MARK F. MCCAFFREY, Plaintiff - Appellant,
MICHAEL L. CHAPMAN, in his personal capacity and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Loudoun County; BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF LOUDOUN COUNTY, VIRGINIA, in their official capacities; LOUDOUN COUNTY, VIRGINIA, Defendants - Appellees.
Argued: October 30, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Anthony John Trenga,
District Judge. (1:17-cv-00937-AJT-IDD)
John Cynkar, MCSWEENEY, CYNKAR & KACHOUROFF PLLC,
Woodbridge, Virginia, for Appellant.
Alexander Francuzenko, COOK CRAIG & FRANCUZENKO, PLLC,
Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellees.
Patrick M. McSweeney, Powhatan, Virginia, Christopher I.
Kachouroff, MCSWEENEY, CYNKAR & KACHOUROFF PLLC,
Woodbridge, Virginia, for Appellant.
Courtney Renee, OFFICE OF LOUDOUN COUNTY ATTORNEY, Leesburg,
Virginia, for Appellees Board of Supervisors of Loudoun
County, Virginia and Loudoun County, Virginia.
WILKINSON, KING, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.
Quattlebaum, Circuit Judge.
case arises from Sheriff Michael L. Chapman's decision
not to re-appoint Mark F. McCaffrey as a deputy sheriff in
Loudoun County, Virginia. In response, McCaffrey sued Sheriff
Chapman, the Board of Supervisors of Loudoun County and
Loudoun County (collectively "Appellees").
McCaffrey alleges that Sheriff Chapman did not re-appoint him
because he supported Sheriff Chapman's political opponent
during the re-election campaign. McCaffrey claims that
Sheriff Chapman's failure to re-appoint him for his
political disloyalty violated his First Amendment rights to
freedom of political association and speech. The district
court found that the Elrod-Branti doctrine, which
permits public officials to fire certain employees for their
support of a political opponent, precludes McCaffrey's
First Amendment claims. Therefore, the district court
dismissed McCaffrey's complaint. For the reasons that
follow, we affirm.
sheriff has the power, under Virginia law, to appoint deputy
sheriffs.Appointments of deputy sheriffs technically
expire at the end of a sheriff's four-year term, even if
the sheriff is re-elected. In practice, deputy sheriffs are
routinely re-appointed after each election.
started working in the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office
("LCSO") in 2005. In 2008, he began working as a
major crimes detective serving as a lead detective in
complex, high-profile cases. McCaffrey supported Sheriff
Chapman when he first ran for sheriff in 2011. However, when
Sheriff Chapman ran for re-election in 2015, McCaffrey
supported his opponent.
placed a sign in his yard in support of Sheriff Chapman's
opponent and served as a delegate to the Republican
convention in which the Republican candidate for sheriff was
chosen. McCaffrey also participated as an outside advisor in
the screening of local candidates for potential endorsement
by the Board of Directors of the local chapter of the
Virginia Police Benevolent Association. McCaffrey did not
speak publicly about the election. He did not wear campaign
apparel or accessories. He did not use his LCSO position in
support of Sheriff Chapman's opponent.
Chapman viewed McCaffrey's support of his opponent as
disloyal. McCaffrey's colleagues warned McCaffrey that
there would be consequences for his disloyalty.
Sheriff Chapman won re-election, McCaffrey received a letter
informing him that his appointment as a deputy sheriff would
not be renewed. In addition to not reappointing McCaffrey,
Sheriff Chapman lowered McCaffrey's score on his final
performance evaluation to prevent McCaffrey from receiving a
bonus. Sheriff Chapman also interfered with McCaffrey's
opportunity to be considered for a law enforcement position
sponsored by the LCSO and a nearby municipal police
response to Sheriff Chapman's actions, McCaffrey filed a
complaint against Appellees in Virginia state court.
McCaffrey alleged that Sheriff Chapman's decision not to
re-appoint him violated his First Amendment rights to freedom
of political association and speech under both the United
States and the Virginia Constitution. Appellees removed the
case to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction.
then moved to dismiss McCaffrey's complaint pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Appellees asserted that Sheriff Chapman's decision not to
re-appoint McCaffrey fell squarely within an exception to the
First Amendment known as the Elrod-Branti exception.
As described more fully below, the Elrod-Branti
exception, when applicable, allows public officials to
terminate public employees for supporting a political
oral argument, the district court found that the
Elrod-Branti exception applied and dismissed
McCaffrey's complaint. McCaffrey appealed the order of the
dismissal. We have jurisdiction of this appeal pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1291.
