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Gillespie v. Hocker

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 22, 2015

EVAN GILLESPIE, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. WILLIAM HOCKER, individually and in his official capacity as a TOWN OF DEWEY BEACH POLICE OFFICER; CHIEF PAUL BERNAT, individually and in his official capacity as a CITY OF DOVER POLICE OFFICER; SGT. KEVIN KOBER, individually and in his official capacity as a CITY OF DOVER POLICE OFFICER; and CITY OF DOVER, DELAWARE, Defendants.

Daniel C. Herr, Esquire of The Norman Law Firm, Dagsboro, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff.

Daniel A. Griffith, Esquire, Scott G. Wilcox, Esquire, and Kaan Ekiner, Esquire of Whiteford Taylor Preston LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for Chief Paul Bernat, Sgt. Kevin Kober, and the City of Dover, Delaware.

Joseph Scott Shannon and Artemio C. Aranilla, II of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Lt. William Hocker.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On January 20, 2015, Evan Gillespie ("plaintiff") filed an action against Lieutenant William Hocker ("Hocker") of the Dewey Beach Police Department ("DBPD"), Sergeant Kevin Kober ("Kober") of the Dover Police Department ("DPD"), and Chief Paul Bernat ("Bernat") of DPD in relation to the termination of his employment with DPD. (D.I. 1) On February 23, 2015, Kober and Bernat filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (D. I. 7) In response, on March 4, 2015, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which added the City of Dover, Delaware ("Dover") as a defendant. (D.I. 9) The amended complaint alleged violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and also raised supplemental state claims. ( Id. at ¶¶ 131-215) On April 8, 2015, Kober, Bernat, and Dover (collectively, "Dover defendants") filed the present motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (D. I. 15) On May 11, 2015, Hocker filed the present motion for summary judgment. (D. I. 20) The court has jurisdiction pursuant 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

II. BACKGROUND

In the summer of 2014, plaintiff worked for DBPD as the supervisor of summer seasonal officers. (D.I. 9 at ¶ 16) In August 2014, after accepting a full-time employment offer from DPD, plaintiff resigned from his position at DBPD. ( Id. at ¶¶ 18, 19, 23) Plaintiff emailed his resignation to the Chief of DBPD. ( Id. at ¶ 23) Prior to leaving DBPD, plaintiff inquired several times as to whether he had completed all of his duties. ( Id. at ¶¶ 26-30) At this time, there was no indication that plaintiff failed to fulfill his obligations. ( Id. at ¶¶ 27-30)

On September 8, 2014, plaintiff began training at the Delaware State Police ("DSP") Academy. ( Id. at ¶ 32) Shortly thereafter, Hocker, one of plaintiff's former supervisors at DBPD, allegedly made the following allegations against plaintiff to officers and agents of the DSP and DPD: plaintiff left his employment at DBPD early; he did not complete all of the police reports at DBPD that he was supposed to have completed; he left the DBPD seasonal officers "hanging;" he was inappropriately unresponsive to phone calls; he wrongfully kept his DBPD badge; and he failed to follow the chain of command when resigning from DBPD. ( Id. at ¶ 34) As a result of these allegations, on September 9, 2014 and September 10, 2014, a DSP officer commented on plaintiff's alleged failure to complete his DBPD police reports in front of numerous DSP academy cadets. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 35-39) Also on September 10, 2014, Kober met with plaintiff to question him about the DBPD allegations. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 38, 41, 43, 52) During questioning, Kober accused plaintiff of lying several times, however, plaintiff denied any wrongdoing. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 43, 44, 54, 57) Following this questioning, Kober instructed plaintiff to pack his bags and leave the DSP Academy. ( Id. at ¶ 81)

On September 11, 2014, plaintiff met with Bernat who further questioned plaintiff regarding the DBPD allegations. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 82, 85, 87) Plaintiff again denied any wrongdoing. ( Id. at ¶ 88) Further, at this meeting, Bernat displayed what appeared to be plaintiff's "termination packet, " which purportedly contained information relating to Kober's questioning of plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶ 86) Following this discussion, Bernat informed plaintiff he was terminated from DPD and handed him a termination letter. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 93, 95) The letter outlined that plaintiff was being terminated because he was not truthful concerning questions asked of him relating to his employment with DBPD. ( Id. at ¶ 96) Plaintiff then requested a copy of the "termination packet" from Kober. ( Id. at ¶ 105) Kober claimed that the termination packet did not exist but later claimed that DPD Human Resources had a copy of the packet. ( Id. at ¶¶ 106-107) DPD Human Resources also did not have a copy of the "termination packet." ( Id. at 11110)

After his termination from DPD and upon returning to his home, plaintiff noticed an email from the Chief of DBPD outlining all outstanding police reports. ( Id. at 11117) This email indicated that plaintiff needed to fix portions of two reports but the email was sent after plaintiff had already started at the DSP academy. ( Id. at 1111119-121)

A. The Claims

Plaintiff has brought a procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hocker with respect to his communications to DPD (count 1) and against Kober and Bernat with respect to their roles in plaintiff's termination (count 2). ( Id. at ¶¶ 131-166) Plaintiff also asserted a substantive due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Kober and Bernat (count 6) and a municipal liability claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Dover (count 5). ( Id. at ¶¶ 188-205) Additionally, plaintiff has asserted defamation claims against Hocker, Kober, and Bernat (count 4), and claims for ...


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