BEAUMONT – Justices on the Ninth Court of Appeals have reversed a trial court that denied Liberty County and several officials summary judgment in a whistleblower suit brought by a former deputy sheriff.
Alleging wrongful conduct that led to and continued after his termination, Jeremy Marcantel filed suit against the county in August 2014, also naming Henry Patterson, James Cooper Jr., Steven Greene, Rex Evans and Mark Ellington as defendants in their official capacities with the county.
According to Marcantel, the incident began when he stopped a truck driver on Jan. 7, 2011, resulting in charges against the driver for traffic violations and possession of illegal drugs, and the towing of the driver’s uninsured truck.
In response, the driver filed a complaint against Marcantel, accusing the deputy of setting up the traffic stop in order to “repossess” the truck.
Marcantel alleged that the defendants investigated the complaint and terminated his employment “under dishonorable circumstances,” court papers state.
Marcantel was then arrested for and ultimately indicted for official oppression.
In February 2012, the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings issued an order that “exonerated Marcantel of the misconduct allegations” and directed the sheriff’s office to change Marcantel’s service records to reflect an “honorable discharge,” court papers state.
According to Marcantel, the defendants feared exposure of misconduct within the sheriff’s office and attempted to silence and discredit him using their official public capacity and public resources.
In response to the suit, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Marcantel failed to plead facts or provide evidence necessary to establish a waiver of immunity under the Whistleblower Act, and that there is no allegation or evidence that he made a good faith report of a violation of law.
On May 2, 2016, the court signed an order denying the defendants’ traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment, leading to the appeal, court records show.
“We find on the record before us that Marcantel failed to produce more than a scintilla of evidence of an agreement or meeting of the minds or of a specific intent to accomplish an unlawful objective,” states the Ninth Court’s opinion, issued Oct. 26.
“Accordingly, the trial court erred in denying Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the claim for conspiracy against Patterson, Cooper, Greene, Evans, and Ellington.
“We further conclude that an amended pleading would not cure the jurisdictional defects; therefore, we need not grant Marcantel further opportunity to amend with respect to such claims. We reverse the trial court’s order denying Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s claims for retaliation under the Whistleblower Act, breach of employment contract, defamation, negligent employment practices, conspiracy, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“We render judgment for the Defendants on these claims and we dismiss these claims with prejudice.”
Because the defendants did not challenge the trial court’s denial of Marcantel’s constitutional claims, justices remanded the case to the trial court solely on the alleged constitutional claims for further proceedings consistent with their opinion.
The county and officials are represented by Kelli B. Smith, Larry J. Simmons and B. Eliot New.
Attorney Michael D. Gillespie represents the plaintiff.
Case No. 09-16-00173-CV