Hilton Head Island’s Town Council members are entitled to qualified immunity on appellant’s §1983 claim, and appellant failed to create an issue of fact as to whether the Council members are liable under his abuse of process claim.
We affirmed the district court’s order.
Calvin Hoagland appealed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to defendants, members of Hilton Head Island’s Town Council, on Hoagland’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law abuse of process claims. Because the Council members are entitled to qualified immunity on Hoagland’s §1983 claim and because Hoagland failed to put forward evidence sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the Council members are liable under Hoagland’s abuse of process claim, we affirmed the district court’s order.
Hoagland is operates Beaufortwatchdog.org, which he alleged is dedicated to advancing transparency and exposing corruption in government. In 2015, Hoagland began to lobby the Council members to vote against a contract recognizing the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce as Hilton Head’s designated marketing organization. Hoagland also sought to have the Council require a forensic audit of the Chamber. After Council member Kim Likins declined to meet with Hoagland about his advocacy, Hoagland emailed her employer, the Boys and Girls Club, threatening to have her “publicly disgraced to all in this community” and “booted off town council and removed from the Boys and Girls club for violating the public trust” if she voted against an audit.
Likins then sued Hoagland in state court, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, intrusion into private affairs and interference with her employment. Hoagland subsequently asserted causes of actions for abuse of process, malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, a First Amendment claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as requests for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief from the Council members’ support and funding of the Likins litigation.
The district court granted the Council members’ motion for summary judgment on all of Hoagland’s claims and Hoagland appealed. Hoagland first contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on his § 1983 claim for violating his free speech rights, arguing that the district court failed to properly analyze the Council members’ actions as retaliation.
We are aware of no authority clearly establishing that the Council members’ conduct that Hoagland complains to be retaliatory violates his First Amendment rights. Because the law does not clearly establish that Council members’ conduct violated Hoagland’s asserted First Amendment rights, the Council members are entitled to qualified immunity on Hoagland’s § 1983 claim.
Hoagland next contended that the district court erred by granting summary judgment to the Council members on his state law abuse of process claim. We agree with the district court that Hoagland has not pointed to evidence that creates a genuine dispute of material fact as to the “ulterior purpose” or “willful act” necessary to support an abuse of process claim. Therefore, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Council members on this claim.
The Council members are entitled to qualified immunity from Hoagland’s retaliation claim. The Council members did not violate Hoagland’s clearly established rights to be free from retaliation in the forms of momentary interruptions and delays of his speech at public meetings or of filing and funding a lawsuit seeking to prevent defamation and harassment. Additionally, Hoagland failed to put forward sufficient evidence to show that the Council members are liable under an abuse of process claim.
Hoagland v. Bennett (Lawyers Weekly No. 003-036-23, 11 pp.) (Per Curiam) Appealed from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of South Carolina, at Beaufort (Richard M. Gergel, J.) Argued: Taylor Meriwether Smith, IV, Harrison & Radeker, PA, Columbia, South Carolina, for appellant; Hugh W. Buyck, Buyck Law Firm, LLC, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, for appellees. On Brief: Barrett R. Brewer, Brewer Law Firm, LLC, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, for appellant. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals