Huffstutler v. Bergland

Decision Date03 December 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-3117,77-3117
PartiesRobert L. HUFFSTUTLER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Robert BERGLAND, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

George P. Powell, Edinburg, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

R. Burton Ballanfant, Asst. U.S. Atty., Houston, Tex., William Kanter, Appellate Staff, Eloise E. Davies, Civil Div., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before SIMPSON, CHARLES CLARK and FRANK M. JOHNSON, Jr., Circuit Judges.


Robert L. Huffstutler, a probationary employee of the United States Department of Agriculture, appeals an order granting the Secretary's motion to dismiss his action seeking redress for discharge and other relief. We vacate and remand.

Huffstutler contends that his discharge offended the first amendment because it was an improper reaction to his activities as shop steward for a labor organization. He also contends that the Secretary deprived him of liberty without due process in violation of the fifth amendment because the agency failed to accord him an opportunity to protest a rating of his honesty placed in a "Probationary or Trial Period Report."

The district court based its order dismissing the first amendment claim on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The fifth amendment claim was dismissed on a finding that the honesty rating in the probationary report to which Huffstutler objected was not stigmatizing.

In concluding that sovereign immunity barred Huffstutler's claim for reinstatement, the district court misread our opinion in Beale v. Blount, 461 F.2d 1133. While Beale holds that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars a claim against the United States for injunctive relief, the opinion clearly states that a request for reinstatement should be considered in the nature of a petition for a writ of mandamus which bypasses the obstacle of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. 461 F.2d at 1138. See Penn v. Schlesinger, 490 F.2d 700, 704.

A probationary employee may be discharged for any reason, or for no reason at all, but not for an unconstitutional reason. Huffstutler alleged that the reason for his discharge was labor-organizing activities protected by the first amendment. He is entitled to an opportunity to prove this charge. Ferguson v. Thomas, 430 F.2d 852 (5th Cir. 1970).

Huffstutler's second contention on this appeal is that the Secretary denied him due process because, without according him a hearing, the agency rated his honesty as "unsatisfactory" on a form which was then made available to other government agencies and the Texas Employment Commission without his consent. To establish such a due process deficit, Huffstutler must establish that in the course of terminating his employment, 1 the agency prepared a report, without giving him notice and an opportunity to be heard which was (a) false, 2 (b) stigmatizing, 3 and (c) published. 4

The district court reasoned that rating Huffstutler's honesty as "unsatisfactory" was not the equivalent of characterizing him as dishonest. This finding is difficult to accept unless considered in the context of the entire report. In the report the preparer was required to rate the probationary worker with regard to 21 separate characteristics, including honesty, and was limited to the use of four rating categories outstanding, satisfactory, marginal, or unsatisfactory. The choice for rating Huffstutler's honesty was "unsatisfactory." Huffstutler also received "unsatisfactory" ratings for initiative, dependability, productivity, quality of work, professional interest, attendance, and punctuality. In the following section of the form, the preparer was required to appraise in his own language the employee's capacity for growth and development. That narrative states that Huffstutler will only work when watched, and that when his foreman turns away he resumes ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
37 cases
  • Helton v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
    • February 19, 1982
    ...over actions in the nature of mandamus, it is also construed as a waiver of sovereign immunity. Huffstutler v. Bergland, 607 F.2d 1090, 1092 (5th Cir. 1979) (per curiam). Mandamus has been termed "an extraordinary remedy, ... reserved for extraordinary situations." Winningham v. United Stat......
  • Thomas v. BD. OF TRUSTEES, ETC.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • April 16, 1981 him notice and an opportunity to be heard which were (a) false, (b) stigmatizing, and (c) published. Huffstutler v. Bergland, 607 F.2d 1090, 1092 (5th Cir. 1979). See Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. 624, 97 S.Ct. 882, 51 L.Ed.2d 92 (1977); Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed......
  • Johnson v. San Jacinto Jr. College
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • September 10, 1980 him notice and an opportunity to be heard which was (a) false, (b) stigmatizing, and (c) published." Huffstutler v. Bergland, 607 F.2d 1090, 1092 (5th Cir. 1979) (per curiam) (footnotes omitted), citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Codd v. Velger......
  • Loudermill v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • November 17, 1983 allege that the reasons for his dismissal were "published", a prerequisite to any liberty interest claim. Huffstutler v. Bergland, 607 F.2d 1090, 1092 (5th Cir.1979). Accordingly, we affirm the district court's dismissal of those parts of the complaints which it construed as raising a Fo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Due Process Liability in Personnel Records Management: Preserving Employee Liberty Interests
    • United States
    • Sage Public Personnel Management No. 21-4, December 1992
    • December 1, 1992
    ...also, Moore v. Mississippi Valley State University, 871 F.2d 545,549 (5th Cir. 1989). 4 871 F.2d at 549, citing Huffstutler v. Bergland, 607 F. 2d 1090,1092 (5th Cir. 1979). 5 Ibid., citing Roth, infra note 1, at 573-574. 6 Siegert v. Gilley, U.S. , 111 S. Ct. 1789,59 U.S.L. W. 4465,6 BNA I......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT