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Correia v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

September 24, 2018

JULIA CORREIA PLAINTIFF
v.
GLENN JONES, Individually, and in his Official Capacity as Chancellor of Henderson State University DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          P.K. HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgement. Plaintiff Julia Correia filed a second motion (Doc. 22) for partial summary judgment, a statement of facts (Doc. 22-1), and a brief (Doc. 23) in support of her motion. Defendant Glenn Jones filed a response (Doc. 35) in opposition and a statement of facts (Doc. 36) in support of his response. Separately, Jones filed a motion (Doc. 32) for summary judgment, statement of facts (Doc. 33) and brief in support (Doc. 34) of his motion. Correia filed a response (Doc. 43), a brief (Doc. 44) in support of her response, and a statement of facts (Doc. 45). Jones filed a reply (Doc. 48).

         Correia alleges federal and state constitutional deprivations actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1983.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Jones's motion for summary judgment will be granted, and Correia's motion for partial summary judgment will be denied.

         I. Background

         In August 2000, Henderson State University (“the University”) hired Plaintiff Julia Correia as a fulltime faculty member. Correia worked at the University for over ten years and held various positions during her employment, but never attained tenured status. Her contract was renewed on a yearly basis. During the 2013-14 academic year, Correia managed the Center for Language Proficiency (“the Center”). (Doc. 45, ¶ 3). Defendant Dr. Glenn Jones worked at the University as the Chancellor. Correia and Dr. Jones signed a written employment contract for the 2013-14 year, and Correia testified that this contract “would have expired on . . . June 30th.” (Correia Dep. 232:14-24). Near the end of the 2013-14 academic year, the University Board of Trustees approved a “proposed budget” for the 2014-15 year. The budget included an allocation of funding for employee contracts.

         In June 2014, the University general counsel received a complaint about “inappropriate activity” occurring within the Center for Language Proficiency. (Jones Dep. 37:20-22; Doc. 45, ¶ 19). General counsel notified Dr. Jones of the complaint. (Jones Dep. 38:11-12). Seeking an independent examination of the allegations, Dr. Jones contacted Arkansas State University's internal audit department to investigate the matter. (Doc. 45, ¶ 20). Following Arkansas State's investigation, Dr. Jones contacted the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit for further assistance. (Doc 45, p. 9). Correia received formal notice of the investigation on July 7, 2014 where Dr. Steve Adkinson notified her that she was being placed on administrative leave. (Correia Dep. 108:14-17). Correia continued as a paid at-will employee while on administrative leave. At no time did Correia and any university faculty member sign a written contract for the 2014-15 academic year.

         During the legislative investigation, the auditors uncovered numerous discrepancies with the Center's expenditures and records. The findings included improper disbursements, related-party transactions, violations of procurement laws, and missing equipment and supplies purchased for the Center. (Doc. 32-7, pp. 3-4). On July 4, 2014, Correia returned 154 items of media-related equipment to the University. (Doc. 32-7, p. 4). On July 18, 2014, Correia's counsel, Carl Crow, notified the University that she had discovered additional items in her possession belonging to the University and provided a list of sixty-one (61) additional items. (Doc. 32-11, pp. 6-9). On October 2, 2014, the University informed Correia that the Center for Language Proficiency would be closed, and her administrative leave and employment would terminate on that date. (Correia Dep. 244:13-14).

         On December 16, 2014, the Division of Legislative Audit published its findings to the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee. (Doc. 32-7, p. 1; Doc. 32-11). Shortly after, Dr. Jones circulated an internal email to all faculty and staff at the University describing the investigation into the Center and its findings. (Doc. 32-13). The email did not mention Correia by name but stated, “[t]he director and assistant director for the Center for Language Proficiency are no longer employees of the university.” (Doc. 32-13, p. 1). The email further discussed changes which were to be incorporated into the University's operations in response to the findings of the audit. (Doc. 32-13). Dr. Jones included the legislative report as an attachment in his email, and “encouraged” staff to read it and discuss any questions with a supervisor. (Doc. 32-13, p. 2).

         In the months after the University notified Correia that her employment ended, Mr. Crow sent six letters to the University-one in July 2014, three in December 2014, one in January 2015, and one in June 2015-inquiring about the possibility of retrieving personal property. (Doc. 32-11, pp. 2-20). At no time during this correspondence did Plaintiff request a name-clearing hearing. On August 15, 2017, nearly three years after her separation from the University, Correia submitted a request for a name-clearing hearing. (Doc. 45, ¶¶ 69-70). The request states,

I respectfully demand a hearing to clear my good name. Because of unfounded accusations and actions taken by HSU, my livelihood was taken and my reputation smeared publicly. Please respond within five days.

(Doc. 48, p. 7). A week later, on August 22, 2017, Correia filed suit against Glenn Jones in his official and individual capacity. Correia alleges that the University terminated her employment and violated her due process rights in the process. Correia filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of a due process violation. Jones moved for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         When a party moves for summary judgment, a party must establish both the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'l Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce evidence “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66-67 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Only facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law” need be considered. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “[T]he non-movant must make a sufficient showing on every essential element of its claim on which it bears the burden of proof.” P.H. v. Sch. Dist. of Kan. City, Mo., 265 F.3d 653, 658 (8th Cir. 2001) (quotation omitted). Facts asserted by the nonmoving party “must be properly supported by the record, ” in which case those “facts and the inferences to be drawn from them [are viewed] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. at 656-57. The same standard applies to cross-motions for summary judgment, with each party's motion reviewed in its own right and the parties “entitled to the benefit of all inferences favorable to them which might reasonably be drawn from the record.” Wermager v. Cormorant Twp. Bd., 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983).

         III. ...


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