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Graham v. City of Philadelphia

March 25, 2005

KRAIG GRAHAM
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 02-cv-07794) District Judge: Honorable Berle M. Schiller

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued September 15, 2004

Before: ALITO, AMBRO, and FISHER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

This appeal presents the issue of whether a public employee terminated from employment because of an arrest, and then acquitted of the charges leading to that arrest in a criminal trial, is entitled to a name-clearing hearing as the remedy for a governmental entity's deprivation of the employee's due process liberty interest. The District Court concluded that criminal trials and name-clearing hearings are distinct and therefore the former do not obviate the need for the latter. We conclude, however, that Graham's criminal trial provided him ample opportunity to take and present evidence supporting his innocence, and thereby jettisoned any due process obligation to grant him a name-clearing hearing. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the District Court.

I.

Plaintiff-Appellee Kraig Graham ("Graham") was hired as a probationary police officer in the Philadelphia Police Department ("PPD") on August 21, 2000. On November 1, 2001, an individual walked into the PPD's 17th District office and informed one of the officers that there was a PPD police officer who was "having sex with a thirteen year old girl." Officers from the PPD's Special Victims Unit and Internal Affairs Division ("IAD") investigated the report and forwarded the evidence they compiled to the Philadelphia District Attorney. After reviewing this evidence, the District Attorney requested an affidavit for Graham's arrest and a bail commissioner subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Graham.

On December 3, 2001, Graham was arrested inside the IAD's office and charged with statutory sexual assault (a second degree felony) and corrupting the morals of a minor (a first degree misdemeanor) under Pennsylvania law. At the time of his arrest, Graham was informed of his Miranda rights and had an opportunity to confer with his lawyer and union representative, but declined an opportunity to respond to the charges against him. The PPD terminated Graham's employment upon his arrest pursuant to its policy of terminating any officer arrested for a crime.

Graham received a preliminary hearing on March 8, 2002, after which his case proceeded to trial. On June 14, 2002, following a criminal trial, a jury acquitted Graham of the charges. Graham then sought reinstatement as a police officer with the PPD. The PPD refused to reinstate Graham pursuant to its policy of not reinstating any officer terminated because of an arrest, even where that officer is acquitted at trial. Graham also requested that the PPD provide him a so-called "name-clearing hearing" at which he could present evidence of his innocence of the crimes with which he had been charged. The PPD denied this request.

II.

On October 9, 2002, following the PPD's refusal to reinstate him and grant him a name-clearing hearing, Graham filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, naming as defendants John Cerrone and Sylvester Johnson, *fn1 and alleging a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process liberty interest in reputation. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on November 26, 2002, arguing that Graham failed to demonstrate a cognizable interest sufficient to support his due process claim. The District Court denied the motion on grounds that the loss of even at-will government employment can satisfy the so-called "plus" element of a "stigma plus" liberty interest claim. *fn2 249 F. Supp. 2d 563 (E.D. Pa. 2003).

On April 22, 2003, Graham filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. He then filed an amended complaint, voluntarily dismissing defendants Johnson and Cerrone, and substituting the City as the sole defendant. Graham averred that the City had abridged his due process liberty interest in reputation by "not providing hi[m] with proper notice of, and an opportunity to refute, baseless criminal charges lodged against him prior to his termination[.]" Graham further alleged that the City committed due process violations by refusing to reinstate him or provide him with a name-clearing hearing. He alleged that these violations stigmatized him and inhibited him from securing future employment as a law enforcement officer.

Following discovery, Graham filed a motion for summary judgment. In his supporting memorandum, Graham stated that his "reputation has been impugned in his community following his arrest and some people view him as a 'pervert' and a 'public enemy.'" Graham cited numerous decisions from the courts of appeals for the legal proposition key to his position: that "an actionable deprivation of a liberty interest in one's reputation may occur where government terminates or refuses to rehire an employee amidst stigmatizing public allegations of dishonesty, immorality, illegality or other charge that might seriously damage his standing and associations in the community." He then enumerated what he considered to be "undisputed" facts and asked the District Court to grant him summary judgment and "order Defendant to provide [him] with a nameclearing ...


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