471 F.2d 475 (7th Cir. 1972), 71-1160, Donahue v. Staunton

Docket Nº:71-1160.
Citation:471 F.2d 475
Party Name:Joseph L. DONAHUE, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Patrick STAUNTON, Individually And As Chicago Area Zone Director, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:July 06, 1972
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 475

471 F.2d 475 (7th Cir. 1972)

Joseph L. DONAHUE, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Patrick STAUNTON, Individually And As Chicago Area Zone Director, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 71-1160.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

July 6, 1972

Argued Jan. 24, 1972.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Sept. 15, 1972.

Certiorari Denied Feb. 26, 1973.

Page 476

William J. Scott, Atty. Gen., Perry L. Fuller, Chicago, Ill., for defendants-appellants.

Lester Asher, Marvin Gittler, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before SWYGERT, Chief Judge, HASTINGS, Senior Circuit Judge, and SPRECHER, Circuit Judge.

Page 477

HASTINGS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Joseph L. Donahue brought this action against the defendants Patrick Staunton, individually and as Chicago Area Zone Director of the Illinois Department of Mental Health; H. C. Piepenbrink, individually and as Manteno State Hospital Superintendent; and John F. Briggs, individually and as Director of the Illinois State Department of Mental Health, alleging that defendants had discharged plaintiff from his position as Chaplain at the Manteno State Hospital in abrogation of his right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution. He sought relief pursuant to Title 42, U.S.C.A. § 1983. Jurisdiction was established pursuant to Title 28, U.S.C.A. § 1343.

This case was tried to the court without a jury. The court filed its findings of fact and entered conclusions of law favorable to plaintiff and rendered judgment against the defendants in the amount of $2,000 as punitive damages, with interest; out-of-pocket expenses in an amount to be later determined; attorney fees of $750; and costs. Affirmatively, defendants were ordered to offer plaintiff full and unconditional reinstatement to his former position and, in the event he accepted such reinstatement, an injunction would be issued restraining and enjoining defendants, their agents and successors, from interfering with, coercing or discriminating against plaintiff in the exercise of his protected rights of free speech. Defendants have appealed.

Plaintiff Father Donahue, a Roman Catholic Priest, was appointed Catholic Chaplain at Manteno State Hospital on July 14, 1964, and served in such capacity until his discharge on December 4, 1969. As Chaplain, plaintiff received a salary which he, under his vow of poverty, forwarded to the Order of St. Viator, withholding sufficient funds to provide for his daily needs. In this capacity plaintiff was charged with serving the spiritual needs of the patients and employees at Manteno, along with sundry other duties, including speaking at public functions to explain the operations of the hospital.

Along with all other employees of the hospital, plaintiff was annually rated in the performance of his duties. Until the final report, prepared after plaintiff's discharge, he was always rated either "good" or "excellent" on seven separate categories of duties and responsibilities. The annual review covering the period from July 14, 1968 to July 14, 1969 (five months prior to his discharge), prepared by plaintiff's immediate superior, contains the following analysis of his performance:

"Father Donahue energetically and conscientiously discharges his duties as a spiritual advisor and counselor to the patients of Catholic faith at M. S. H. He has extremely favorable rapport with the patients to whom he provides the chaplaincy services, and at all times considers what is best for the patient.

*******

* * *

"Father Donahue constantly strives to bring about better conditions at M. S. H. and in doing so apprises the staff of changes that should be initiated in order to correct situations which are not acceptable for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. His ability to communicate with others concerning these problems and the presentation of his solutions leave little to misinterpretation. His strong initiative and precise communicating among employees and patients are attributes which make him an asset to M. S. H."

Soon after plaintiff was assigned to Manteno, the hospital entered a period of transition. New policies were instituted so that the patients were no longer kept locked up and under strict security, no longer were the sexes separated, and the hospital's employment practices were decentralized. Plaintiff approved of these enlightened and progressive policies in theory but became alarmed with the method of their implementation. It was the consensus that such new programs

Page 478

would require more supervision than formerly provided. He was gravely concerned that the supervision was inadequate.

