Disciplined White Officer Lacks Due Process, Retaliation Claims, Eighth Circuit Affirms

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By Jay-Anne Casuga

May 11 — A white police officer for the city of Minneapolis can't proceed to trial on his claims that the city violated his constitutional right to employment opportunities by bringing “sham investigations” against him that led to his suspension, removal from a task force, placement on administrative leave and demotion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled May 11.

Affirming summary judgment for the city on Michael Keefe's substantive due process claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983), the Eighth Circuit found that the multiple adverse employment actions experienced by Keefe didn't violate his fundamental rights in a way that was “so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary consciences.”

Additionally, the appeals court upheld the dismissal of Keefe's claim that the city retaliated against him in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981) because he attempted to vindicate the rights of four black officers under investigation for corruption. The court said the city offered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for each of the adverse actions levied on Keefe, who failed to rebut those reasons as pretextual.

Judge Raymond Gruender wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Diane E. Murphy and Lavenski R. Smith.

City's Actions Didn't Shock Conscience

The Eighth Circuit explained that Keefe must show that the city violated his fundamental rights in a way that “shocks the conscience.”

Keefe alleged that he “unjustly suffered multiple adverse employment actions including a suspension, removal from the task force, placement on administrative leave and demotion” because the city wanted to “discredit and silence him.”

But the court said none of the adverse employment actions “were so severe as to shock the conscience.”

In addition, Keefe admitted to some of the misconduct that led to those actions, including placing an anonymous phone call to the police chief's wife—during which he told her that the chief needed to know that their federal task force partners, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were “corrupt”—as well as not carrying his badge and firearm for several months.

No Section 1981 Retaliation Claim

Affirming the dismissal of Keefe's Section 1981 retaliation claim, the court said he failed to show that the stated reasons for the adverse actions against him were pretextual.

For example, the court said Keefe was removed from a task force because he had damaged his relationship with federal officers; was suspended and placed on administrative leave because of his anonymous call to the chief's wife and failure to carry his badge and firearm; and was demoted for “being untruthful in levying allegations against other MPD officers, using racist language, being banned from the FBI’s and the ATF’s offices, and having inappropriate relationships with the media.”

“Keefe has failed to point to specific facts that discredit any of the defendants’ proffered explanations for the various employment decisions,” the court said. “Accordingly, Keefe has failed to show that there is a genuine issue for trial as to his [Section] 1981 claim.”

Goins Law Office and Ward Law Group represented Keefe. The Minneapolis City Attorney represented the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com.

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Michael_Keefe_v_City_of_Minneapolis_et_al_Docket_No_1303069_8th_C.