Lane v. Central Alabama Community College et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge Karon O Bowdre on 10/18/12. (SAC )
2012 Oct-18 PM 02:37
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
Edward R. Lane,
Central Alabama Community College,
This matter comes before the court on Defendants Central Alabama Community College
and Dr. Franks’ “Motion for Summary Judgment.” (Doc. 34). Plaintiff Mr. Lane brought state
and federal retaliation claims against CACC, Dr. Franks in his official capacity, and Dr. Franks
in his individual capacity for allegedly terminating him in retaliation for testimony he gave at a
The court finds that the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of qualified immunity bar
Mr. Lane’s claims against CACC, an arm of the state of Alabama, his claims against Dr. Franks,
in his official capacity as President of CACC, and his claims against Dr. Franks in his individual
capacity as discussed below. Thus, the court will grant the Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment as to all claims.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Mr. Lane’s Employment Status at C.I.T.Y.
On September 26, 2006, Defendant Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”)
hired Plaintiff Edward Lane as the probationary Director, the highest ranking position, of the
Community Intensive Training for Youth (C.I.T.Y.) Program at CACC. C.I.T.Y. is a statewide
program for underprivileged youth with multiple offices throughout Alabama. In his job as
Director, Mr. Lane ran the program, including day-to-day operations, hiring and firing of
employees, and making financial decisions.
Mr. Lane’s original hire letter in 2006 was from CACC’s then-President, Linda McGuirt,
and Ms. McGuirt informed Mr. Lane that she was his supervisor. In the summer of 2007,
however, Chancellor Byrne determined that Mr. Lane was actually an employee of the Board of
Directors of C.I.T.Y., not an employee of Central Alabama Community College and sent
C.I.T.Y.’s business manager a letter to that effect. In August 2007, the President of the C.I.T.Y.
Board of Directors, Helen McAlpine, sent Mr. Lane a letter offering him a probationary
appointment as Director of the C.I.T.Y. program beginning August 1, 2007; Mr. Lane accepted
the appointment from the Board of Directors.
C.I.T.Y.’s Financial Problems during Mr. Lane’s Employment
As soon as he took his position at C.I.T.Y., Mr. Lane began an audit to evaluate the
program’s financial position because C.I.T.Y. was experiencing significant financial problems.
During this audit, Mr. Lane discovered that then-state representative Suzanne Schmitz was listed
on C.I.T.Y.’s payroll but did not appear to be coming to work or producing any tangible work
product. John Caylor, CACC’s attorney, warned Mr. Lane that taking actions against Ms.
Schmitz could have bad repercussions for both Mr. Lane and CACC. On October 19, 2006, Mr.
Lane terminated Ms. Schmitz from her employment at C.I.T.Y. After her termination, Ms.
Schmitz commenced a civil lawsuit to get her job back at C.I.T.Y., and she made comments to
Charles Foley, then-Madison County C.I.T.Y. program coordinator, that she planned to “get [Mr.
Lane] back” for her termination. (Doc. 38, at 10). Ms. Schmitz also said that if Mr. Lane was to
request money for C.I.T.Y. from the state legislature, she would tell him, “You’re fired.” Id.
When Mr. Lane was hired in 2006 by the then-President of CACC, Ms. McGuirt,
C.I.T.Y’s Mobile and Montgomery programs were slated to close because of loss of grant money.
Mr. Lane decided to keep these programs and started a new program in Lauderdale County. Mr.
Lane did not instruct anyone at C.I.T.Y to actively look for grant opportunities or write grant
applications; he also was not looking or applying for grants himself. The two-year college system
had a department that received federal grants, and C.I.T.Y. requested some of these grants under
Mr. Lane’s direction.
