Federal judge dismisses lawsuit filed by former Griffith police chief

2013-11-27T13:58:00Z 2013-11-28T23:17:06Z Federal judge dismisses lawsuit filed by former Griffith police chiefTimes Staff nwitimes.com
November 27, 2013 1:58 pm  • 

HAMMOND | A lawsuit filed against Griffith leaders by the town's former top cop has been dismissed, federal court records show.

U.S. District Court Judge Theresa Springmann, based in Fort Wayne, tossed out the lawsuit Tuesday, in part stating that former Police Chief Ronald Kottka did not make a plausible claim that his employers violated his due process by denying him a hearing before demoting him.

Griffith officials filed a motion earlier this year asking Springmann to dismiss the lawsuit, which Kottka filed in July against the Griffith Public Safety Board and Councilman Rick Ryfa.

In the lawsuit, Kottka argued officials violated his 14th Amendment rights and defamed him when he was demoted as police chief.

Kottka had been seeking compensatory damages of $100,000 from the town and punitive damages from each defendant, according to court records.

Ryfa expressed appreciation Wednesday for the judge's ruling.

"The members of the safety board are very pleased with the court's decision dismissing former Chief Kottka's lawsuit because there was no valid federal law claim," Ryfa said. "We hope the court's decision puts an end to this matter."

According to the lawsuit, after Kottka was demoted he experienced a hostile work environment, which led to his retirement in July. He says his 14th Amendment right to due process was violated when he wasn't given a hearing before his demotion.

The town argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because Kottka was not entitled to a hearing. The motion also argued that not having a hearing is not the same as a due process violation.

The town's motion also argued the statements noted in the lawsuit were not defamatory and that the remarks were part of their duty as public officials to make statements to the public.

Kottka had worked at the Griffith Police Department for 38 years. He was demoted along with Lt. Michael Gulley by the Griffith Town Council after the council received a recommendation from the safety board.

Gulley was suspended for 30 days in February after an internal investigation determined he received $1,600 by falsifying work hour records.

Noting that Kottka's civil complaint failed to prove his employer "purposefully" created intolerable working conditions, Springmann dismissed that portion of the lawsuit. The judge stated in her written opinion that "it would be entirely speculative to suggest" any such conditions affected Kottka.

With the dismissal of that federal claim, Springmann also declined jurisdiction over the defamation claims, her written opinion shows.

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