In 1966 plaintiff expressed his criticism and concern in a union newspaper column which he authored; in a public speech to a convention of the Illinois State Federation of Labor; and in other avenues of public expression. 1 Following the Board's report, supra note 1, defendant Piepenbrink in 1967 appointed plaintiff to a committee with the responsibility of developing a hospital policy relating to the problems of promiscuity.

It appears from the record that there was a lull in the plaintiff's public criticism of the hospital operations. Later, frustrated by what he felt was a lack of progress in resolving the problems of the hospital, plaintiff in the fall of 1969 began another campaign of public criticism. His public statements included a speech by him critical of the operations of the hospital, which was reported in a local newspaper on October 20, 1969; on October 27, 1969, the same newspaper printed a letter to the editor written by plaintiff in which he criticized as impractical a particular program of the hospital; and on November 13, 1969, the same newspaper published a paid advertisement authored by plaintiff and one Thomas Nayder which set forth 12 specific incidents of negligence or improper activity at the hospital.

The advertisement appears to be the most critical statement made by the plaintiff and one of the significant factors leading to his discharge. In relevant part, the advertisement charged that the Director of the Illinois Mental Health Department, the Superintendent of Manteno State Hospital and the directors of certain programs at the hospital were all "laymen," and that there was neglect in the preparation and funerals of the dead, little or no effort on the part of authorities to prevent runaways and improper treatment and delay in treatment of patients. He questioned the legality of a self-medication program and asserted that the hospital lacked certain facilities. He charged there was mixing of untidy patients with tidy patients, that the hospital issued birth control pills to highly promiscuous patients and other incidents of neglect.

Although the truth or falsity of these allegations was not proven at trial, we note that many of the accusations came from reports of the "Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee Meetings" at Manteno State Hospital and other inter-office memoranda. Also, plaintiff testified, and we presume from the court's findings that it was credited, that he checked every charge he made either by direct observation, conversation with

Page 479

"reliable sources, doctors, nurses, security men and aides," or through a number of memoranda which came to his office. He also testified that he never knowingly published or stated anything that was false.

Letters were also written by plaintiff to the Governor in which he stated his purpose was "to relate some of [the] happenings" at the hospital. Copies of such letters were sent to defendant Briggs. In addition, plaintiff encouraged others to write to the Governor to protest what he believed to be the deplorable conditions at Manteno.

Defendants assert that the plaintiff's statements were made without checking their validity and contained falsehoods and half-truths which were detrimental to the operation of the hospital and the well-being of the patients. The termination slip handed to plaintiff stated he was discharged for cause, to wit:

"In the best interest of the patients and staff at Manteno Hospital, the Chicago Area Zone Director, Patrick Staunton, M. D., and Manteno State Hospital Superintendent H. C. Piepenbrink, have decided on this action. This priest has consistently, and without checking validity of criticism, made public charges against the treatment programs of this facility which have little basis in fact and which are detrimental to the care and treatment of the patients and can no longer be tolerated by the management of one of its employees." 2

Hence the principal issue we face here is whether the discharge of plaintiff by the named defendants violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Ancillary issues are: whether plaintiff was an employee of the Manteno State Hospital; whether the Illinois statutory scheme for the discharge of employees was improperly held unconstitutional; and whether the remedy afforded was proper.

We will assume for the purposes of this opinion that some of the allegations made by the plaintiff were false or misleading. However, upon our examination of the record, we find that at the time of their issuance they were reasonably believed to be true by the plaintiff and were not knowingly false and recklessly made.

Defendants' first claim, that plaintiff was not an employee of the State of Illinois or Manteno State Hospital, is without substance. It almost goes without saying that plaintiff was an employee of the State, i.e., he received a salary from the State, it being irrelevant that he saw fit to forward the money to his Order; his performance as Chaplain was evaluated annually by his superior, as was the performance of all other hospital...

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