Mr. Lane claims that he was able to keep all of the programs running because he
successfully controlled expenditures at C.I.T.Y. CACC disputes the alleged “controlled
expenditures” and claims that Mr. Lane was only able to keep all of the programs running
because of a one-time legislative appropriation and a one-time private donation. CACC further
claims that Mr. Lane did not try to do anything to gain funding for the program except submit a
budget to the legislature every year. The Alabama legislature only appropriated sufficient
funding to C.I.T.Y for one year under Mr. Lane’s leadership, and then it cut C.I.T.Y’s funding
dramatically. In 2008, C.I.T.Y.’s budget was cut by $1.75 million, approximately one-fourth of
Mr. Lane’s Testimony in Suzanne Schmitz’s Criminal Case
After Mr. Lane terminated Ms. Schmitz, the FBI began investigating Ms. Schmitz and
C.I.T.Y. On November 13, 2006, Mr. Lane testified before a grand jury that Ms. Schmitz was
fired because she did not “show up for her job.” Mr. Lane claims that he also testified as to how
Ms. Schmitz got her job at C.I.T.Y., but no evidence exists to support that contention.
On August 26, 2008, pursuant to a subpoena, Mr. Lane testified at Ms. Schmitz’s federal
criminal trial for mail fraud and fraud involving a program receiving federal funds. Mr. Lane
testified that he fired Ms. Schmitz because of her failure to come to work or do her job at
C.I.T.Y. Mr. Lane also testified that Ms. Schmitz got her job at C.I.T.Y. through Dr. Paul
Hubbert, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association, and that people within the
C.I.T.Y. program were afraid to question Ms. Schmitz’s employment because they were afraid of
losing funding from the legislature. Also at the criminal trial, Larry Palmer, C.I.T.Y.’s Regional
Coordinator, testified that C.I.T.Y. hired Ms. Schmitz because of the influence of Roy Johnson,
the previous Chancellor of CACC, and Dr. Hubbert. Mr. Lane also testified that when he pressed
Ms. Schmitz about her failure to perform her job at C.I.T.Y., she responded that she “needed to
call Mr. Hubbert.” Mr. Lane testified to the same facts again in Ms. Schmitz’s second criminal
trial on February 18, 2009.
Mr. Lane’s Termination from C.I.T.Y.
In January 2008, Defendant Dr. Steve Franks assumed the position of President of CACC
under then-Chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, Bradley Byrne. Even before Mr.
Lane began reporting to Dr. Franks, Mr. Lane was considering a Reduction in Force (“RIF”) at
C.I.T.Y. On November 20, 2008, Mr. Lane began reporting to Dr. Franks, but had only very
little contact with Dr. Franks during his employment with C.I.T.Y.
Mr. Lane communicated C.I.T.Y.’s budget problems to Dr. Franks in November 2008,
including his recommendation for a RIF. Mr. Lane and Dr. Franks continued their talks about a
RIF throughout the end of 2008 and by the end of 2008, C.I.T.Y. was in danger of not making its
payroll on time every month, if at all. Dr. Franks agreed with Mr. Lane’s RIF recommendation,
and Dr. Franks initially responded that all probationary employees should be terminated.
On November 20, 2008, Chancellor Byrne dissolved the C.I.T.Y. Board of Directors and
communicated that in accordance with the administrative law ruling in Robinson, Schmidt, &
Settle v. City Skills Training Consortium & Central Ala. Comm. College, No. OAH-06-388, all
C.I.T.Y. employees were to be considered employees of CACC.
The Defendants claim that on January 9, 2009, Dr. Franks made the financial decision to
terminate Mr. Lane and other probationary employees associated with the C.I.T.Y. program. Dr.
Franks did not give Mr. Lane any reason for his termination, but Dr. Franks testified that "Lane
was terminated due to financial difficulties facing the C.I.T.Y. program." (Doc. 38, at 18). Dr.
Franks consulted with Chancellor Byrne before terminating Mr. Lane. Mr. Lane disputes that Dr.
Franks made this decision based on financial reasons and believes that Dr. Franks was actually
retaliating against Mr. Lane for testifying in Ms. Schmitz’s trial.
The Defendants allege that no one, including Ms. Schmitz, instructed Dr. Franks to fire
Mr. Lane or suggested to Dr. Franks that he should fire Mr. Lane. Mr. Lane disputes this fact,
claiming that a jury could “easily infer” that Dr. Hubbert instructed or suggested Dr. Franks
should terminate Mr. Lane. (Doc. 38, at 5). Mr. Lane also claims that Dr. Franks often had
discussion with Dr. Hubbert about the C.I.T.Y. program during the 2009 legislative session, but
Dr. Franks specifically testified that he did not consult Dr. Hubbert about his decision to
terminate Mr. Lane.
