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GOETZ v. HAYGOOD

February 22, 1985

ROBERT C. GOETZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN L. HAYGOOD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROY

 Plaintiff, Robert C. Goetz, is a citizen and resident of the State of Arkansas formerly employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Defendants are the individual members of the Commission, the Director, Steve Wilson, and the former Chief of the Commission's Wildlife Management Division, John Haygood.

 The Court has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of the plaintiff's complaint under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).

 Prior to August 1, 1981, plaintiff had been employed as an assistant professor at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, where he had recently received tenure.

 Plaintiff was employed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on August 1, 1981 as Assistant Chief in the Wildlife Management Division.

 The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is a public body created by Amendment 35 to the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. Its duties are the control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the birds, fish, game and wildlife resources of the State of Arkansas.

 Plaintiff contends that his discharge deprived him of protected property and liberty interests in his continued employment with the Commission without due process of law.

 Plaintiff did not receive a hearing prior to the April 26, 1982 memorandum notifying him that he was to be terminated. Plaintiff did, however, have the opportunity to appear before the Commission in executive session on May 17, 1982 and state why he felt he should not be terminated. Plaintiff was ultimately terminated as of June 15, 1982.

 Upon being employed by the Commission, plaintiff took a one year leave of absence from his tenured position at Murray State. Plaintiff told defendant Wilson when he was employed that he wanted to get out of academics and into field work.

 At the time he was employed, plaintiff signed an employment agreement. This agreement provided that plaintiff was a probationary employee for one year and could be terminated by written notice at any time during the twelve months probationary period. The employment agreement also stated that the plaintiff was to be provided with evaluations at prescribed intervals of three months and six months.

 Shortly after assuming his duties, Goetz's problems developed in the working relationship between plaintiff and his immediate supervisor, John Haygood. Upon first becoming aware of the vacancy at the Commission, plaintiff applied for the position of Chief, but John Haygood was hired for that position. As Chief, Haygood was plaintiff's immediate supervisor, and a personality conflict caused their working relationship to rapidly deteriorate. Friction between the two necessitated intervention by Director Wilson, who attempted to smooth things out by having the lines of authority more clearly delineated. As a result of a meeting in January, 1982, between plaintiff, Haygood and Wilson, Haygood issued several memoranda attempting to better organize the division.

 Also during plaintiff's employment, the Commission was informed that projected expenditures were expected to overtake projected revenues. On December 3, 1981, Ron Byrns, then Assistant Chief of the Fiscal Division prepared a memo to this effect directed to Director Wilson, Assistant Director Hunter and Deputy Director Broach. This memo inter alia projected that by the end of the 1982-3 fiscal year, the Commission would have inadequate funds to successfully perform its constitutional mandates.

 After receiving no response to his December 3 memo, Byrns prepared a much more detailed projection on January 7, 1982. This projection made much the same forecast, but was prepared in more detail to show the nature and amount of projected expenditures.

 Byrns presented this projection first at the January 4, 1982 staff meeting, attended by plaintiff. He then presented the report to the full Commission in open session at its January 18, 1982 meeting. The minutes of that meeting reflect that the report was fully discussed and indicated that conservation measures must be considered. A hiring freeze was unanimously approved.

 Prior to the termination proceedings, plaintiff did not approach Haygood regarding the status of his position at Murray State or asking for a formal evaluation of his performance, although Haygood had counseled with plaintiff on numerous occasions as to what he considered deficiencies in plaintiff's performance.

 During the next two months, defendant Haygood attempted to evaluate his department for possible budget cuts. He determined that since his department had a high percentage of labor-related costs, that personnel reductions would be appropriate. He also determined to examine his work force to ascertain how to save the most money.

 During this period, the working relationship between plaintiff and Haygood steadily worsened to the point that it was difficult to communicate. There were two assistant chiefs in the division, plaintiff and Mike Pledger, who was employed as an assistant chief after plaintiff was employed. Even though Pledger had been in the wildlife management division for a shorter period of time than plaintiff, he had been employed by the Commission in another division for a number of years. In connection with his prior duties, Pledger became well acquainted with both the personnel and the operation of the wildlife management division.

 Haygood determined that his division could operate efficiently with only one assistant chief. He further determined that Pledger was the man for the job due to their better working relationship and due to Pledger's superior knowledge and longer experience with the Commission.

 On April 14, 1982, Haygood handed the plaintiff documents titled 3 month and 8 month evaluations which indicated generally unsatisfactory performance by the plaintiff.

 At the April, 1982 Commission meeting, the Commission went into executive session. Haygood was called into the executive session where he discussed his desire to make personnel reductions and his recommendation that plaintiff's position be eliminated. No formal action was taken by the Commission during this executive session.

 On April 26, 1982, Haygood formally recommended to Wilson that plaintiff's position be eliminated. Wilson approved, and plaintiff was notified by memorandum that his position was eliminated and that his employment would cease on June 10, 1982. ...


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