A federal court lawsuit, brought by Smithville Police Investigator Jerry D. Hutchins, Jr. against Mayor Taft Hendrixson and the Municipal Government of the City of Smithville over a pay dispute, has been dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Robert Echols recently granted the defendant's motion for a summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice because the plaintiff, Hutchins, did not provide any affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other documentary evidence in support of his opposition to the motion for summary judgement.
Hutchins claimed he should have been compensated at $17.19 per hour, as approved by the aldermen in 2007, and that Mayor Hendrixson had no authority to cast a veto in this matter, since only the aldermen can hire and set the rate of pay for employees as part of the hiring process under city laws.
Hutchins was represented by Lebanon Attorney Adam Parrish
According to the complaint, Hutchins, son of then Smithville Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr., was employed as a deputy in the Wilson County Sheriff's Department and had four years of law enforcement experience.
The complaint further states that "On December 12th, 2007, the City of Smithville advertised the position of police investigator. No salary for the position was set in the published job posting. Hutchins alleged in his complaint, however, that the job was advertised to fill the position vacated by Officer Steven Deffendoll, who was paid at the rate of $17.19 per hour. Hutchins alleged that he applied for the position and that the defendants represented to him that he would be hired for the job and compensated at the same rate of pay as Officer Deffendoll. Hutchins then resigned from his position with the Wilson County Sheriff's Department."
"On January 29th, 2008, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 3-1 to hire Hutchins as police investigator, but no hourly wage or salary for Hutchins was set at that time. Hutchins' father, Alderman Jerry Hutchins', Sr. voted in favor of his son's employment after consulting with the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service and determining that he could properly cast a vote after disclosing his personal interest in the matter to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen."
"On February 18th, 2008, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen addressed the issue of how much Hutchins should be paid for his work in the police investigator position. The minutes of the meeting reflect that ‘after much debate by the Mayor and the Board', a motion was made and seconded to start the police investigator's pay at $15.95 per hour and increase it to $17.19 per hour after sixty days. Three aldermen, Willie Thomas, Tonya Sullivan, and Hutchins' father, voted in favor of the motion. Two aldermen, Cecil Burger and Stephen White voted against the motion. Thus, the motion passed on a 3-2 vote. Immediately thereafter, Mayor Hendrixson passed out copies of a letter he had signed vetoing the action of the Aldermen. In the letter, Mayor Hendrixson stated he made inquiries to nearby police departments and learned they pay their police investigators comparable to a police sergeant. He explained his belief that police investigator pay should not exceed that of a sergeant, and sergeant pay started at $11.89 per hour and increased to $13.13 per hour after sixty days. He noted that the investigator would top out at $15.95 after four years of service, as stated in the 2007 Smithville Wage Chart for the fiscal year budget."
"A roll call vote was taken to override the veto, but the vote failed. After further discussion, Alderman White made a motion to start the police investigator's pay at $11.89 per hour with an increase to $13.13 after sixty days. Although the motion received a second, it failed to pass on a 3-2 vote.'
"The Board of Mayor and Aldermen continued discussing the subject and asked for input from the City Attorney and the Chief of Police. Alderman Sullivan then made a motion to pay Hutchins at the Mayor's proposed $11.89 per hour start pay, increase it to $13.13 per hour, and at the next meeting have a police investigator pay scale set in place adjusting the current pay for Hutchins if necessary. The motion was seconded and all members voted in favor. Alderman Hutchins stated that he was ‘voting his conscience before casting his vote'."
"Hutchins started work in the police investigator position the next day, February 19th, 2008, earning $11.89 per hour, to be increased to $13.13 after sixty days. He has remained employed in the position."
"The budget ordinance for 2007-08 did not include a slot for Hutchins' position. On June 16th, 2008, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed the budget ordinance for 2008-09. In that budget ordinance, Hutchins' wage was set at $13.70 per hour. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to adopt the budget ordinance, which set Hutchins' hourly wage."
"Defendant Hendrixson attests that Hutchins was not a city employee until be commenced work on February 19th, 2008. He also avers that the Aldermen did not challenge his right to veto their action in setting Hutchins' hourly wage at the time he issued the veto on February 18th, 2008. He also avers that he was acting in his legislative capacity as Mayor of the City of Smithville when he registered the veto, and that he and the Aldermen acted within the Charter of the City of Smithville in hiring Hutchins and setting his rate of pay.'
"Hutchins contends that the Aldermen approved a higher rate of pay for him, but Mayor Hendrixson vetoed that action without lawful authority. Hutchins alleges in his supporting brief that, while Defendant Hendrixson and Hutchins' father were once friends, ‘ an intense rivalry and acrimony' developed between them over the years, and this explained Defendant Hendrixson's motive in vetoing the action to pay Hutchins more money."
"Hutchins asserts an equal protection claim against the Defendants, which actually appears to be a claim that Defendants retaliated against Hutchins due to his association with Alderman Hutchins, Sr. in violation of the First Amendment. Hutchins also asserted state-law claims for misrepresentation and detrimental reliance."
In granting the motion, U.S. District Judge Robert Echols wrote, in the analysis, that the Defendants supported their summary judgment motion with evidence. Faced with the properly supported summary judgment motion, Hutchins could not merely rely on the allegations and details of his complaint; rather, he was required to provide affidavits or other admissible evidence to set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial."
"The Court has no evidence before it from which it can take Plaintiff Hutchins' asserted position as true and assess whether a reasonable jury could find that Defendant Hendrixson acted unlawfully or unconstitutionally when he vetoed the Aldermen's initial decision to pay Hutchins over $17.00 per hour. Plaintiff Hutchins has presented nothing but his own self-serving allegations, and this is not enough. Because, Hutchins provided no evidence, even his own affidavit, to support his position, summary judgment, if appropriate, must be entered in favor of the Defendants."
" The Court concludes that summary judgment in favor of the Defendants is appropriate. By failing to produce any evidence in opposition to the summary judgment motion, Hutchins cannot show that there are any genuine issues of material fact for trial on these elements of his constitutional claim. Moreover, Hutchins has not produced any evidence of an unconstitutional policy or custom in order to hold the City of Smithville liable."
"Defendant Hendrixson is also entitled to qualified immunity on the constitutional claim brought against him in his individual capacity. Hutchins did not produce any evidence showing that he was subjected to unlawful First Amendment retaliation. Hutchins having failed to make out a violation of a constitutional right, qualified immunity protects Defendant Hendrixson from suit.'
"Because Plaintiff Hutchins did not make a proper evidentiary record in opposition to the summary judgment motion, he has not shown there are any genuine issues of material fact for trial on his state-law claims for misrepresentation and detrimental reliance."
"For all of the reasons stated, the Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Defendants Taft Hendrixson and the Municipal Government of the City of Smithville, will be granted. This case will be dismissed with prejudice."