Mr. Lane offered no evidence that Dr. Franks had an agreement with Ms. Schmitz or
Betty Carol Graham, another state representative, to fire Mr. Lane as a result of his testimony
against Ms. Schmitz. Dr. Franks testified that he never discussed Mr. Lane with either Mrs.
Schmitz or Mrs. Graham prior to Mr. Lane’s termination. Similarly, Ms. Schmitz testified that
she never talked to Dr. Franks or anyone else within the two-year system who was in a position
to do anything about Mr. Lane’s employment after Mr. Lane had testified against her. In fact, Dr.
Franks testified that he only met Ms. Schmitz once briefly at a legislative session, and Ms.
Schmitz testified that she did not remember ever meeting Dr. Franks or having any dealings with
Dr. Frank’s appointment of Larry Palmer as Interim Director
At the time of Mr. Lane’s termination, Dr. Franks named Larry Palmer, then-regional
coordinator, as interim director of C.I.T.Y. Mr. Palmer had been a C.I.T.Y. employee since the
1990s and had served as interim director once before. When he assumed the role of interim
director, Mr. Palmer continued his role as regional coordinator as well and served in both
capacities. Upon his appointment, Mr. Palmer received a raise because of his added
responsibilities and was making the same salary Mr. Lane had made before he was terminated.
CACC was able to save costs because Mr. Palmer was performing two jobs for one salary. Mr.
Palmer remained interim director until September 2009 when the C.I.T.Y. program ceased to
exist, and Mr. Palmer was terminated along with all C.I.T.Y. employees.
Dr. Frank’s recision of some C.I.T.Y. Employees’ Termination
Sometime shortly after Dr. Franks terminated the C.I.T.Y. employees (a dispute exists as
to when), Dr. Franks decided to rescind the termination of some of the Lauderdale and Franklin
County employees he fired on January 9, 2009. The Defendants claim that Dr. Franks made this
decision on January 23, 2009, and Mr. Lane claims that Dr. Franks sent out the recision letters on
January 29, 2009. Regardless, the decision was made before Mr. Lane testified at Ms. Schmitz's
second trial on February 19, 2009.
Dr. Franks testified that he rescinded some of the terminations because he learned that
these employees were not probationary employees. At the time the employees who had been
terminated were hired, a six month probationary period existed for C.I.T.Y. employees. Thus,
even though the employees were later deemed CACC employees, at the time of their employment
for Fair Dismissal Act purposes, they were employed under C.I.T.Y.’s six-month probationary
period, as opposed to CACC’s three-year probationary period and were not considered
probationary employees when Dr. Franks fired them.
Mr. Lane was one of two employees whose termination was not rescinded. A dispute
exists as to why Dr. Franks did not rescind Mr. Lane’s termination. Dr. Franks testified that he
believed Mr. Lane was a probationary employee because he was hired by CACC as evidenced by
his initial hire letter, and the CACC probationary period was three years. The Defendants claim
that Dr. Franks thought Mr. Lane was in a fundamentally different category than the other
employees because he was the director of the entire C.I.T.Y. program and not simply an
employee. When asked why he considered Mr. Lane different than the other C.I.T.Y. employees
whose termination he rescinded, Dr. Franks responded: "because he was the only employee that
had an appointment letter from the president of [CACC]." (Doc. 38, at 19).
Mr. Lane alleges that Dr. Franks did not rescind his termination because Dr. Franks
possessed a “retaliatory motivation.” (Doc. 38, at 3). Mr. Lane claims that the timing of his
termination is very suspicious; it was "right around the time that the budget process was
beginning in the legislature." (Doc. 38, at 20). Dr. Franks knew that Mr. Lane had testified at
Ms. Schmitz's first criminal trial, but Mr. Lane never discussed the contents of his testimony with
Dr. Franks. Mr. Lane also testified that he believed "the totality of the situation" and "Dr. Franks'
actions" led him to believe he was being retaliated against for his testimony. (Doc. 38, at 21).
