Caton v. City of PelhamAnnotate this Case
Mark Caton appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Pelham ("the City"), in his action alleging retaliatory discharge against the City. In approximately 2001, he was hired as a police officer by the City. In 2004, while he was still a police officer, Caton injured his neck when he was wrestling with a suspect. Caton did not receive treatment for his neck at the time, but the pain from the injury gradually increased. In April 2006, Caton transferred from the Police Department to the Pelham Fire Department. In 2012, Caton had a vertebrae-fusion surgery. In 2015 and 2016, Caton would have periods of excruciating pain leading to unexcused absences from work. He received reprimands and suspensions. Caton would consult with multiple doctors and pain specialists for rehabilitation therapy and pain management each time he was reinjured as a result of his work. In 2016, Caton was referred to Dr. Michelle Turnley, a physiatrist at the Workplace Occupational Health Clinic located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham ("UAB"). Dr. Turnley and Caton tell differing stories of an encounter at the UAB clinic September 2016. Caton testified that he asked Dr. Turnley for pain medication for the next time his pain became too intense, but Dr. Turnley reminded Caton that on his first visit he had not signed a pain contract and he had refused to provide a urine sample, so she declined to give him pain medication. Caton denied the doctor's account, but Dr. Turnley's clinical notes described her encounter with Caton as him being "fairly aggressive requesting pain medication... he was fairly loud and refused to leave the clinic and UAB police were called. ... He did not appear to have any functional deficits. Additionally, someone in the waiting room saw him sling the door open like he was about to 'pull it off the hinges'; therefore, obviously he has no strength deficits." In October, Dr. Turnley sent Caton a letter dropping him as a patient. By November, the City terminated Caton's employment, citing in part, the visit to Dr. Turnley's office. His unemployment application was denied because of his discharge from the City for misconduct. Caton sued, alleging procedural issues with the unemployment compensation hearing, adding a retaliatory-discharge claim. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, finding Caton had a full opportunity to litigate his retaliatory-discharge claim at the unemployment hearing, thus he was barred from raising it again by collateral estoppel. The Alabama Supreme Court determined application of collateral estoppel did not violate Caton's right to a trial by jury, and concurred estoppel barred his retaliatory-discharge claim against the City. "Caton does not present any other reason why the trial court's judgment should be reversed. Therefore, we affirm summary judgment in favor of the City."