Burns v. Cole, No. 20-2961 (8th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, formerly employed as deputy sheriffs, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendants violated their First Amendment rights based on Defendant Cole's retaliatory employment actions taken after plaintiffs supported his political opponent. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaints.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in interpreting Curtis v. Christian County, 963 F.3d 777 (8th Cir. 2020), by concluding that even if plaintiff is a first responder and other provisions of Missouri law protect against discharge for engaging in political activity, because he was a Missouri deputy sheriff, plaintiff was legally terminated and Cole did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights. The court explained that whether Cole violated plaintiffs' state statutory political activity rights is an inquiry separate from whether he violated their First Amendment rights. The court's conclusion that Cole committed no unconstitutional act necessarily resolves the municipal liability issue involving Christian County and the Christian County Commissioners, sued in their official capacities. Because Cole is entitled to qualified immunity under Curtis, the court did not address plaintiffs' second argument about affirmative defenses.