The Defendants claim that Mr. Lane had no reason to believe that Dr. Franks was out to
get him or that Dr. Franks’ stated reasons for termination and not rescinding that termination
were untruthful or pretextual. The Defendants also claim that Dr. Franks did not even remember
that Mr. Lane had previously testified in Ms. Schmitz’s criminal case and that he did not know
Mr. Lane was planning on testifying in her second criminal trial.
The parties do not dispute that Dr. Franks was not aware of any statements by Ms.
Schmitz that she would see to it that Mr. Lane would lose his job after he testified against her.
The parties do not dispute that Mr. Lane did not discuss with anyone at the College Department
of Post Secondary Education, including Dr. Franks, that he was going to testify at Ms. Schmitz’s
second criminal trial before he did in fact testify. Dr. Franks had already terminated Mr. Lane
when Mr. Lane received notice that he would be testifying at the second trial, and Dr. Franks did
not know about the second trial until after it occurred. Dr. Franks never told Mr. Lane not to
testify, and neither Dr. Franks nor CACC ever attempted to prevent Mr. Lane from testifying
before the grand jury or at either trial.
This case was originally filed in the Middle District of Alabama on January 3, 2011. Mr.
Lane's Complaint alleged three counts: (I) violation of the State Employee Protection Act under
Ala. Code 36-26A-3; (II) retaliation for the exercise of protected First Amendment speech; and
(III) a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1985, conspiring to injure witnesses for testifying. (Doc. 2-1). It was
transferred to this court on March 4, 2011. On March 11, 2011, CACC filed a Motion to Dismiss
for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 4). This court denied the Motion to Dismiss as to Counts I and
II and granted it as to Count III. (Doc. 9).
On May 24, 2011, Mr. Lane filed an Amended Complaint alleging the same counts as his
original complaint. (Doc. 11). On June 3, 2011, the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Count
III, the conspiracy charge, of the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 12). The court construed Mr.
Lane's response to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss as a voluntary dismissal of Count III and thus
dismissed Count III without prejudice. (Doc. 15). As Mr. Lane’s Amended Complaint stands
now, Count I seeks relief from Dr. Franks for violation fo the State Employee Protection Act and
Count II seeks relief from Dr. Franks and CACC for termination in retaliation for speech
protected by the First Amendment. On April 30, 2012, after discovery by both parties, CACC
filed this Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 34).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of
material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must
determine two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2)
whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56). The moving party can meet this burden by offering
evidence showing no dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving party’s evidence
fails to prove an essential element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322–23. Rule 56, however, does not require “that the moving party support
its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent’s claim.” Id.
Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine
issues of material fact exist, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to demonstrate that
there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats &
Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).
In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must “view the evidence presented
through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden,” to determine whether the nonmoving
party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving
party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Commc’n, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir.
1988). The court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making credibility
determinations, because these decisions fall to the province of the jury. See Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255; Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins. Co., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000); Graham v.
State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999).
Furthermore, all evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the underlying facts
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham, 193 F.3d at 1282.
The nonmoving party “need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every
reasonable inference.” Id. Additionally, “conclusory assertions. . ., in the absence of supporting
evidence, are insufficient to withstand summary judgment.” Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555,
1564 n. 6 (11th Cir. 1997). After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment,
the court must grant the motion if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
Although some genuine issues of material fact exist in this case concerning Dr. Franks’
true motivation for terminating Mr. Lane’s employment, no genuine issues of material fact exist
in the proffered agreed upon statement of facts that bear on the issue of immunity. Because the
court finds the Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and no genuine issues of
material fact exist with regard to this dispositive issue, the court will grant summary judgment
for the Defendants on this ground.
Central Alabama Community College
Defendant CACC argues that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
bars Mr. Lane’s claim against CACC for retaliation for protected speech. The Eleventh Circuit
has held that “state universities are ‘agencies or instrumentalities’ of the state, and thus are
immune from suit in federal court.” University of South Alabama v. American Tobacco Co., 168
F.3d 405, 412 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Harden v. Adams, 760 F.2d 1158, 1163-64 (11th Cir.
