]f a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). Generally, “summary judgment is appropriate only after the nonmovant has had adequate time for discovery.” Jackson v. Riebold, 815 F.3d 1114, 1121 (8th Cir. 2016) (“The purpose of this rule is to prevent a party from being unfairly thrown out of court by a premature motion for summary judgment.”). Rule 56 does not require trial courts to allow parties to conduct discovery before entering summary judgment. Anzaldua v. Ne. Ambulance & Fire Prot. Dist., 793 F.3d 822, 836 (8th Cir. 2015). Under Rule 56(d), a nonmovant may request a continuance “until adequate discovery has been completed if they otherwise cannot present facts sufficient to justify their opposition” to summary judgment. Id. But a party moving for a continuance under Rule 56(d) must make a good faith showing that the additional evidence discovered might rebut the opposing party's demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Robinson v. Terex Corp., 439 F.3d 465, 467 (8th Cir. 2006). It is not enough for the plaintiffs to set forth some facts they hope to elicit from further ...

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