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Claridy v. Anderson

United States District Court, District of Maryland

March 9, 2015

DEBORAH CLARIDY, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN ANDERSON, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

Deborah Claridy, plaintiff, a former Deputy Sheriff and Lieutenant with the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, filed suit against Baltimore City Sheriff John Anderson, in his individual capacity, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Plaintiff claims that Anderson violated her rights under the First Amendment when he disciplined her and changed her job duties in retaliation for her electoral campaign against him in 2010, for the Office of Sheriff. ECF 1.[2] Claridy filed two exhibits with her Complaint. Exhibit A includes a letter dated May 24, 2011, notifying plaintiff of her suspension from duty, with pay. ECF 1-2 at 2. In addition, it includes the seventeen charges filed by the Sheriff's Office against plaintiff on May 23, 2011, for alleged violation of the Sheriff's Office "rules, policy, and procedures and/or under State and Local statutes" (ECF 1-2 at 2-19, "First Charges"). Exhibit B includes six charges re-filed against plaintiff on September 6, 2011 (ECF 1-3, "Second Charges").

Defendant has moved to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (ECF 16, "Motion"), supported by a memorandum (ECF 17, "Memo"), and two exhibits: a copy of a decision from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, ECF 17-1, upholding Claridy's termination from the Sheriff's Office on October 29, 2013, and a copy of a job description for the position of "Deputy Sheriff Lieutenant." ECF 17-2. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. See ECF 23 ("Opposition"). Defendant did not reply, and the time to do so has now passed. See Local Rule 1. No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6.

As to plaintiff's claims of violations of her right to free speech, defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, which bars plaintiff's claims for monetary damages. Additionally, some of plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief have been rendered moot by her subsequent termination, on grounds unrelated to this case. See ECF 17-1 (State court opinion affirming Claridy's termination). But, plaintiff's request for injunctive relief as to the inclusion of the First and Second Charges in her personnel file is neither moot nor barred by defendant's qualified immunity. Therefore, for the reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion, in part, and deny it, in part.

Factual Background[3]

Sheriff John Anderson is an elected official in the City of Baltimore and the head of the Sheriff's Office in Baltimore City. ECF 1 ¶ 3. He has served as Sheriff since January 1989.[4]

Claridy began her employment as a "Deputy Sheriff" in 1990. ECF 1 ¶ 6. She was promoted to Sergeant in 2001, and to Lieutenant in 2003. Id. ¶¶ 7, 8. She alleges that by 2010 she "primarily handled administrative functions in the Sheriff's Office including payroll, accounting, leave, budget and fiscal and related duties." Id. ¶ 9. "She also performed duties as a law enforcement officer including courtroom security, service of process and making arrests." Id. According to plaintiff, she was "the highest ranking female sworn deputy sheriff, " "supervised an administrative staff, " and reported to the "Chief Deputy Sheriff, " who "is the second in command of the office." Id.

In January 2010, Claridy met with Anderson and "informed him that she intended to run in the [September] 2010 Primary Election in the City of Baltimore for the office of Sheriff." Id. ¶ 10; see also id. ¶ 14. "Between January 2010 and July 2010, Claridy conducted her campaign on a part-time basis, " while still working at the Sheriff's Office. Id. ¶ 12. "On her own time, and after work hours, Claridy began raising money for her campaign, organizing supporters and volunteers, going to campaign related events and speaking out at those events and to the media on matters and issues of public concern … ." Id. ¶ 11. Claridy states that "[d]uring that period, " "she continued to perform her … duties as a sworn deputy sheriff, " continued "to have her full police powers, " and no "disciplinary charges were filed against her." Id. She notes that "Anderson as well as several other candidates for the Office of Sheriff also were campaigning, attending campaign events and speaking to the media during that period." Id.

In May 2010, "Claridy filed her certificate of candidacy…." Id. ¶ 13. "Prior to the deadline date for the filing or withdrawal of a certificate of candidacy in July 2010, Anderson … offered to promote" Claridy "to the rank of Major after the election if she dropped her candidacy for office." Id. ¶ 11. Claridy "declined the offer." Id.

Thereafter, Claridy "took leave" from the Sherriff's Office, beginning in July 2010, "and conducted her campaign on a full-time basis." Id. ¶ 14. She continued to "speak out … at campaign events and to the media, " as did Anderson. Id. She also "continued to have her full police powers, and no disciplinary charges were filed against her during that period." Id.

Claridy does not specify any of the campaign events she attended or media appearances she made during her campaign. But, she alleges generally that she "spoke out" on "the need for the Sheriff" to do the following things: "recruit and hire more minorities and women as sworn deputy sheriffs who have law enforcement responsibilities"; "promote more women … to supervisory and management positions"; "expand the capacity of the office to become the principal intake agency for domestic violence complaints" in Baltimore; "increase the number of sworn deputies for courtroom security work"; "seek increased funding in order to expand training so that sworn deputies could enhance their skills and assist law enforcement officials from other agencies … throughout the City of Baltimore"; "seek legislation to improve the foreclosure process for homeowners … so that the office could provide more information to homeowners" when it enforces foreclosure orders; "upgrade and improve the technology used for courthouse security"; and "reduce overtime expenditures." Id. ¶ 11.