1985)). Both the Southern District of Alabama and the Middle District of Alabama have
specifically ruled that community colleges are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. See
Morris v. Wallace Community College-Selma, 125 F. Supp. 2d 1315, 1335 (S.D. Ala.
2001)(“Alabama’s state law sovereign immunity extends to community colleges. . .” (citing
Williams v. John C. Calhoun Community College, 646 So. 2d 1, 2 (Ala.1994))) ; Wright v.
Chattahoochee Valley Community College, 2008 WL 4877948 (M.D. Ala. 2008) (“State
educational institutions, such as [Chattahoochee Valley Community College] are agencies or
instrumentalities of the state and thus are immune from suit in federal court.” (internal quotations
Mr. Lane argues that CACC is not immune from suit for prospective equitable relief, and
because Mr. Lane seeks “placement in the position in which he would have worked absent the
Defendant’s retaliatory treatment,” “injunctive relief,” and “such other legal or equitable relief,”
the Eleventh Amendment does not bar Mr. Lane’s suit. (Doc. 11). However, the Eleventh
Amendment bars monetary and equitable relief against the state and its instrumentalities. Morris,
125 F. Supp. 2d, at 1335 (citing Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89,
120 (1984)). CACC, as a community college, is an arm or instrumentality of the state and is
immune from legal or equitable suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Therefore, the court will
GRANT Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to CACC on Count II of the Amended
Dr. Franks in his Official Capacity
The Defendants argue that Dr. Franks acting in his official capacity as president of CACC
is not a “person” subject to suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Lane argues that Dr. Franks is
only immune to the extent that the Eleventh Amendment bars relief for money damages against
the State. Because Mr. Lane concedes that he cannot seek money damages against Dr. Franks in
his official capacity and because “the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state officials in
federal court seeking compensatory or retroactive relief,” the court will dismiss all claims against
Dr. Franks that seek money damages. See Summit Medical Associates, P.C. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d
1326, 1337 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985)).
In Count I of his Amended Complaint, the only equitable relief Mr. Lane seeks is “any
and all other relief, both at law and in equity” to which he may be entitled. (Doc. 11). In Count
II of his Amended Complaint, Mr. Lane seeks “placement in the position in which he would have
worked absent the Defendant’s retaliatory treatment,” “injunctive relief,” and “such other legal or
equitable relief” to which he may be entitled. (Doc. 11).
Generally, “state officials sued for damages in their official capacity are immune from
suit in federal court” unless the plaintiff is seeking “prospective equitable relief to end continuing
violations of federal law” under Ex parte Young. Pears v. Mobile County, 645 F. Supp. 2d 1062,
1078, n. 22 (S.D. Ala. 2009); Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). To obtain relief for an
ongoing violation of federal law under Ex parte Young, the plaintiff must allege that “a violation
of federal law by a state official is ongoing as opposed to . . . violated at one time or over a
period of time in the past.” Summit Medical Associates,180 F.3d at 1338 (citing Ex parte Young,
478 U.S. at 277-78).
In Pears, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s § 1983 claims because,“ the record [was]
devoid of evidence of a continuing violation of federal law by defendants; rather, [plaintiff’s]
requests for reinstatement and other prospective relief [were] hinged exclusively on discrete acts
that occurred in 2006 and early 2007, rather than any ongoing, continuing malfeasance today.”
Id. at n. 22. Like the plaintiff in Pears, Mr. Lane requests reinstatement and other generalized
equitable relief that is “hinged exclusively” on a “discrete act,”– his termination in 2009. Mr.
Lane does not claim that Dr. Franks is engaging in any ongoing violation of federal law that
necessitates the prospective injunctive relief contemplated in Ex parte Young.
In Edelman v. Jordan, the Supreme Court refused to allow retroactive restitution when it
would “to a virtual certainty be paid from state funds, and not from the pockets of individual
state officials who were the defendants in the action.” 415 U.S. 651, 668 (1974). The Eleventh
Circuit has also stated that, “[I]f prospective relief would invade a state's sovereignty as much as
an award of money damages would, the action will be barred by the Eleventh Amendment.”
