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McDaniel v. City of Indianola

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

October 10, 2018




         This employment discrimination action is before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Doc. #29.

         I Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[s]ummary judgment is proper only if the pleadings and record materials reveal no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Renwick v. PNK Lake Charles, L.L.C., 901 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Cir. 2018). “A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law, and a fact issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Id. (quotation marks and citations omitted). In making these determinations, a court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all justifiable inferences in the non-movant's favor.” Id. (quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         “The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of identifying the portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and the nonmovant must then point to or produce specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue of material fact.” James v. Woods, 899 F.3d 404, 407 (5th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). “Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party satisfies this initial burden by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., Inc., 760 F.3d 477, 481 (5th Cir. 2014).

         II Procedural History

         On July 10, 2017, Alsee McDaniel, acting pro se, [1] filed a complaint in this Court against the City of Indianola, [2] Steve Rosenthal, Larry Brown, Gary Fratesi, Ruben Woods, Dana Myrick, and Carver Randle, Jr. Doc. #1. The complaint, without distinguishing between the defendants, alleges a claim of wrongful termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and a claim of defamation under state law. Id. at 2-3. After receiving an extension to respond to the complaint, the defendants filed a joint answer on October 4, 2017. Doc. #8.

         Following a period of discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on McDaniel's claims. Doc. #29. McDaniel responded in opposition to the motion, and the defendants replied. Doc. #33; Doc. #35.

         III Evidentiary Issues

         In their initial memorandum, the defendants, apparently expecting the introduction of certain documents, objected on the ground of hearsay to the consideration of newspaper articles in deciding the motion for summary judgment. Doc. #30 at 3. The defendants also raised a hearsay objection to the introduction of affidavit evidence setting forth the “lay opinion of Plaintiff's sister sitting as a concerned citizen at [city] meetings.” Id.

         In response to the motion for summary judgment, McDaniel did not introduce affidavit evidence of his sister's opinions. He did, however, submit two newspaper articles and one editorial. See Docs. #33-3, #33-4, #33-5. McDaniel argues these documents are admissible because they are self-authenticating and because it is undisputed the editorial was written by Rosenthal, a defendant in this action. Doc. #34 at 6.

         The requirement of authenticity necessitates that the piece of evidence be what it purports to be. Fed.R.Evid. 901(a). In contrast, the rule against hearsay asks whether the piece of evidence falls under the general definition of hearsay set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 801(c) (an out of court statement introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted), whether the evidence is properly excluded from the definition of hearsay under Rule 801(d), and whether the evidence falls under any of Rule 803's exceptions to the rule against hearsay. Thus, “authentication is a separate requirement from the hearsay rules.” United States v. One 1968 Piper Navajo Twin Engine Aircraft, 594 F.2d 1040, 1042 (5th Cir. 1979). “Merely because a document is authenticated does not mean it is admissible. It may, for example, need to meet the hearsay requirements if it is offered to prove the truth of the assertions made in it.” Id. (citation omitted).

         When introduced for the truth of the matter asserted, newspaper articles are “classic, inadmissible hearsay” which may not be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Roberts v. City of Shreveport, 397 F.3d 287, 295 (5th Cir. 2005). There is no dispute that the two articles offered by McDaniel are introduced for the truth of the matter asserted and, therefore, are properly excluded as hearsay.

         While newspaper articles are generally considered inadmissible hearsay, admissions of a party opponent are excluded from the definition of hearsay under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2). Under this rule, “letters to the editor written [by a defendant] can be considered as admissions.” Gorski v. Bd. of Trustees of Cmty. Coll. of Dist. No. 504, Cty. of Cook, 93-c-3918, 1994 WL 395836, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 25, 1994). Here, the letter to the editor was authored by Rosenthal in his capacity as mayor of the City of Indianola and sets forth specific reasons for McDaniel's termination. See Doc. #33-5. The letter, therefore, is not hearsay to the extent it is offered against either Rosenthal or the City.

         IV Factual Background

         A. The Parties

         Alsee McDaniel, an African American man, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1978. Doc. #29-1 at 4. The same year, McDaniel became licensed to practice law in the State of Mississippi. Id.

         Steve Rosenthal became the mayor of the City of Indianola, Mississippi, in 2010. Doc. #29-2 at 3-4. At the time Rosenthal became mayor, Howard Davis, a white man, served as the Municipal Court Judge for the City. Id. at 38. Due to complaints regarding collections and lax sentences in Davis' court, Rosenthal asked Davis to appear before the City's Board of Aldermen (“Board”). Id. at 39. Davis twice appeared before the Board to give “explanations” for the identified deficiencies. Id. at 40. Sometime before the end of 2011, and approximately six to eight months after the second of these meetings, Davis resigned. Id. at 39.

         B. McDaniel's Employment

         Sometime after Davis resigned, Rosenthal submitted a recommendation to the Board that Richard Noble, a white man, be hired for the vacancy created by Davis' departure. Doc. #29-2 at 5. The Board ultimately rejected this recommendation and, sometime in 2011, voted to appoint McDaniel to the vacancy. Id. at 5; Doc. #29-1 at 18. At the time, the Board was comprised of five individuals: Carver Randle, Larry Brown, Gary Fratesi, Dana Myrick, and “Mrs. Jenkins.”[3] Doc. #29-2 at 4. Of these five, two were white (Fratesi and Brown) and three were African American (Jenkins, Myrick, and Randle). Id. at 4-5.

         When McDaniel was hired, the City had more than four million dollars outstanding in uncollected fines. Doc. #29-1 at 57-58. Almost immediately after McDaniel's hire, there were complaints about his collection of fines. Id. McDaniel was “called in” to meet with city officials about this issue “a couple of times a year or more.” Id. at 58. In addition to the issue with fine collections, Rosenthal was concerned about the rate at which McDaniel was continuing cases. Doc. #29-2 at 14-15. Sometime between 2012 and 2014, McDaniel met with Rosenthal and then-Chief of Police Moffett[4] about the continuances “because police officers were having to come back” to court, and Moffett “was frustrated by the overtime that was being generated by that.” Id. at 15.

         In response to the concerns about collection of fines, McDaniel recommended the adoption of a policy regarding the imposition and collection of fines. Doc. #29-1 at 30-32. This policy, which required the payment of a fine prior to the date of trial or the entry of a plea or judgment, went into effect in 2013, [5] and was approved by the Board sometime later.[6] According to Rosenthal, the policy was followed in the court “for two or three weeks in [20]13, ” and then for approximately six months after the Board approved it. Doc. #29-2 at 43.

         At some point after 2014, Moffett was replaced by Richard O'Bannon as the Chief of Police. Id. at 15-16. On at least two occasions between 2014 and 2015, Rosenthal and ...

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