United States District Court, D. Maryland
ROBERT S. FARRELL, Plaintiff,
DR. DAVID A. COX, et al., Defendants.
L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants David A. Cox,
Benjamin Brauer, and Sheree Witt's Early Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 40). The Motion is ripe for
disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local
Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the
Court will grant the Motion.
Robert S. Farrell worked as a teacher for the Allegany County
Public Schools (“ACPS”) from 2003 to 2007, and
then as the Coordinator of Safety and Security until his
termination in 2015. (Compl. ¶¶ 16, 36, ECF No. 2;
Robert S. Farrell Dep. [“Farrell Dep.”]
16:7-17:20, 36:8-20, 93:11-94:15, 97:12-19, Mar. 13, 2018,
ECF No. 40-6). Farrell's late wife, Lorelee M. Farrell,
(collectively with Mr. Farrell, the “Farrells”)
worked for ACPS, as a Health and Family Life Assistant
Supervisor. (Compl. ¶ 15; Farrell Dep. 94:21-22).
2014, Ms. Farrell ran for a seat on the Board of Education of
Allegany County (the “Board”). (Compl. ¶ 20;
Farrell Dep. 46:8-22). During the campaign, Ms. Farrell said
she would change the Board's Communication Policy (the
“Policy”), which required all communication
between ACPS employees and the Board to go through the
Superintendent, Cox. (Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24-26; Farrell
Dep. 46:23-49:2). Mr. Farrell generally supported Ms.
Farrell's candidacy and “exercised his right of
free speech” regarding matters of public concern
relating to the operation of ACPS. (Compl. ¶ 21; Robert
Farrell Decl. [“Farrell Decl.”] ¶ 13, ECF
No. 46-2). Mr. Farrell's support of his wife included
supporting her proposed change to the Policy. (See
Compl. ¶ 29; Farrell Dep. 50:7-55:23). Ms. Farrell was
not elected to the Board in 2014. (Compl. ¶ 33).
2014, Brauer, ACPS Supervisor of Student Services and Mr.
Farrell's supervisor, conducted a performance evaluation
of Mr. Farrell for the first time, concluding that he needed
improvement in four categories. (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 30;
Farrell Dep. 56:2-57:7; Brauer Decl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 40-4).
On January 16, 2015, Witt, ACPS Executive Director of Special
Education, and Brauer convened a “due process”
meeting with Mr. Farrell, during which they discussed
Brauer's concerns, but not the Policy. (Compl. ¶ 32;
Farrell Dep. 68:4-76:21).
meeting or “hearing” was continued on February 2,
2015, with Mr. Farrell's counsel in attendance, and
included further discussion of Farrell's job performance.
(Compl. ¶¶ 33-34; Farrell Dep. 76:22-81:2). Before
that second meeting, Witt told Mr. Farrell that he
“doesn't live in a vacuum” at the Board,
which he interpreted as a threat to his employment. (Compl.
¶¶ 33-34). During the meeting, Witt told Mr.
Farrell that “I think you've been around here long
enough, you know how things work, ” which Mr. Farrell
understood to mean the Board was directing the review of his
job performance. (Farrell Dep. 81:3-82:8). Mr. Farrell did
not receive information regarding any charges against him at
any point, and Mr. Farrell's counsel objected to the
meeting process. (Compl. ¶¶ 34-35; Farrell Dep.
77:13-15, 84:1-3). The Board terminated Mr. Farrell's
employment, effective June 30, 2015, because ACPS had
eliminated the Coordinator of Safety and Security position as
part of budget cost-cutting. (Compl. ¶ 36; Farrell Dep.
17, 2016, the Farrells sued Defendants and the Board in the
Circuit Court for Allegany County, Maryland, alleging three
counts: (1) violation of Ms. Farrell's First Amendment
rights; (2) violation of Mr. Farrell's First Amendment
rights; and (3) violation of Mr. Farrell's due process
rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of
Rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 40-60). On June 21,
2016, Defendants removed the action to this Court. (ECF No.
1). On March 21, 2017, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion
and Order, dismissing certain claims and dismissing the Board
as a Defendant. (ECF Nos. 13, 14). Ms. Farrell died in
November 2017, (see ECF No. 35), and on March 14,
2018, the parties filed a Stipulation of Dismissal regarding
her claim, Count I, (see ECF No. 36).
25, 2018, the Court permitted Defendants to file their Early
Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 40; see ECF
Nos. 44, 45). On July 13, 2018, Mr. Farrell filed an
Opposition. (ECF No. 46). On July 27, 2018, Defendants filed
their Reply. (ECF No. 47).
Standard of Review
reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the
facts in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing all
justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Ricci
v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009); Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
158-59 (1970)). Summary judgment is proper when the movant
demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in
the record, including depositions, documents, electronically
stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
. . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials,
” that “there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the Significantly, a party must be able to
present the materials it cites in “a form that would be
admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2), and
supporting affidavits and declarations “must be made on
personal knowledge” and “set out facts that would
be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).
motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported,
the burden shifts to the nonmovant to identify evidence
showing there is a genuine dispute of material fact. See
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475
U.S. 574, 586- 87 (1986). The nonmovant cannot create a
genuine dispute of material fact “through mere
speculation or the building of one inference upon
another.” Othentec Ltd. v. Phelan, 526 F.3d
135, 141 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Beale v. Hardy,
769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)).
“material fact” is one that might affect the
outcome of a party's case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
248; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures,
Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing
Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir.
2001)). Whether a fact is considered to be
“material” is determined by the substantive law,
and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord
Hooven-Lewis, 249 F.3d at 265. A “genuine”
dispute concerning a “material” fact arises when
the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to
return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the nonmovant has
failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element
of her case where she has the burden of proof, “there
can be ‘no ...