Summit Medical Associates, 180 F.3d at 1337 (citing Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521
U.S. 261, 281 (1997)). The Defendants rightfully point out that Mr. Lane’s reinstatement would
interfere with CACC, an arm of the State, making employment decisions and would require the
State to pay Mr. Lane’s salary once he was reinstated. The Eleventh Amendment bars this type of
prospective relief that implicates a state’s sovereignty interests and funds.
Because Mr. Lane’s alleged claims for prospective relief do not fall under the Ex parte
Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity, and the prospective relief Mr. Lane seeks
significantly implicates Alabama’s sovereignty interests and state treasury, the court will
DISMISS all claims against Dr. Franks in his official capacity seeking equitable relief.
Dr. Franks in his Individual Capacity
The Defendants argue that Dr. Franks is also immune in his individual capacity because
he was acting in his official capacity as President of CACC when he terminated Mr. Lane and
state officials are immune in their individual capacities when the state is the real party in interest.
The Defendants rely on Harbert Intern., Inc. v. James for the proposition that “[A] suit is against
the sovereign if the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or
interfere with the public administration, or if the effect of the judgment would be to restrain the
Government from acting, or to compel it to act.” 157 F.3d 1271, 1277 n. 3 (11th Cir. 1998)
(citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101, 101 n.11 (1984)); see also
Alexander v. Chattahoochee Valley Comm. Coll., 325 F. Supp. 2d 1274, 1296 (M.D. Ala. 2004)
(dismissing claims against the community college president in her individual capacity because
they were barred by the Eleventh Amendment).
Mr. Lane’s reinstatement would compel Alabama to act through Dr. Franks and would
cost the state an amount of money equal to Mr. Lane’s salary. Dr. Franks seems to fit into the
framework of a government official who is immune in his individual capacity because the state is
the real party in interest in this case. Even if Dr. Franks is not immune under the doctrine of
sovereign immunity, however, he is still immune in his individual capacity from suit under the
doctrine of qualified immunity.
Defendants argue that even if Dr. Franks is not absolutely immune from suit in his
individual capacity under the Eleventh Amendment, he is immune under the doctrine of qualified
immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions
from suit in their individual capacities unless the official violates “clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S.
730, 739 (2002) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “The purpose of this
immunity is to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear
of personal liability or harassing litigation, protecting from suit all but the plainly incompetent or
one who is knowingly violating the federal law.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir.
2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
To receive qualified immunity, a government official “must first prove that he was acting
within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.”
Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002). Government officials act within the
scope of their discretionary authority if “the actions were (1) ‘undertaken pursuant to the
performance of [their] duties’ and (2) ‘within the scope of [their] authority.’” Lenz v. Winburn,
51 F.3d 1540, 1545 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1564 (11th Cir.
1998)). “Exercising judgment . . . in the administration of a department or agency of
government” is a recognized discretionary function. Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392, 405
Mr. Lane concedes that Dr. Franks was acting within the scope of his discretionary
authority as President of CACC when he terminated Mr. Lane’s employment and subsequently
did not rescind the termination. Because the Defendants have established that Dr. Franks was
acting within his discretionary authority, the burden now shifts to Mr. Lane to show that qualified
immunity is inapplicable in this case. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002)
(“Once the defendant establishes that he was acting within his discretionary authority, the burden
shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate.”).
The Supreme Court has articulated a two-part test to determine whether qualified
immunity is appropriate. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). First, the court must
ask this threshold question: “Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury,
do the facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right[?]” Gonzalez v.
Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1234 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)).
Second, “[i]f a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties’ submissions, the
next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established.” Id. (citing Saucier, 533
U.S. at 201).
