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Gillespie v. Hocker

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 19, 2017

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 Law Office of Daniel C. Herr LLC, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Daniel A. Griffith, Esquire, Scott G. Wilcox, Esquire, and Kaan Ekiner, Esquire of Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants Chief Paul Bernat, Sergeant Kevin Kober, and City of Dover, Delaware.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robinson, Senior District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Evan Gillespie ("plaintiff') has asserted claims against Lieutenant William Hocker ("Hocker") of the Dewey Beach Police Department (the "Dewey Beach PD"), Sergeant Kevin Kober ("Kober") and Chief Paul Bernat ("Bernat") of the Dover Police Department (the "Dover PD"), and the City of Dover, Delaware ("Dover") in relation to the termination of his employment with the Dover PD. (D.I. 9) The court previously granted motions to dismiss all of the claims asserted against Hocker and one of the claims asserted against Dover. (D.I. 28) Currently before the court is a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims filed by Kober, Bernat, and Dover (the "Dover defendants"). (D.I. 45) The court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons discussed below, the Dover defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Statement of Facts

         In the summer of 2014, plaintiff worked for Dewey Beach PD as a supervisor of summer seasonal officers. (D.I. 9 ¶ 16) In August 2014, after accepting a full-time employment offer from Dover PD, plaintiff resigned from his position at Dewey Beach PD. (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 19, 23) Plaintiff emailed his resignation to the Chief of Dewey Beach PD. (Id. at ¶ 23) Before leaving Dewey Beach PD, plaintiff inquired whether he had completed all of his duties. (Id. at ¶ 26-30) At the time, there was no indication that he had not fulfilled all of his obligations. (Id. at ¶ 27-30)

         On September 8, 2014, plaintiff began training at the Delaware State Police Academy (the "Academy"). (Id. at ¶ 32) Shortly thereafter, Hocker, one of plaintiffs former supervisors at Dewey Beach PD, allegedly made the following statements to officers and agents of the Academy and Dover PD: plaintiff left his employment at Dewey Beach PD early; he did not complete all of his police reports; he was inappropriately unresponsive to phone calls; he wrongfully kept his Dewey Beach PD badge; and he failed to follow the chain of command when resigning. (Id. at ¶ 34)

         On September 10, 2014, Kober met with plaintiff to question him about the Dewey Beach PD allegations. (Id. at ¶¶ 38, 41, 43, 52) Plaintiff denied any wrongdoing. (Id.) Among other things, plaintiff said that, as far as he knew, he had completed all of his police reports; he did not return Hocker's phone call on the date in question because he never received one; he had kept his badge because he had a court appearance the following week; and he had sent his resignation directly to the Chief of Dewey Beach PD upon the instructions of two officers from the Dewey Beach PD. (Id.) Kober accused plaintiff of lying with respect to each of his explanations. (Id. at ¶¶ 43, 44, 54, 57) In particular, Kober claimed to have checked Gillespie's cell phone which showed a missed call from Hocker on the date in question and checked with the court and found that plaintiff did not have court "next week or in the future at all." (D.I. 47 at 5) Kober memorialized his version of the facts regarding his meeting with Gillespie in a report submitted to Bernat that same day. (D.I. 46-6, Ex. F)

         On September 11, 2014, plaintiff met with Bernat who further questioned plaintiff regarding the Dewey Beach PD allegations. (Id. at ¶¶ 82, 85, 87) Plaintiff again denied any wrongdoing. (Id. at ¶ 88) Bernat was concerned about plaintiff's "truthfulness, integrity, and credibility." (D.I. 46 at 6) Following this discussion, Bernat informed plaintiff he was terminated from Dover PD 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 Dewey Beach PD. (Id. a ¶ 96) Bernat relied upon Kober's report to terminate plaintiff. (D.I. 46-6, Ex. F)

         Upon returning home after his termination from Dover PD, plaintiff noticed an email from the Chief of Dewey Beach PD indicating that he needed to fix portions of two police reports. (Id. at ¶ 117-121) The email was sent while plaintiff was training at the Academy and did not have access to email. (Id.) Plaintiff has submitted phone records and court scheduling records tending to indicate, respectively, that he never received a phone call from Hocker on the date in question and that he had to make a court appearance on September 16, 2014 and October 21, 2014 to provide testimony as a police officer. (D.I. 47 at 7)

         B. Procedural History

         On March 4, 2015, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint asserting seven claims: a procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hocker (count 1); the same type of claim against Kober and Bernat (count 2); a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Dover (count 3); a defamation claim against Hocker, Kober, and Bernat (count 4); a municipal liability claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Dover (count 5); a substantive due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Kober and Bernat (count 6); and a promissory estoppel claim against Dover (count 7). (D.I 9) On July 22, 2015, the court granted Hocker's motion for summary judgment, treated as a motion to dismiss. (D.I. 28) At the same time, the court granted in part and denied in part the Dover defendants' motion to dismiss. (Id.) As a result, count 1, count 7, and those portions of count 4 asserted against Hocker were dismissed. ...


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