Deputy Randall Quesenberry's lawyers have two weeks to amend his complaint against the county, Sheriff Stephen Simpson and other Sheriff's Office employees, as determined and signed by Chief Judge Claude Hilton on April 11.
"He gave us a chance to amend the complaint. It doesn't mean he decided the merits of the claim," said Jennifer Hess, associate attorney for Reston-based Charlson & Bredehoft PC, who is working with attorney Elaine Bredehoft on the complaint.
Hilton determined that the complaint did not state a cause of action he could consider, Hess said, adding, "We will restate it in a different way or try to allege the facts in a different way."
Quesenberry alleged in the complaint that he was "wrongfully demoted" by four ranks from his position as major. In December 2001, he was told that a deputy committed a sexual act on an inmate, so he ordered that the crime scene be secured immediately, an order that Simpson overrode. Quesenberry criticized Simpson's decision.
Two months later, Simpson put Quesenberry on administrative leave to investigate his conduct and management practices, "specifically allegations that the plaintiff used fear and intimidation to manage his subordinates and made derogatory comments about the sheriff," as stated in the motion to dismiss the complaint.
AFTER HE WAS put on administrative leave, Quesenberry claimed he was demoted for complaining to the Commonwealth Attorney about Simpson's handling of the crime scene incident. Simpson said that his demotion and the incident were not connected.
In January 2003, Quesenberry filed a lawsuit alleging defamation by the county, Simpson and three Sheriff's Office employees. He alleged violation of his procedural due process and First Amendment rights and interference with his contractual relationship or business expectancy with the Virginia Retirement System, which governs retirement benefits by statute, not by contract.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, dismissed the four allegations for lack of sufficient evidence or factual support. Simpson had filed the motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming it did not state a cause of action.
Hilton dismissed the defamation claim, since the statements made by the deputies were privileged in the context of an employment relationship. As for the next two claims, Hilton said in the motion that the sheriff has the authority to appoint and demote deputies, who are at-will employees, and the discretion to determine the methods for conducting an investigation.
"We're glad the court agreed. Now we all can get back to focusing on normal business," Simpson said, adding that he could not comment further. "I'm not saying a whole lot until the appeal is done."
Hess said, "We were disappointed with the judge's ruling, but we intend to amend the complaint and continue forward. ... If there is an outcome against us, then we can appeal."