Court reviews a district court's grant of a motion to
dismiss de novo. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v.
Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir.
2009). In exercising this de novo review, we follow the
well-settled standard for evaluating a motion to dismiss.
plaintiff's complaint must set forth "a short and
plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 "does not
require 'detailed factual allegations.'"
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). But a "complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id.
at 677. "A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678.
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court
"accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. . .
." Nemet, 591 F.3d at 255. However, a court
should grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if, "after accepting
all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint
as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from
those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain
that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support
of his claim entitling him to relief." Edwards v.
City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).
appeal, McCaffrey alleges that the district court erred by
dismissing his First Amendment claims. McCaffrey's appeal
implicates two doctrines that provide exceptions to the First
first doctrine is known as the Elrod-Branti
exception. Generally, the First Amendment's right to
freedom of political association prohibits government
officials from terminating public employees solely for
supporting political opponents. However, under the
Elrod-Branti exception, certain public employees can
be be terminated for political association in order to give
effect to the democratic process. See Branti v.
Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); Elrod v. Burns,
427 U.S. 347 (1976).
second doctrine is known as the Pickering-Connick
doctrine. The First Amendment's right to freedom of
speech generally prohibits dismissals of employees in
retaliation for the exercise of protected speech. However,
under the Pickering-Connick doctrine, the First
Amendment does not protect public employees from termination
when their free speech interests are outweighed by the
government's interest in providing efficient and
effective services to the public. See Connick v.
Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983); Pickering v. Board of
Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968).
noted above, the district court dismissed McCaffrey's
complaint finding that Chapman's decision to not
re-appoint McCaffrey did not violate the First Amendment
because it fell within the Elrod-Branti exception.
The district court did not address the
Pickering-Connick doctrine. We address these
doctrines in turn.
to the Elrod-Branti exception, we first review the
case law that establishes and interprets the exception. Then,
we consider whether Sheriff Chapman's dismissal of
McCaffrey for supporting his political rival fell within the
exception. Last, we address McCaffrey's specific
challenges to the district court's findings regarding the
Elrod-Branti exception to the First Amendment's
protection against political affiliation dismissals was
created from two Supreme Court cases. In Elrod, a
plurality of the Supreme Court established the general rule
that dismissing public employees for political affiliation
violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by
limiting their political belief and association. However, the
Supreme Court simultaneously carved out a narrow exception to
this general rule prohibiting patronage dismissals. A
government official does not violate a public employee's
First Amendment rights when the employee is dismissed for
political association if the employee holds a policymaking
position. Elrod, 427 U.S. at 367. In creating this
exception, the Supreme Court recognized the dangers of the
government's interests being "undercut by tactics
obstructing the implementation of policies of the new
administration, policies presumably sanctioned by the
Branti, the Supreme Court clarified the exception
announced in Elrod. The Court explained that
"the ultimate inquiry is not whether the label
'policymaker' or 'confidential' fits a
particular position; rather, the question is whether the
hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an
appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the
public office involved." Branti, 445 U.S. at
518. The Court reasoned that "if an employee's
private political beliefs would interfere with the discharge
of his public duties, his First Amendment rights may be
required to yield to the State's vital interest in
maintaining governmental effectiveness and efficiency."
Id. at 517.
Elrod and Branti, this Court established a
two-step inquiry for determining when party affiliation is an
appropriate job requirement. Stott v. Haworth, 916
F.2d 134 (4th Cir. 1990). First, a court must examine whether
the position at issue relates to partisan political
interests. Id. at 141. If the "first inquiry is
satisfied, the next step is to examine the particular
responsibilities of the position to determine whether it
resembles . . . [an] office holder whose function is such
that party affiliation is an equally appropriate
requirement." Id. at 142 (citing Jimenez
Fuentes v. Torres Gaztambide, 807 F.2d 236, 241-42 (1st
several occasions, this Court has applied the
Elrod-Branti exception in the context of a sheriff
dismissing a deputy for supporting the sheriff's
opponent. Most notably, in Jenkins v. Medford, 119
F.3d 1156, 1164 (4th Cir. 1997), this Court, sitting en banc,
held that under the Elrod-Branti exception a North
Carolina sheriff could terminate his deputy sheriffs for
political affiliation. In determining that political
affiliation was an appropriate job requirement, this Court
first recognized that the electorate generally chooses a
candidate based on ...