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Singer v. Harris

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 30, 2018

David Singer Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Jim Harris; Dennis Milligan, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Treasurer of the State of Arkansas Defendants - Appellees John Does, 1-10 Defendant
v.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.; Michael Wickline Respondents

          Submitted: March 13, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before WOLLMAN, SHEPHERD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         David Singer, a former employee of Arkansas State Treasurer Dennis Milligan, is appealing the district court's[1] grant of partial summary judgment to Milligan and his chief of staff, Jim Harris, as well as the court's denial of his motion for a new trial after an adverse jury verdict. Singer argues that summary judgment was inappropriate, that the district court committed several errors in instructing the jury, and that the district court incorrectly refused to admit certain evidence. We disagree and affirm.

         I. Background

         In January 2015, Milligan hired Singer as his assistant for legislative affairs and communications. Originally, Singer was in charge of overseeing social media, but the assistant chief of staff, Grant Wallace, believed Singer was performing the duty poorly and assumed that responsibility himself. Singer was then reassigned to the treasurer's outreach program. However, Gary Underwood, Milligan's deputy chief information officer, soon relieved him of those duties as well.

         On April 6, 2015, Harris sent an email to Jason Brady, the deputy chief of staff, discussing his concerns about Singer. Harris stated in the email that he was worried about Singer's mental health following the death of Singer's wife and that he made his female coworkers feel uncomfortable. Harris also said that he believed Singer was not a competent employee, and he was "at a loss as to what we need to do about [Singer]." Three weeks later, on April 27, Milligan fired Singer.

         The same day he was fired, Singer asked a friend to make a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request for his personnel file. Soon, other media outlets, including Little Rock, Arkansas television station KATV, began making similar requests for Singer's file and for correspondence regarding Singer. Wallace, after consulting the Arkansas Attorney General's Office, decided to release Harris's April 6 email in response to the FOIA requests. Singer did not have the opportunity to object to the release of the email.

         On April 30, Harris met with Marine Glisovic, a reporter for KATV. In an attempt to combat accusations that Singer made against him, Harris told Glisovic to make a verbal FOIA request for documents related to Singer. Upon her request, Harris handed her a red folder containing documents involving Singer, including the April 6 email.

         In May 2015, Singer sued Harris in state court, in his individual capacity, for defamation. The following day, Milligan issued a statement supporting Harris. Singer amended his complaint, adding Milligan as a defendant, and the case was removed to federal court. As amended, Singer made four claims against Milligan and Harris in both their individual and official capacities: (1) that Milligan and Harris deprived him of a name clearing hearing to which he was entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act; (2) that Milligan and Harris, in their official capacities, violated his rights under the Rehabilitation Act and Titles I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"); (3) that Milligan and Harris, in their individual capacities, defamed him, presented him in a false light, and invaded his privacy; and (4) that Milligan and Harris violated the Arkansas Whistle-Blower Act. Milligan and Harris moved for summary judgment on these claims.

         The district court granted summary judgment in part and denied it in part. The court found that Milligan and Harris were not entitled to summary judgment on Singer's Title I of the ADA claim because they failed to address these claims in their motion. The court also found Harris was not entitled to summary judgment on Singer's state law defamation, invasion of privacy, and false light claims because there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Harris acted with malice. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all remaining claims, including Singer's Rehabilitation Act Claim because, the district court found, the Treasurer's Office does not receive federal financial assistance and is thus immune from suit under the Rehabilitation Act.

         The case proceeded to trial on the remaining claims. The jury found in favor of Milligan and Harris on Singer's claim under Title I of the ADA and in favor of Harris on each of Singer's state law claims. Singer moved for a new trial, which the district court denied. Singer now appeals.

         II. Discussion

         Singer makes several claims on appeal. First, he argues that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to Harris on the defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy claims and in granting summary judgment to Milligan and Harris on Singer's Rehabilitation Act claim. Second, he asserts that the district court erred by giving an improper jury instruction regarding publication and by failing to give FOIA, joint agency, and "cat's paw" theory jury instructions. Finally, he claims the district court erred by excluding testimony regarding his whistle-blower activities.

         A. ...


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