By Dan Menken
Today, in Skinner v. Loudoun County, an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to Loudon County on Skinner’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012) complaint. The complaint alleged federal and state due process claims as well as a related state claim of defamation.
Skinner Argues that Due Process Rights were Violated by Job Termination
Skinner’s claims arose from his termination from his position as an emergency medical services training officer with the Loudon County Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Management. He was terminated for striking a student in the head.
As a public employee, Skinner had a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment and could not be fired without due process. Although Skinner did have an opportunity to present his side of the story, he argued that Defendants failed to provide him with the evidence used to support his termination, including names of eyewitnesses, names and details of corroborating witnesses, and corroborating documents. The Fourth Circuit noted, however, that “[d]ue process does not mandate that all evidence on a charge or even the documentary evidence be provided, only that such descriptive explanation be afforded as to permit [the employee] to identify the conduct giving rise to the dismissal and thereby to enable him to make a response.” Linton v. Frederick County. Here, Skinner was informed that he was charged, on a specific date, with harassing, hitting, and kicking the student. He was also told that there was another witness to the altercation. The Fourth Circuit held that Skinner understood the charges sufficiently to prepare a detailed response, and therefore there was no due process violation.
Skinner further argued that he was deprived of his right to confront the student under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that there is no absolute due process right to confront and cross-examine an accuser in this type of situation and instead used the balancing test laid out in Mathews v. Eldridge. The test looks at (1) the private interest affected; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the probable value of additional procedural safeguards; and (3) the Government’s interest. Here, Skinner was informed of the charges against him. He was able to testify on his behalf and call corroborating witnesses. The Court reasoned that the remaining procedural safeguards, the lack of any evidence of prejudice, and the fact that the student was deployed in Afghanistan, warranted a conclusion that Skinner was not unconstitutionally deprived of an opportunity to challenge his termination.
Defamation Claim Not Preserved
Finally, Skinner agued that his defamation claims were improperly dismissed for failure to produce evidence of malice. However, Skinner did not address the defamation claim in his response to the Defendants’ summary judgment motion. He objected, for the first time, in his motion for reconsideration. Thus, his arguments against dismissal were waived.
District Court Ruling Affirmed
Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendants.