Klaassen v. Atkinson, Case No. 13-2561-DDC-KGS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
Writing for the CourtDaniel D. Crabtree, United States District Judge
Citation348 F.Supp.3d 1106
Parties Curtis KLAASSEN, Ph.D., Plaintiff, v. Barbara ATKINSON, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 13-2561-DDC-KGS
Decision Date28 September 2018

348 F.Supp.3d 1106

Curtis KLAASSEN, Ph.D., Plaintiff,
v.
Barbara ATKINSON, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 13-2561-DDC-KGS

United States District Court, D. Kansas.

Signed September 28, 2018


348 F.Supp.3d 1116

Alan L. Rupe, Jeremy K. Schrag, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, Wichita, KS, for Plaintiff.

Anthony F. Rupp, Tara S. Eberline, Foulston Siefkin LLP, Overland Park, KS, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Daniel D. Crabtree, United States District Judge

This case is a highly contentious employment dispute. Plaintiff Curtis Klaassen, Ph.D., served as a tenured professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center ("KUMC") until KUMC fired him in 2014. Dr. Klaassen brings this lawsuit against KUMC and various current and former KUMC officials. He alleges that defendants retaliated against him because he criticized KUMC for financial mismanagement, a perceived absence of appropriate governance, and other alleged misconduct. Dr. Klaassen asserts a First Amendment

348 F.Supp.3d 1117

retaliation claim, Due Process claims, and various claims under Kansas state law.

The facts giving rise to this lawsuit were the subject of four faculty ad hoc committee hearings at KUMC, final agency action by the Chancellor of the University of Kansas, and two state court lawsuits filed by Dr. Klaassen. All of these proceedings resulted in decisions adverse to Dr. Klaassen. This is the fourth lawsuit that Dr. Klaassen has filed stemming from his employment dispute with KUMC. His original Complaint in this case sued the Kansas Board of Regents, the University of Kansas, KUMC, and 10 individuals who are, or once were, faculty and staff at KUMC. In its current posture, only seven individuals remain as defendants. Collectively, they have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 325), seeking summary judgment against each claim Dr. Klaassen asserts in this lawsuit.

The court recognizes that this case involves a lot of facts. The parties' dispute began years ago, and the material facts involve many participants. This history has produced an extensive factual record. Indeed, defendants submitted more than 400 statements of material fact to support their Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. 326 at 5–80. Dr. Klaassen responded to defendants' 400-plus statements of fact with 409 statements of material fact of his own. Doc. 349 at 68–138.

Defendants filed a Joint Memorandum in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. With the court's approval, defendants submitted 40 pages of Arguments and Authorities, 10 more pages than our local rule allows. Doc. 326. Dr. Klaassen's response also includes 40 pages of Arguments and Authorities. Doc. 349. And defendants submitted a Reply containing 30 pages of Arguments and Authorities. Doc. 366. Also, the individual defendants each filed their own 15-page memoranda in support of their summary judgment motions. Docs. 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 333. Dr. Klaassen submitted responses to each of the individual defendants' memoranda. Docs. 351, 352, 353, 354, 355, 356, 357. Finally, the individual defendants submitted individual replies. Docs. 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374.

To say the least, the matter is fully briefed. The court has reviewed the parties' many pages of briefing as well as the extensive factual record. And now it is prepared to rule. For reasons explained below, the court grants defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment against Dr. Klaassen's federal claims and dismisses those claims with prejudice. The court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Dr. Klaassen's state law claims and thus dismisses those claims without prejudice.

I. Uncontroverted Facts

The following facts are either stipulated facts taken from the Amended Pretrial Order (Doc. 298), or are uncontroverted and stated in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 379, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007).

The University of Kansas and Kansas University Medical Center

The University of Kansas ("KU") is a state educational institution. The Kansas University Medical Center ("KUMC") includes that University's School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and School of Health Professions. The University's chief executive officer is the Chancellor, who is named by and serves at the pleasure of the Kansas Board of Regents. The Chancellor is responsible for all of the University's operations.

The primary administrative and academic officer for the KUMC campus is the Executive Vice Chancellor ("EVC"). The EVC is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Chancellor. The chief administrator

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of each school at KUMC is a dean. The EVC and the Chancellor appoint the dean, and the dean serves at their pleasure.

In 2005, KUMC faculty adopted a Handbook for Faculty and Other Unclassified Staff ("KUMC Handbook"). The policies contained in KUMC's Handbook "are not intended to create a contract between the University of Kansas and its employees." Doc. 326-38 at 17.

Dr. Curtis Klaassen

In 1968, Dr. Klaassen began his employment with the University of Kansas. In 1974, Dr. Klaassen became a tenured member of the University of Kansas faculty, and in 2002, he was named a University Distinguished Professor. Only seven members of the University's 1,200 faculty members have received the title of Distinguished Professor. A Distinguished Professorship is awarded based solely on merit. It requires exemplary scholarship and preeminent teaching ability.

As a research professor at KUMC, Dr. Klaassen worked with graduate students, post-doctoral students, and junior research faculty. His job responsibilities included working with these individuals on his research programs. Those programs largely were funded by research grants. After completing their research, Dr. Klaassen and his students then would publish the results of their research.

In 2003, Dr. Barbara Atkinson, Executive Dean of the School of Medicine, named Dr. Klaassen to serve as Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology ("Pharm/Tox"). Dr. Atkinson promoted Dr. Klaassen to this position because she thought he was the right person to revitalize the Department and move it to the next level. She expected Dr. Klaassen to move the Pharm/Tox Department into the top half of pharmacology and toxicology programs in the country. When Dr. Atkinson offered Dr. Klaassen the Chair position in November 2002, she also recommended him for appointment as a University Distinguished Professor, an appointment Dr. Klaassen received later in 2002.

