St. Louis Record

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Judges gives partial summary judgment to deputy fired when new sheriff came to town


By Sam Knef | Nov 12, 2018


KANSAS CITY — A federal judge has granted partial summary judgment to a former deputy sheriff in Christian County who claims he was fired for supporting the opposing candidate in a sheriff's election in August 2015. 

Plaintiff Robert Curtis sued Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole and the county when he was fired the day Cole took office, Aug. 7, 2015, claiming defendants violated his First Amendment rights and seeking compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.

An Oct. 29 order signed by U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough granted summary judgment to Curtis on the sole question of whether Cole had the relevant final policy making authority for purposes of municipal liability at the time he fired Curtis.

According to the order, made in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Southern Division, Cole and Christian County objected to many of plaintiffs statements of undisputed material fact.

Bough wrote that none of the objections raised a "genuine dispute of any fact material to the issue of final policymaking authority for § 1983 purposes."

He further held that the material facts are uncontroverted—defendants do not controvert that Cole was sworn in on Aug. 7, 2015, and that on the same day he fired Curtis and another employee. Further, they do not controvert that Cole has the authority to hire and fire his deputies.

"Nor do Defendants make any showing that the decisions of sheriffs to terminate deputies are subject to administrative review," Bough wrote. "Instead, Defendants rely on mere denials. Therefore, there is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding the issue of whether Defendant Cole possessed the relevant final policymaking authority."

Bough's order also addresses policy making authority.

"In this case, Plaintiff alleges that the violation of his constitutional rights was caused by Defendant Cole’s act of terminating his employment pursuant to the final policymaking authority delegated to Defendant Cole in the area of dismissing deputy sheriffs," the order states. "If Defendant Cole has final policymaking authority in this particular area, then he is the relevant final policymaker for § 1983 purposes and his decisions pursuant to this authority constitute the official policy of Defendant Christian County."

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Christian County Sheriff's OfficeUS District Court for the Western District of Missouri Southern District