Submitted: December 12, 2018
from United States District Court for the Southern District
of Iowa - Des Moines
LOKEN, MELLOY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
MELLOY, Circuit Judge.
Tamela Muir was fired by the acting Decatur County Sheriff,
Ben Boswell, shortly after her husband, Bert Muir, had been
removed as Sheriff. Tamela alleges that Boswell fired her
simply because she was married to Bert and that Boswell
therefore violated her First Amendment right to intimate
association. Boswell and Decatur County moved for summary
judgment, arguing that Boswell was entitled to qualified
immunity and that the County was not subject to liability.
The district court denied summary judgment. We reverse.
three main parties in this case are Tamela Muir, Bert Muir,
and Ben Boswell. Until recently, all three worked for the
Decatur County Sheriff's Office ("DCSO").
Tamela began working for the DCSO in November 1996 as a
jailer and dispatcher. Her employment was at-will. Bert
started working for the DCSO on March 19, 1998, when he was
elected Sheriff. He hired Boswell as a Deputy Sheriff in
September 2001. Tamela married Bert on January 11, 2008, and
Boswell attended their wedding. The DCSO had no policy that
prevented Bert and Tamela from continuing to work together as
a married couple.
November 2015, Boswell received a complaint from a female
dispatcher who alleged that Bert had sexually harassed her.
An investigation followed and uncovered additional
allegations of harassment. Because the County Attorney was
going to be called as a witness, the County hired Thomas
Miller, a former criminal prosecutor, to prepare a petition
to remove Bert as Sheriff. The petition was supported by
affidavits from six DCSO employees. Miller presented Bert
with the petition for removal on March 4, 2016, and Bert
immediately resigned. That same day, Boswell was named acting
Sheriff, and Miller advised him that he should consider
placing Tamela on administrative leave. Miller was concerned
that "problems" might arise if Tamela "was
allowed to remain working around employees whom her husband
had harassed, and who had signed affidavits in support of her
husband's removal from office." Boswell agreed and
placed Tamela on indefinite administrative leave on March 4,
March 28, 2016, Boswell sent a letter to Tamela telling her
that he intended to terminate her employment. In the letter,
Boswell explained that he did not want the DCSO employees
"who experienced harassment to perceive that [her]
return to employment threaten[ed] the work environment in
different ways due to loyalty to [her] husband, past
loyalties to him as the former Sheriff or for other
reasons." Specifically, Boswell was concerned that
employees would fear "retaliation towards them in
response to their testimony which resulted in Bert's
resignation." Boswell concluded that he needed "to
have absolute trust in the employees who work for [him]"
and that he "would not have this trust in [her] were
[she] to return to work." On April 21, Boswell sent
Tamela another letter confirming that he had officially
terminated her employment.
6, 2016, Tamela filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging First Amendment retaliation. More specifically, she
alleged that Decatur County and Boswell, in his individual
and official capacity, violated her First Amendment right to
intimate association by firing her simply because she was
married to Bert. Boswell and Decatur County moved for summary
judgment arguing that Boswell was entitled to qualified
immunity and that Decatur County was not liable for his
actions. The district court denied their motion, finding that
(1) Boswell was not entitled to qualified immunity because
Tamela and Bert's marriage was a motivating factor in his
decision to fire Tamela; and (2) Decatur County could be
subject to municipal liability because Boswell's decision
to fire Tamela might have constituted an unconstitutional
custom, practice, or policy of the County.
limited jurisdiction over an appeal from a denial of
qualified immunity. Shannon v. Koehler, 616 F.3d
855, 861 (8th Cir. 2010). Our jurisdiction "extends only
to 'abstract issues of law,' not to
'determination[s] that the evidence is sufficient to
permit a particular finding of fact after trial.'"
Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Krout v.
Goemmer, 583 F.3d 557, 564 (8th Cir. 2009)).
"Appellate review in these circumstances is therefore
limited to 'determin[ing] whether all of the conduct that
the district court "deemed sufficiently supported for
purposes of summary judgment" violated the
plaintiff's clearly established federal
rights.'" Id. (alteration in original)
(quoting Lockridge v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ark.,
315 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 2003) (en banc)). We also have
jurisdiction over pendent claims if they are
"inextricably intertwined" with a qualified
immunity claim. Id. at 866. A pendent claim is
inextricably intertwined with a qualified immunity claim only
if resolution of the qualified immunity claim
"necessarily resolves the pendent claim as well."
Id. (citation omitted).
Standard of Review
review de novo a denial of summary judgment on qualified
immunity grounds. Nord v. Walsh Cty., 757 F.3d 734,
738 (8th Cir. 2014). Whether a government official is
entitled to qualified immunity requires a two-step analysis:
"(1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff make out a
violation of a constitutional or statutory right, and (2)
whether that right was clearly established at the time of the
defendant's alleged misconduct." Id.
(quoting Winslow v. Smith, 696 F.3d 716, 731 (8th
Cir. 2012)). This Court has discretion to decide which