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Dahl v. Rice County

September 13, 2010

PETER L. DAHL; LISA DAHL, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS - APPELLANTS,
v.
RICE COUNTY, MINNESOTA; RICHARD COOK, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CARL RABENECK, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; WILLIAM SKARUPA, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS - APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: John R. Gibson, Circuit Judge

Submitted: November 19, 2009

Before WOLLMAN, JOHN R. GIBSON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

Peter L. Dahl and his wife brought this suit against Rice County, Minnesota, the Rice County Sheriff, and two other sheriff's department employees, seeking damages for Dahl's physical injuries pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They alleged violations of Dahl's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, along with various state law claims.

The district court*fn1 entered summary judgment for the defendants, and the Dahls now appeal the claims against the county, along with the First Amendment claim against the three individual defendants and the procedural due process claim against the county and Cook. We affirm.

I.

Peter L. Dahl worked as a deputy sheriff in the Rice County Sheriff's Department from 1992 until his termination in 2006. On August 18, 2005, Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook emailed Dahl to reprimand him for his unauthorized purchase of badges that had been charged to Rice County. The invoice listed Dahl's name. In response to Sheriff Cook's email, Dahl wrote that he was "simply the contact person" and that he "never charged anything to [the] office." Dahl, complaining of the "hostile and condescending tone" in Sheriff Cook's email, also stated that "the tone of some messages we deputies have been receiving has brought the morale of this department to its proverbial knees."

On August 22, 2005, Sheriff Cook requested a meeting with Dahl to discuss the unauthorized charges. Dahl secretly tape recorded the meeting. Although both parties agreed that Sheriff Cook used inappropriate language, they offer different accounts of what occurred during the meeting. Dahl asserts that Sheriff Cook struck Dahl in the chest with the heel of his hand, causing Dahl to injure his back. Sheriff Cook claims he put his hand out to stop Dahl from moving close.

Later that day, Dahl completed a First Report of Injury and an Accident Report. In the Accident Report, Dahl indicated "sheriff lost his temper" as the cause of the incident. Dahl reported the incident to the Rice County Administrator, who encouraged Dahl to utilize the Employee Assistance Program. Dahl also filed a criminal complaint with the Faribault Police Department, which referred Dahl's complaint to the Lakeville Police Department and to the Lakeville City Attorney. The Lakeville City Attorney later informed Dahl that they would not prosecute Sheriff Cook.

Dahl alleges that after he complained about Sheriff Cook, Carl Rabeneck, the Emergency Services Director, began to stalk Dahl and his family at Sheriff Cook's direction. In addition, Dahl asserts that Rabeneck and William Skarupa, a sergeant in the Rice County Sheriff's Department, defamed Dahl by telling others that Dahl had fabricated his report and complaint.

On September 2, 2005, Dahl's doctor wrote a note stating that Dahl was unable to return to work due to a back injury. On August 10, 2006, the Rice County Administrator sent a termination letter to Dahl. The letter stated that "Rice County has determined, based on medical reports that it has received, that [Dahl is] medically unfit to perform the duties of a Rice County Deputy Sheriff."

Dahl and his wife brought this suit against Rice County, Minnesota; Sheriff Cook; and sheriff's department employees, Rabeneck and Skarupa. Defendants Cook and Rabeneck are sued in their individual and official capacities, while Skarupa is sued in his individual capacity. The Dahls seek damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for physical injuries, alleging violations of Dahl's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and several state-law claims, including assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, defamation, and loss of consortium. The district court dismissed the claims by order dated December 23, 2008 in a grant of summary judgment. The district court dismissed the federal constitutional counts with prejudice and the state law claims without prejudice. The Dahls appeal as to their First Amendment retaliation claim and their procedural due process claim, arguing that the district court should not have granted summary judgment on those counts because a genuine issue of material fact exists in establishing the following: (1) Rice County is liable under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (2) the validity of Dahl's First Amendment claim; and (3) Dahl's liberty interest that forms the basis of his procedural due process claim.*fn2

II.

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying "the same standards as the district court and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Gen. Cas. Ins. Co., 465 F.3d 900, 903 (8th Cir. 2006). Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Although we view the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the Dahls, they have the obligation to come forward with ...


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