The position of Department Chair serves at the pleasure of the Dean, and Dr. Klaassen understood as much. He also acknowledges that no due process requirements apply to removals from a "serve-at-the-pleasure" position.

Dr. Klaassen's Behavior at KUMC

During his tenure at KUMC, Dr. Klaassen used loud language, pounded on tables in staff meetings, and sometimes would turn red in the face and shake. Also, Dr. Klaassen displayed images of guns and discussed suicide in PowerPoint presentations. Dr. Carlson recalled several times when Dr. Klaassen was so angry that he turned red and began shouting.

Rosa Meagher, a longtime KUMC employee, worked closely with Dr. Klaassen from 1988 to 2011. Ms. Meagher testified that when Dr. Klaassen was promoted to Chair of the Pharm/Tox Department, he had a reputation for having passionate outbursts, including loud language, pounding on tables in staff meetings, turning red in the face, and shaking.

Dr. Klaassen criticized professors who, he felt, were low achievers. One of the faculty members who Dr. Klaassen called a "low achiever" was Dr. Beth Levant. Dr. Levant complained about Dr. Klaassen's outbursts in 2005 and 2006. She complained that Dr. Klaassen had yelled at faculty, turned red, banged on tables, and showed pictures of guns in PowerPoint presentations. Also, she complained about a "Life is Hell" Power Point slide that Dr. Klaassen presented at a Department meeting.

Dr. Atkinson met annually with Dr. Klaassen to provide an evaluation. Dr. Atkinson

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testified that she evaluated Dr. Klaassen in the good-to-excellent range. Also, during these evaluations, Dr. Atkinson discussed with Dr. Klaassen the way he treated the people in his Department. Also, Dr. Paul Terranova, KUMC's Vice Chancellor for Research, met with Dr. Klaassen annually to discuss the Pharm/Tox Department's performance under his leadership. Dr. Terranova described Dr. Klaassen's evaluations as "excellent."

Dr. Klaassen's Criticisms of Dr. Atkinson

When Dr. Atkinson was Executive Dean, she directed KUMC to ramp up its efforts to secure a National Cancer Institute designation. Securing this designation was one of Dr. Atkinson's top priorities when she became Executive Dean. Dr. Klaassen...

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5 practice notes
  • Wittmer v. Thomason, Case No. CIV-18-403-SPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. Eastern District of Oklahoma
    • February 26, 2021
    ...and of value and concern to the public.' 'The inquiry turns on the 'content, form, and context' of the speech.'" Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F. Supp. 3d 1106, 1171 (D. Kan. 2018) (quoting Lane v. Franks, 573 U.S. 228, 241 (2014) and Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 147-148 (1983)). Courts are ......
  • White v. CertainTeed Corp., Case No. 17-2262-DDC-KGG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • May 13, 2019
    ...to an argument raised in defendants' papers tantamount to an express abandonment of any such claim."); see also Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F. Supp. 3d 1106, 1180 n.10 (D. Kan. 2018) (concluding plaintiff abandoned claim where he did not respond to defendant's argument). 14. Mr. White also ar......
  • Joritz v. Univ. of Kan., Case No. 17-4002-SAC-JPO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • September 3, 2020
    ...is a final decision). 6. Plaintiff's appeal does not suspend the finality of the state district court's judgment. Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F.Supp.3d 1106, 1160-61 (D.Kan. 2018); Bui v. IBP, Inc., 205 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1189 (D.Kan. 2002). 7. The court did not reach the issue as presented in D......
  • Ratliff v. AT&T Servs., 20-2483-SAC-GEB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • February 25, 2022
    ...to a motion for summary judgment is proper grounds to grant summary judgment in the defendant's favor. See Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F.Supp.3d 1106, 1188 (D. Kan. 2018) (citing Hinsdale v. City of Liberal, Kan., 19 Fed.Appx. 749, 768-69 (10th Cir. 2001) (affirmed the district court granting......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Wittmer v. Thomason, Case No. CIV-18-403-SPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. Eastern District of Oklahoma
    • February 26, 2021
    ...and of value and concern to the public.' 'The inquiry turns on the 'content, form, and context' of the speech.'" Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F. Supp. 3d 1106, 1171 (D. Kan. 2018) (quoting Lane v. Franks, 573 U.S. 228, 241 (2014) and Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 147-148 (1983)). Courts are ......
  • White v. CertainTeed Corp., Case No. 17-2262-DDC-KGG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • May 13, 2019
    ...to an argument raised in defendants' papers tantamount to an express abandonment of any such claim."); see also Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F. Supp. 3d 1106, 1180 n.10 (D. Kan. 2018) (concluding plaintiff abandoned claim where he did not respond to defendant's argument). 14. Mr. White also ar......
  • B.E. v. Pistotnik, 124,400
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals
    • September 23, 2022
    ...estoppel does not require mutuality of parties has found no further support in the rulings of Kansas courts."); Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F.Supp.3d 1106, 1164 (D. Kan. 2018) (reaffirming statement in Jetcraft). At first glance, the Kansas Supreme Court seems to require mutuality before coll......
  • Joritz v. Univ. of Kan., Case No. 17-4002-SAC-JPO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • September 3, 2020
    ...is a final decision). 6. Plaintiff's appeal does not suspend the finality of the state district court's judgment. Klaassen v. Atkinson, 348 F.Supp.3d 1106, 1160-61 (D.Kan. 2018); Bui v. IBP, Inc., 205 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1189 (D.Kan. 2002). 7. The court did not reach the issue as presented in D......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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