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Quinn v. City of Newport

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 6, 2019

ALBERT J. QUINN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT, JOSEPH J. NICHOLSON, JR., in his capacity as Newport City Manager, LAUREN L. SITRIN, in her capacity as Newport Director of Finance, GARY SILVA, both individually and in his capacity as Chief of Police of the Newport Police Department, and JOHN DOE, 1"5, unnamed current or former City officials or employees, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 11 and 16. Sergeant Albert J. Quinn brought this case alleging seven counts related to his termination from the Newport Retired Officer Corps: First Amendment Violation, Fifth Amendment Violation, Wrongful Termination in Violation of R.I.G.L. § 28-50-3), Breach of Contract, Bad Faith, and Defamation.[1] The Defendants ("City") moved for summary judgment on each of the counts and Sgt. Quinn filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on Counts II, III, and IV. ECF Nos. 11 and 16. The parties filed extensive responses and objections (ECF Nos. 18, 21, 23, 25, 29, and 31) and the Court heard the parties' arguments. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Sgt. Quinn's Motion (ECF No. 16) and GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the City's Motion. ECF No. 11.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sgt. Quinn served as a police officer in the Newport Police Department (NPD) from 1980-2011. Upon retirement, Sgt. Quinn was accepted and sworn into the Newport Retired Officer Corps ("ROC").[2] Sgt. Quinn, in accepting a position in the ROC, signed a "Letter of Agreement for Retired Newport Police Officers Working Special Details" ("Agreement"). The Agreement states: "I understand that my position is as a Special Detail Retired Officer and that my employment is strictly 'at will,' meaning that either the city or I may terminate my role at any time for any reason." ECF No. 1-6 at 2.

         In 2014, a Newport restaurant co-owned by Sgt. Quinn was the victim of a telephone fraud scam. An employee of the restaurant filed a criminal complaint and the NPD opened a criminal investigation into the scam. Detective Sergeant Frank Rosa was assigned to conduct the investigation.

         Once the NPD opened the investigation, Sgt. Quinn appeared to try to interfere with the investigation. Sgt. Quinn contacted Steven Riccardi, a retired Secret Service Agent, to ask if the Secret Service ever investigated these crimes and Mr. Riccardi replied that he may be able to supply resources and aid in the investigation. As such, Sgt. Quinn provided Det. Rosa with Mr. Riccardi's contact information, but Dot. Rosa never reached out for help. Sgt, Quinn also reached out to State Representative Peter Martin regarding the investigation and scam.

         Shortly thereafter, Sgt. Quinn was asked to speak as a victim of the telephone fraud at a press conference held by the Rhode Island State Attorney General. Sgt. Quinn provided a brief statement that was broadcast on television.[3] After the press conference, Sgt. Quinn sat down with a Special Assistant Attorney General who asked about the status of the case. Sgt. Quinn, at the Special Assistant Attorney General's request, provided him with Det. Rosa's contact information but did not ask the Attorney General's Office to contact the NPD.

         The day after the press conference, an email was circulated among members of the NPD stating, "ROC Quinn was in the [NPD] station earlier in the week and was up in [the Criminal Investigation Division] inquiring about his criminal case. Please remind ROC Quinn that using his FOB to enter the station for such purposes is not only inappropriate but forbidden. If he has personal business, he is to go through normal channels as eveiy other citizen." ECF No. 12 at ¶ 25. Sgt. Quinn was not informed of this email.

         Sometime after the press conference, Sgt. Quinn entered the NPD with State Representative Peter Martin.[4]

         Shortly thereafter, Chief Silva terminated Sgt. Quinn as a member of the ROC. A police officer escorted Sgt. Quinn out of the building. In the termination meeting, Chief Silva did not mention the email but claimed that Sgt. Quinn had interfered with the investigation and had "gone way outside the bounds of an investigation." ECF No. 12 at ¶ 30. Chief Silva also stated that the reasons for terminating Sgt. Quinn were that Sgt. Quinn brought a state representative into the NPD with the intent of intimidating an investigation and that Chief Silva had received phone calls from the Attorney General's Office and the Secret Service on the same day that two Secret Service agents showed up unexpectedly at the NPD.

         A few months after the termination, Sgt. Quinn contacted the then-acting Newport City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson, Jr. to appeal his adverse employment action. The City Manager told Sgt. Quinn that he had not received documentation of the adverse employment action and that he would reach out to Chief Silva. Around that same time, Sgt. Quinn spoke with the Director of Human Resources Michael Coury who also said that he had received no documentation of adverse employment action against Sgt. Quinn. A few months later, the City Manager informed Sgt. Quinn that he was approved to return to work. When Sgt. Quinn took steps to arrange for recertification and return to work, he was denied and did not return to work at NPD.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is warranted when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The court must look to the record and view all the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Canadian Universal Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir. 1991).

         When evaluating "cross-motions for summary judgment, the standard does not change,' [courts] view each motion separately and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the respective non-moving party." Bonneau v. Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 51 Pension Tr. Fund ex rel. Bolton, 736 F.3d 33, 36 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. Springfield, 724 F.3d 78, 89 (1st Cir. 2013)). The court must determine whether either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the undisputed facts. Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Torres, 561 F.3d 74, 77 (1st Cir. 2009).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The City has moved for summary judgment on all counts and Sgt. Quinn has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on Counts II, III, IV. The Court will address each Count in turn.

         A. Count I-First Amendment

         Sgt. Quinn alleges that the City took the adverse employment action against him to punish him for speaking with the Attorney General's Office and to the public in his role as a victim of a crime. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 107-08. "A public official seeking to make a claim out of retaliation in violation of her First Amendment rights must meet a four-factor test." O'Donnell v. Barry, 148 F.3d 1126, 1133 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

         That is, (1) the public employee must have been speaking on a matter of public concern,' (2) the employee's First Amendment interest must not be outweighed by the governmental interest in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees without disruption! (3) the employee's speech was a substantial and motivating factor in prompting the punitive act! and (4) the City can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision even without the protected conduct. Id.

         The Court need not address each elemental argument in O'Donnell because the evidence fails to support the claim that Sgt. Quinn was terminated because of his statement to the media or the Attorney General's Office. As enumerated in O'Donnell, the employee's speech must be a ...


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