“A constitutional right is clearly established if controlling precedent has recognized the
right in a ‘concrete and factually defined context.’” Chesser v. Sparks, 248 F.3d 1117, 1122 (11th
Cir. 2001). “If case law, in factual terms, has not staked out a bright line, qualified immunity
almost always protects the defendant.” Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1557 (11th
The court recognizes that it is commonly known and well-established that a state cannot
“discharge a public employee in retaliation for protected speech.” Tindal v. Montgomery County
Comm’n, 32 F.3d 1535, 1539 (11th Cir. 1994). A public employee’s right to speech, however, is
not absolute, and the Eleventh Circuit utilizes the Pickering balancing test to determine whether
a state actor has retaliated against an employee for protected speech. Bryson v. City of Waycross,
888 F.2d 1562, 1565 (11 Cir. 1989); Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968).
First the court must determine whether Mr. Lane “spoke as a citizen on a matter of public
concern.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006). In Garcetti, the Supreme Court
identified two factors to be used in determining whether the public employee spoke as a citizen:
(1) whether the speech occurred in the workplace, and (2) whether the speech was made as part
of the public employee’s job duties. Garcetti, 547 U.S. at 420-421. The Supreme Court made
clear that, “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the
employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes,” and that the statements
of public employees retain their official status when “there is no relevant analogue to speech by
citizens who are not government employees.” Id. at 421, 423-24. In determining whether a
statement is protected under the First Amendment, the court must “look to the content, form, and
context of a given statement, as revealed by the whole record.” Vila v. Padron, 484 F.3d 1334,
11340 (11th Cir. 2007). Here, Mr. Lane’s testimony did not occur in the workplace, but he
learned of the information that he testified about while working as Director at C.I.T.Y. Because
he learned the information while performing in his official capacity as Director at C.I.T.Y., the
speech can still be considered as part of his official job duties and not made as a citizen on a
mater of public concern, as the Eleventh Circuit has ruled in similar cases.
In Abdur-Rahman v. Walker, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that sewer inspectors’ reports
were not made as citizens on matters of public concern because they were made pursuant to the
inspectors’ official job duties:
[T]he reports of inspectors to their supervisors about sewer overflows they were
required to investigate are not protected under the First Amendment. The
inspector’s reports about sewer overflows concerned information they requested
and investigations they performed for the purpose of fulfilling their assigned job
duties. The inspectors’ reports ‘owe their existence’ to their official
responsibilities and cannot reasonably be divorced from these responsibilities.
567 F.3d 1278, 1283 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Garcetti, 547 U.S. at 421). Additionally, in Vila v.
Padron, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a Community College Vice President’s complaints about
possible unethical and illegal conduct within the Community College fell “squarely within her
official job duties and [were] not protected by the First Amendment.” 484 F.3d 1334, 1339 (11th
In this case, Mr. Lane investigated Ms. Schmitz’s job duties and ultimately terminated her
employment with CACC because it was one of his job duties to hire and fire employees within
the C.I.T.Y. Program. He fired Ms. Schmitz in his capacity as Director of C.I.T.Y., and he was
subpoenaed to testify as to his investigation and subsequent termination of Ms. Schmitz in his
capacity as Director of C.I.T.Y. Mr. Lane argues that he could not have been called to testify in
his official position as C.I.T.Y. Director because he testified in Ms. Schmitz’s second trial after
he was terminated from C.I.T.Y. The court does not find this argument persuasive because Mr.
Lane was employed by C.I.T.Y. when he learned the information about which he testified, which
is the relevant point in time. The court is persuaded that qualified immunity applies to Dr.
Franks’ action because Mr. Lane was not speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern but
rather speaking pursuant to his official job duties as Director of C.I.T.Y. The court, however, will
also consider the parties’ arguments about whether the fact that Mr. Lane testified pursuant to a
subpoena establishes that Dr. Franks was acting in contravention to clearly established law when
he testified in Ms. Schmitz’s criminal case.
The only controlling cases concerning testimony given pursuant to a subpoena are
Martinez v. City of Opa-Locka, 971 F.2d 708 (11th Cir. 1992) and Morris v. Crow, 142 F.3d
1379 (11th Cir. 1998). The Defendants argue that under Martinez and Crow, Dr. Franks was not
on fair notice that Lane’s testimony in his official capacity as Ms. Schmitz’s former supervisor
and pursuant to a subpoena was protected speech, such that basing Mr. Lane’s termination on
that testimony would violate the First Amendment. Mr. Lane argues that at the time of his
termination Martinez conclusively established that a public employee could not be punished in
retaliation for testifying pursuant to a subpoena.
