Court denies Centerville request to dismiss fired city employee’s lawsuit

A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a fired Centerville police officer as the next step in an ongoing case where that officer is challenging his termination.  STAFF FILE PHOTO

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A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a fired Centerville police officer as the next step in an ongoing case where that officer is challenging his termination. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Judge says allegations ‘plausibly show’ city acted in bad faith in case of ex-police sergeant Myers

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a former Centerville police officer as the next step in an ongoing case where that officer is challenging his firing by the city.

Former Sgt. James Myers was fired in March 2020, then he sued the city of Centerville, City Manager Wayne Davis and Police Chief Matthew Brown in U.S. District Court in September of that year, seeking job reinstatement and back pay, plus compensatory and punitive damages. He said the city violated his free speech rights, and retaliated against him for reporting possible violations of law by other Centerville police staff.

In May 2021, the city of Centerville asked the court to issue judgment in the case based on the pleadings to that point, rather than moving on to discovery and further legal proceedings. In August 2021, a U.S. District Court judge denied the city’s motion.

Davis and Brown then appealed that denial, citing “the doctrine of qualified and statutory immunity,” which shields government defendants from being sued in many cases. That led to last week’s appeals ruling.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel denied the pair immunity, citing an exception when parties act “with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner.”

In his written opinion for the panel, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich cited Myers’ multiple allegations of Centerville staff lying, but pointed specifically to one other action.

“Further, Chief Brown assigned (Lt. Joe) Lavigne to investigate Myers — even after Myers sought whistleblower protection against Lavigne. That alone left the fox guarding the henhouse,” Suhrheinrich wrote. “Taken together, these allegations plausibly show that the defendants acted “with a ‘dishonest purpose’ ” and thus in bad faith under Ohio law.”

Myers, who had worked for Centerville Police Department for 25 years, declined comment regarding the court’s ruling, deferring to his trial counsel, Kati Neff.

“We think that the decision is somewhat vindication for James,” Neff said. “It’s a well-thought out, thorough decision and we look forward to continuing our discovery process in this case and moving towards just continuing to litigate this case with the district court.”

Neff said Myers’s legal team has been gathering evidence through the discovery process on his claims against the city, Davis and Brown, and has depositions scheduled for late August and early September.

City of Centerville spokeswoman Kate Bostdorff told this news outlet the appeals court ruling is “an early decision based on only Myers’ version of the facts.”

“Once all facts are considered by the courts, the city is confident it will prevail,” Bostdorff said. “In the meantime, we remain steadfast in our work for Centerville citizens.”

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