Lemaster v. Lawrence County, Kentucky, No. 22-5135 (6th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
The Lemasters run a Lawrence County, Kentucky towing business, which was on the county’s “rotation list” of companies to call when it needed to order a tow. Both as fire chief and in his towing business, Lemaster sparred with Carter, Lawrence County’s “judge-executive,” the elected head of its executive branch. Lemaster criticized Carter on Facebook. Five days later, the 911 Center sent an email to dispatchers; its subject identified Lemaster Towing and the Cherryville Fire Department. Its body stated in all caps: “Per Judge Carter do not tone them out on any fire calls[;] use nearest department[;] . . . Lemaster Towing is no longer on the rotation list[.]”
The Lemasters sued Carter and Lawrence County under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law, alleging that Carter violated the First Amendment by removing Lemaster Towing from the rotation list in retaliation for Lemaster’s criticisms. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to the Monell claims against the county; Lemaster did not tie the actions to any county policy. The court reversed as to Carter. Carter conceded that his communications with dispatch employees could constitute an adverse action. The record would allow a rational jury to find that Lemaster’s Facebook post motivated Carter’s decision to remove Lemaster Towing from the rotation list.