Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ugrich v. Itasca County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 6, 2017

Troy Ugrich, Plaintiff,
v.
Itasca County, Minnesota; Victor J. Williams in his individual and official capacity; Denise Hirt in her individual and official capacity; and Albert Morse in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          Kyle E. Hart, Esq., and Nathan R. Sellers, Esq., Fabyanske Westra Hart & Thomson, PA, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Jessica E. Schwie, Esq., Tal Aaron Bakke, Esq., and Tessa M McEllistrem, Esq., Jardine Logan & O'Brien PLLP, counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff in this case was a sheriff's deputy who resigned in early 2016 after being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into whether he lent his squad car to be filmed in a movie against a direct order from his supervisor. The plaintiff filed suit alleging that Defendants retaliated against him for supporting a challenger sheriff candidate in 2014 and for reporting possible violations to a state oversight agency. The defendants moved for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In March 1997, Plaintiff Troy Ugrich joined the Itasca County Sheriff's Department (“Sheriff's Department”) as a sheriff's deputy. In November 2010, Defendant Victor Williams was first elected sheriff. The other three defendants in this case are Itasca County, Chief Deputy Denise Hirt, and Supervisor Albert Morse. In 2014, Ugrich backed a challenger candidate for sheriff, Deputy Bryan Johnson. Ugrich served as Johnson's campaign manager. In his role as campaign manager, Ugrich contends that he made a number of critical statements regarding Williams and the Sheriff's Department. Specifically, Ugrich alleges that he published criticism about the Sheriff Department's budget at the Itasca County Fair and on Facebook. In addition, Ugrich helped write a letter to the Grand Rapids Herald Review on behalf of the Johnson Campaign claiming that the Sheriff's Department was allowing employees to use county-issued credit cards to pay for gasoline consumed for personal use (“Herald Letter”). (Schwie Decl., Ex. 30.) In the end, Williams was re-elected.

         During and after the election, Ugrich claims that Defendants retaliated against him for his role in the Johnson campaign. Ugrich first claims that Defendants retaliated against him by excluding him from the execution of a search warrant. On June 26, 2014, a few days after the Johnson campaign published its criticism of the Sheriff's Department's budget, officers from the Sheriff's Department participated in the execution of a search warrant on a house in Taconite, Minnesota, as part of a multijurisdictional drug operation. Around this same time in Taconite, Ugrich was attempting to serve civil process papers for an unrelated matter. Ugrich claims that he was purposely not informed about the search being executed nearby and felt that he was unnecessarily placed in danger. Ugrich and his wife each tried to raise the issue with Williams, but Williams apparently refused to speak with either of them. Ugrich claims that he suffered emotional distress as a result of the incident and no longer feels safe working for the Sheriff's Department.

         Next, Ugrich contends that he was retaliated against in the form of two unwarranted verbal reprimands. The first reprimand (in October 2014) was the result of Ugrich refusing to respond to a possible emergency situation involving a suicidal person because Ugrich was escorting someone to retrieve property. (T. Ugrich Dep. at 209.)[1]The reprimand was for failing to prioritize the more serious situation. (Morse Dep. at 79-81.) Ugrich's second reprimand (in September 2015) was for failing to show for his scheduled shift. Ugrich filed a grievance over the second reprimand, and it was removed from his record. Defendants concede that, with minor exception, Ugrich had performed his job satisfactorily. (Defs.' Memo. at 2.)

         Last, Ugrich alleges that Defendants retaliated against him by suspending him pending an investigation into whether he lent his squad car to movie producers. In August 2014, a movie-production manager contacted Chief Deputy Hirt requesting permission to use one of the Sheriff Department's squad cars in a movie. Hirt told the production manager that the Sheriff Department could not lend the squad car due to possible liability issues. (Hirt at 75; see also Schwie Decl., Ex. 54 (“Admin. Investigation Final Report”) at 2.) Then, later in August 2014, Ugrich called Hirt requesting permission to use his squad car in the movie. Hirt again said no. (Hirt Dep. at 75; Admin. Investigation Final Report at 2.) Over a year later, in late August 2015, Williams and Hirt learned that a Sheriff's Department squad car was used in filming the movie. On September 22, 2015, Ugrich was placed on administrative leave pending further investigation. This suspension came on the heels of Ugrich filing a formal complaint with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (“Post Board”) regarding the Sheriff's Department's rules for part-time officers.

         The investigation into Ugrich's misconduct contained two components: an administrative and a criminal investigation. The criminal investigation was referred to Crow Wing County. (Hirt Dep. at 19.) Crow Wing County has not recommended any criminal charges, but the investigation has not yet been closed. (Id. at 25.) For the administrative investigation, Itasca County hired Attorney Frank J. Madden to perform an internal investigation. (Williams Dep. at 124.) Despite repeated requests, Ugrich refused to be interviewed for the investigation.[2] Instead, on January 25, 2016, Ugrich resigned, claiming that he had been constructively discharged. (Doc. No. 71 (“Ugrich Aff.”) ¶ 16, Ex. B.)

         Ugrich filed his complaint on April 18, 2016, alleging that Defendants: (1) violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for supporting a challenger candidate for sheriff; (2) violated his right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment by treating him differently than other deputies who exercised their free-speech rights; and (3) retaliated against him in violation the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, Minnesota Statute §§ 181.931-.932. Defendants now move for summary judgment.

         DISCUSSION I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Courts must view the evidence, and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Weitz Co., LLC v. Lloyd's of London, 574 F.3d 885, 892 (8th Cir. 2009). However, “[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.