United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
MARY L.M. BOLAND PLAINTIFF
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS MARY L.M. BOLAND PLAINTIFF
MARSHALL FISHER, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
P. JORDAN III, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
April 2017, Plaintiff Mary Boland was fired from her job as
an attorney for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety
(“DPS”). Six months later, Boland filed two
federal lawsuits, naming DPS; its Commissioner, Marshall
Fisher; and her former supervisor, Ray Sims, as defendants.
The claims at issue here allege that Defendants Fisher and
Sims retaliated against Boland for engaging in protected
speech and maliciously interfered with her employment at DPS.
Fisher and Sims moved for summary judgment , and for the
following reasons, their motion is granted.
began working at DPS in October 2015. Boland Dep [43-1] at
11-12, 38. “Several weeks” before she lost her
job, Bolen was asked to draft a request for proposal
(“RFP”) that solicited bidders for advertising
contracts funded by grants from the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). Boland Aff.
[46-3] at 1. During that project, Boland learned that NHTSA
believed Mississippi was issuing “ghost tickets”
and that NHTSA might not provide the grants as a result.
Fisher Dep. [43-2] at 12-13; Boland Dep. [43-1] at 100-01.
Boland later confronted an NHTSA representative, while the
representative was meeting with Sims, about the allegation.
She ask, “[W]hy did his fellow employee allege that
Mississippi was guilty of wrongdoing.” Boland Aff.
[46-3] at 3; see also Boland Dep. [43-1] at 103. The
parties dispute whether Boland asked that question within the
scope of her ordinary duties or as a citizen regarding a
matter of public concern.
is no dispute that Boland's confrontation with NHTSA
became heated. Though she denies raising her voice, she
testified that the NHTSA representative “jumped up and
went crazy and was screaming at [her.]” Boland Dep.
[43-1] at 103. As a result, Sims asked Boland to leave.
Id. Sims explained that after this incident he told
Fisher what happened because he was concerned that the NHTSA
representative “was going to go back and talk to his
director, which he did. [Sims] ended up calling his director
after talking to [Fisher] and . . . apologized to him if his
staff person was offended in any kind of way.” Sims
Dep. [31-10] at 29-30.
Sims reported the incident to Fisher, Sims never recommended
discipline. Fisher Dep. [43-2] at 8-10. Nevertheless, Fisher
discussed what happened with his “executive
counsel” and Jim Younger, a senior DPS attorney.
Id. at 8; see also Younger Dep. [31-4] at
4. Fisher concluded that Boland should be fired, but not just
for the NHTSA confrontation. Fisher Dep. [43-2] at 6, 8.
Fisher says he also based the decision on Boland's
“unprofessional conduct” at other times during
her employment, including two incidents that generated
complaints from judges. Id. at 6-7, 19. Boland did
not dispute the other problems in her summary-judgment
by the termination, Boland filed two lawsuits: one alleging
gender and race discrimination under Title VII, Pl.'s
Compl. (3:17-CV-803)  ¶ 3, and one alleging First
Amendment retaliation and tortious interference with her
employment, Pl.'s Compl. (3:18-CV-718)  ¶¶
3, 13. The Court previously denied Defendants' motion for
summary judgment on Boland's Title VII claims,
see Mar. 12, 2019 Order (3:17-CV-803) , and then
consolidated the two cases, see Apr. 16, 2019 Order
. Defendants now seek summary judgment on the First
Amendment and tortious-interference claims.
judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. The rule “mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323.
The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the
pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the
evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor
of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties
have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.”
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist,
the court may “not make credibility determinations or
weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing
Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Conclusory
allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and
legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate
substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for
trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276
F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at
1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir.
First Amendment Retaliation
says Fisher fired her because she asked the NHTSA
representative “why . . . his fellow employee allege[d]
that Mississippi was guilty of wrongdoing.” Boland Aff.
[46-3] at 3. Believing that her question constituted
protected speech, Boland now asserts a First Amendment
retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983
states that a person who, under color of law,
“subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of
the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . .
shall be liable to the party injured[.]”
a person who “enters government service . . . by
necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her
freedom, ” public employees, such as Boland, “do
not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of
their employment.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547
U.S. 410, 417-18 (2006). Rather, “the First Amendment
protects a public employee's [First Amendment] right, in
certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing
matters of public concern.” Id. at 417. In
balancing public employees' First Amendment rights with
their employers' interest in the “efficient
provision of public services, ” id. at 418,
the Supreme Court has held that “when public employees
make statements pursuant to ...