In Martinez, the City hired the plaintiff as Director of the Purchasing Department. The
City Commission, which had general legislative and policy-making authority, subpoenaed the
plaintiff to testify concerning the purchasing practices of the City. At these appearances, the
plaintiff testified that the City Manager violated the City’s prescribed bid procedures. After
making these statements and a similar statement to an investigator from the State Attorney’s
Office, the City Manager terminated the plaintiff’s employment. The plaintiff filed a three count
suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and the City Manager in his
individual capacity claiming that she was fired in retaliation for her exercise of free speech. The
Court ruled that the plaintiff’s speech “clearly affected a matter of public concern” because she
provided information concerning the expenditure of public funds and testified before the City’s
legislative body. Martinez, 971 F.2d at 712. The plaintiff’s speech was protected when made
pursuant to a subpoena and in front of a municipal body that had general legislative and policymaking authority. Id.
In Morris v. Crow, however, a deputy sheriff alleged the sheriff fired him in retaliation
for deposition testimony he gave under subpoena in a civil suit implicating a fellow deputy in a
fatal traffic accident. The Court found that the deputy did not testify under subpoena to “make
public comment on sheriff’s office policies and procedures [or] the internal workings of the
department,” but rather in compliance with the subpoena to testify truthfully. Crow, 142 F.3d at
1382. The Court affirmed the Sheriff’s qualified immunity in the case, stating that, “[t]he mere
fact that [the deputy]’s statements were made in the context of a civil deposition cannot
transform them into constitutionally protected speech.” Id. at 1383.
The court notes that the Eleventh Circuit decided Martinez in 1992 and Crow in 1998;
both decisions were rendered before the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti in 2006 and the
Eleventh Circuit’s decisions in Walker in 2009 and Vila in 2007. Thus, the decisions relating to
testimony given pursuant to subpoenas do not address whether the public employee’s speech was
made as part of his official duties and thus not as a citizen on a matter of public concern.
Although the plaintiff’s testimony pursuant to a subpoena was protected speech in Martinez, the
mere presence of a subpoena did not defeat the officer’s qualified immunity in Crow. Despite the
plaintiff’s contentions, Martinez and Crow do not create a clear and binding precedent so wellestablished that Dr. Franks should have known that he was violating Mr. Lane’s Constitutional
rights by terminating him, if he terminated him because of his testimony in Ms. Schmitz’s
The fact intensive nature of First Amendment retaliation cases creates a maze of case law
so discrete in its application and wavering in its precedential force that very rarely will the
plaintiff be able to prove that “‘case law, in factual terms, has . . . staked out a bright line.’”
Chesser v. Sparks, 248 F.3d 1117, 1123 (2001) (quoting Post, 7 F.3d at 1557). The question to
ask in qualified immunity cases is not whether “the very action in question has previously been
held unlawful;” it is whether “the unlawfulness of the action [was] apparent in the light of
pre-existing law.” Williams v. Consol. City of Jacksonville, 341 F.3d 1261, 2169-70 (11th Cir.
2003) (internal citations omitted). The court finds that a reasonable government official in Dr.
Frank’s position would not have had reason to believe that the Constitution protected Mr. Lane’s
testimony made pursuant to a subpoena at Ms. Schmitz’s trial because the unlawfulness of his
action was not “recognized . . . in a ‘concrete and factually defined context.’” Chesser, 248 F.3d
at 1122 (quoting Lassiter v. Ala. A & M Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir.
1994)). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate in this case.
The Eleventh Amendment bars Mr. Lane’s claims against CACC and Dr. Franks in his
official capacity as President of CACC. Even if the Eleventh Amendment does not bar Mr.
Lane’s claim against Dr. Franks in his individual capacity, which the court finds it does, the court
also finds that Mr. Lane’s right to free speech under the First Amendment as a testifying witness
under subpoena in a criminal trial was not clearly established, as is required under Saucier, to
defeat Dr. Franks’ qualified immunity. Thus, all of Mr. Lane’s claims are barred by the Eleventh
Amendment or the doctrine of qualified immunity. For these reasons, the court will GRANT
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE all of Mr. Lane’s
claims against CACC and Dr. Franks. The court will simultaneously enter a separate order to that
DONE and ORDERED this 18th day of October, 2012.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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