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Court Upholds Newport News Cop's Section 1983 Challenge

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a case involving the dismissal of a police officer’s claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 after he was reinstated by the Police Department.

Cory Hall was fired by the Newport News Police Department in 2006, when he was charged with improper procedure, untruthfulness during the course of an investigation, excessive use of force, and improper or unlawful arrest. After appealing his discharge, he was reinstated when three of the four disciplinary charges were dropped.

Nevertheless, the Department dragged its feet with reinstating him and eventually gave him a desk job which was previously held by a civilian.

He brought a section 1983 case against the Department, citing that the Department had violated his procedural due process rights to have a hearing at a meaningful time; had deprived his liberty interest in his reputation and occupation without due process; and had deprived his property interest in his position as a police officer without due process.

The District Court dismissed the claim on all three counts.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the first of the section 1983 arguments but the decision on the second argument is the interesting one.

Here, the Court looked at the liberty interest and stated that in order to assert such a claim, the plaintiff had to allege that the charges against him (1) placed a stigma on his reputation; (2) were made public by the employer; (3) were made in conjunction with a termination or demotion; and (4) were false.

The question the Court focused on was whether the Departments stigmatizing remarks were made in the course of a discharge or significant demotion.

Was Hall's desk job considered a significant demotion?

The Court held that the reinstated position was an effective exclusion of Hall from his trade or calling as a police officer. As such, the Court held that it was a significant demotion and he had a valid claim of deprivation of his liberty interest in his reputation and occupation.

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