"Anderson won the Primary Election for the Office Sheriff in September 2010. Claridy came in second place." Id. ¶ 15. After the primary election, Claridy "returned to full time work" in the Sheriff's Office. But, "on or about September 23, 2010, … Anderson removed Claridy from handling administrative duties, and assigned her to do what was called ‘daily courtroom checks.'" Id. ¶ 16. Claridy states that "no such assignment ever existed in the Sheriff's Office" before Claridy's assignment. Id. In particular, Claridy "was assigned to go to each courtroom each day and make a report of what she observed." Id. However, "[s]he was not allowed to speak or to supervise any Sheriff's Office personnel in the courtrooms, " or to "exercise her law enforcement powers in the courtrooms." Id. She had no staff, job description, orientation or training for the assignment. Id. According to Claridy, she "performed her new assignment diligently for 8 months from September 23, 2011 to May 24, 2011, and filed her reports, " without receiving any oversight, direction, feedback, or evaluation. Id. ¶ 17.

"On May 24, 2011, Anderson directed that Claridy be served with 17 administrative disciplinary charges … and suspended from duty, " with pay, pending an administrative hearing. Id. ¶ 18; ECF 1-2 at 2. Her "police powers also were suspended." ECF 1 ¶ 18.

The seventeen charges pertained to four specific instances of alleged misconduct. Id. ¶ 18; see also First Charges, ECF 1-2. Three of the specific instances, and eleven of the seventeen charges, related to Claridy's campaign speech. The fourth instance related to performance of duties.

Charge numbers 1 through 5 repeat the following allegation, ECF 1-2 at 3-7:

It is alleged that on or about May 10, 2010, you filed as a candidate for Sheriff and thereafter allowed yourself to be photographed in the Sheriff's Office Class A uniform, without the authorization of Sheriff John W. Anderson, however the photograph was placed on a flyer advertising your campaign for Sheriff and were [sic] distributed throughout the City of Baltimore.

Charge numbers 6 through 9 repeat the following allegation, ECF 1-2 at 8-11:

It is alleged that on or about August 6th and/or 29th, you appeared on a local radio show, acknowledged that you were a Lieutenant employed with the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, and criticized the agency, the Sheriff and other deputies in the Sheriff's Office. You further made allegations of wrongdoing and corruption by the Sheriff and certain deputies that were without factual basis and were primarily, if not solely, to advance your campaign for Sheriff.

Charge numbers 10 and 11 repeat the following allegation, ECF 1-2 at 12-13:

It is alleged that during your campaign you created and maintained a website advertising and promoting your candidacy for the Sheriff of Baltimore City. The website identified you as a Lieutenant currently employed with the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, and inappropriately criticized the agency, the Sheriff and other deputies in the Sheriff's Office. You further made allegations of wrongdoing and corruption by the Sheriff and certain deputies that were without factual basis and were primarily, if not solely, to advance your campaign for Sheriff.

Charge numbers 12 through 17 repeat one of two allegations: 1) that "on or about September 23, 2010, " Claridy "failed to follow specific orders of the Department to make daily checks of all courtrooms …, and failed to follow the specific instructions" of a supervisor, and/or 2) that starting on September 23, 2010, and through December 29, 2010, Claridy "failed to submit complete sets of daily reports from the courtroom checks … as required per instructions" from a supervisor. ECF 1-2 at 14-19.

In particular, with regard to the campaign speech charges, Claridy was variously charged with violating rules, policy, and procedures of the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, as well as provisions of the "General Orders Manual and/or State and Local statutes, " ECF 1-2 at 3-13. In general, the relevant provisions are as follows:[5]

Standards of Conduct, Section 2.2.2, Standards of Conduct in General:
Subsection M: Public Criticism
Members of this agency shall refrain from engaging in public criticism of this agency, its policies, and/or any of its members, verbally, electronically or in writing; [ECF 1-2 at 8]
Subsection O: Abuse of Position
No member of this agency shall be permitted to use any name, photograph or official title which links the member to this agency, for the purpose of endorsing, advertising, or otherwise supporting any service, product, or cause without specific prior approval from the Sheriff of Baltimore City. [Id. at 3].

Standards of Conduct, Section 2.2.4, Conduct Unbecoming:

Subsection A: General
1. No employee of the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office will commit any act which constitutes conduct unbecoming an employee of this Office. [ECF 1-2 at 9].
Subsection B: Misconduct
Any breach of the peace, neglect of duty, or other misconduct on the part of any employee either within or outside the State of Maryland, which tends to undermine the good order, efficiency or discipline of the Office, even though these offenses may not be specifically set forth, shall be considered conduct unbecoming. [Id. at 10].

Standards of Conduct, Section 2.2.7, Political Activity, Subsection B: Political Activities Which are Prohibited:

2) No member of the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office shall be permitted to use his/or [sic] official position as a member of this agency to publicly support any particular political party or candidate for public office. [ECF 1-2 at 12].
3) Members of the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office shall not:
a. Allow themselves to be identified in campaign literature as members of this agency; [Id. at 4]
b. Allow themselves to be photographed in uniform for the purpose of endorsing a candidate for public office or a political movement; [Id. at 5]
4. Use of any equipment or materials belonging to this agency for the support of any candidate for public office, any political movement, or in the furtherance of any cause or ideology is specifically prohibited. [Id. at 7].
State Ethics Laws Title 15, Subtitle 5, Conflicts of Interest, Part 1, General Provisions, Section 15-506: Use of Prestige of Office
In general-An official or employee may not intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for that official's or employee's private gain or ...

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