Former Casper Councilman Loses Appeals in Federal Court
Former Casper City Council member Craig Hedquist lost appeals of two federal court cases alleging retaliation for criticizing city government earlier in the decade, according to recent rulings in the Denver-based 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The appellate court affirmed the Wyoming federal court that held neither the city nor city engineer Andrew Beamer violated Hedquist's First Amendment rights after they instigated investigations into his business dealings and filed a petition to have him removed from office.
Hedquist, who was elected from Ward II in November 2012, ran on a campaign criticizing local government inefficiencies. He also was the principal owner of Hedquist Construction, Inc. (HCI), which did contract work for the city.
In the original lawsuit filed in February 2014, Hedquist claimed former City Manager John Patterson tried to retaliate against him after criticisms over a land deal with the Boys & Girls Club and the Natrona County School District during the summer of 2012. Patterson then met with city council candidates to try to thwart his election that fall.
Later, council demanded Hedquist resign, but he refused to do so at that time. He resigned in July 2015.
The original lawsuit claimed the city violated his rights by trying to remove him from office without due process, retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, and property deprivation under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Since then, Hedquist and his attorneys claimed the city's campaign against him cost taxpayers more than $800,000 because the city did not accept HCI as the low bidder.
During the research in the federal lawsuits against the City, Hedquist's attorneys added city engineer Andrew Beamer as a co-defendant.
Further research found that former Casper Police Chief Chris Walsh, now a city council member himself, allegedly had worked with Patterson to illegally conduct an investigation into Hedquist using a database reserved for criminal investigations, according to court records. That lawsuit is still pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The three Appellate Court Judges who heard the case wrote that Hedquist could not prove that his criticisms of the city's construction inefficiencies resulted in the retaliation against him: a work place investigation; a conflict of interest investigation over his position as a city council member and the head of a construction firm doing business with the city; and the effort to remove him from office.
Regarding HCI's complaint, the judges concluded that none of the speech attributed to the company was of public concern, and therefore was not protected under a First Amendment retaliation claim.
HCI, through Hedquist, claimed the city retaliated against it by refusing to award it construction contracts. Wyoming law requires works projects shall be given "'to the lowest bidder who shall be determined qualified and responsible in the sole discretion of the governing body,'" the judges.
In 2015, HCI submitted the lowest bids for five projects, and the city recommended the contracts go to the second-lowest bidder, prompting the company to accuse Beamer of influencing the Casper City Council to deem HCI "'non-responsible.'"
The court wrote that HCI failed to show a causal connection between its protected speech in a criticism of the city in December 2012, and the contracting dispute.
Likewise, the company was awarded four contracts by the city in 2014, and failed to finish them by their deadlines, the court wrote. "When the City subsequently labeled HCI a non-responsive bidder, it cited the four 2014 contracts, not any protected speech by Hedquist or HCI."