Patterson v. Ramsey, Civ. No. Y-75-964.

Decision Date29 March 1976
Docket NumberCiv. No. Y-75-964.
Citation413 F. Supp. 523
PartiesRoland N. PATTERSON v. Norman P. RAMSEY et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Larry S. Gibson, Charles C. Lee, Baltimore, Md., for plaintiff.

Benjamin L. Brown, Ambrose T. Hartman, Blanche G. Wahl, Harvey L. Okun, Baltimore, Md., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH H. YOUNG, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Dr. Roland N. Patterson, dismissed as Superintendent of Public Instruction of Baltimore City, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and directly under the Fourteenth Amendment, challenging that dismissal by the defendants, the Board of School Commissioners of Baltimore City (Board) and the individual Commissioners.

I THE FACTS

The statutory authority for the existence of the School Board and its powers are contained in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Article 77, sections 142 and 143, and in Article VII of the Baltimore City Charter (1964 revision). The specific authority to appoint a superintendent is contained in Article VII, § 58(b) of the Charter.

Appointed to his position on July 16, 1971, plaintiff began serving on October 1, 1971. The discussions between the City and Dr. Patterson concerning the terms of his contract appear in several communications between the Baltimore City Solicitor's Office, Robert Karwacki (then Chairman of the School Board) and Dr. Patterson (through his attorneys). This correspondence appears as defendants' exhibits 4, 5 and 6. The discussions culminated in a Memorandum of Agreement executed on December 8, 1971 (defendants' exhibit 2), providing for a term of employment "of four years commencing on the 1st day of October, 1971, and ending on the 30th day of September, 1975, subject however to the provisions of Section 58(b) of Article VII of the Charter of Baltimore City." That section provides that "The Board shall have power and authority to appoint and remove at pleasure, following a hearing if requested, a Superintendent of Public Instruction . . .."

Plaintiff had not completed his appointed term when the question of an evaluation of his services was first discussed in a letter from Dr. Beryl Williams to the Board. By letter to Norman P. Ramsey (then Chairman of the Board) dated April 14, 1975 (defendants' exhibit 11), plaintiff requested that the Board evaluate his services. A series of correspondence between plaintiff and Ramsey led to a proposal by the Board that an evaluation of plaintiff's performance take place on May 9, 1975 (plaintiff's exhibit 4). The proposal contained in a letter of April 30, 1975, indicated that the evaluation would take place in executive session, that plaintiff would be permitted to appear with counsel of his choice, and that the plaintiff would have an opportunity to comment upon the Board's evaluation before it was made final. Enclosed in the letter were the Evaluation Criteria (plaintiff's exhibit 5). On May 1, 1975, plaintiff selected Larry Gibson, Esquire, to act as his attorney for the evaluation proceedings.

Following the exchange of a series of letters setting forth the ground rules, evaluation proceedings were held by the Board in executive session, with plaintiff and his attorney present. Sessions were held on May 9, 12, 13, 18, 20 and 21, 1975, consuming approximately 30 hours, and resulting in 700 pages of transcript (plaintiff's exhibit 103), and 146 exhibits produced by plaintiff. At the conclusion of the proceedings plaintiff expressed his appreciation for a thorough and fair hearing (see p. 678 of the evaluation transcript).

The Board prepared a proposed evaluation (plaintiff's exhibit 18) which was hand delivered to plaintiff on June 2, 1975, with a letter of transmittal (plaintiff's exhibit 17), stating that the final evaluation would be prepared on June 4, 1975, and requesting that plaintiff prepare his comments on the proposed evaluation immediately. By a letter of the same date (plaintiff's exhibit 19), plaintiff's attorney claimed insufficient time to respond to the evaluation and called the Board's attention to its promises that plaintiff would have an opportunity to respond to the initial evaluation (see plaintiff's exhibits 4 and 12). He then called a press conference and released the proposed evaluation. The Board's response to this flurry of activity was a letter (defendants' exhibit 20) from Ramsey to Gibson indicating that the purpose of forwarding the proposed evaluation was to allow plaintiff an opportunity to review it before it was made final and public. The Board concluded that publication of the proposed evaluation obviated the need of further comments from the plaintiff.

On June 4, 1975, along with the above-mentioned letter, the Board transmitted to Mr. Gibson a draft of a resolution calling for plaintiff's resignation (plaintiff's exhibit 21), and a document marked Specifications (plaintiff's exhibit 22)—the charges against plaintiff. The Board stated that the meeting to discuss the draft resolution would be held on June 9, 1975. Through acts of unknown parties (at least unknown to the Court), the Specifications became public knowledge.

In a letter of June 6, 1975 (plaintiff's exhibit 31) from Gibson to Ambrose Hartman, Deputy City Solicitor, Gibson indicated that he could not attend the June 9 meeting and, since the Board had refused to set an alternate date for the meeting, he was "forced" to advise plaintiff not to attend. The Board met on June 9, 1975, and adopted a resolution calling for plaintiff's resignation (plaintiff's exhibit 33) and the final Specifications (plaintiff's exhibit 35). These were forwarded to plaintiff by letter of June 9, 1975 (plaintiff's exhibit 32).

The resolution passed by the Board set June 20, 1975, as the date for the beginning of the dismissal hearings (if plaintiff requested such a hearing). By letter of June 14, 1975, Gibson formally requested the hearing (plaintiff's exhibit 38), reserving all rights to oppose the alleged inequities of the evaluation proceedings. On June 19, 1975, plaintiff sought and obtained an injunction from Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore City which postponed the beginning of the dismissal hearings. This injunction was vacated by the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the hearings were rescheduled for July 1, 1975. Immediately after the hearing convened, the Board was advised that plaintiff had applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of the proceedings. Mr. Justice Marshall, after granting a 24-hour stay, dissolved the stay order on July 1, 1975.

During this interval (June 14July 1) plaintiff requested detailed factual data supporting the Specifications, contending they were inadequate notice of the charges against him (see plaintiff's exhibits 38, 39, 48 and 50).

The public dismissal hearings hereinafter "hearings" began at the War Memorial Building with approximately 325 people in attendance at each meeting. Most of the audience were vocal supporters of plaintiff, and the atmosphere at the hearings was described as tense and somewhat intimidating to the black members of the Board. Mr. Gibson and C. Curtis Lee, Esquire, represented the plaintiff, and Mr. Hartman represented the Board. Norman Ramsey, Chairman of the Board, presided through most of the hearings. Occasionally Dr. Williams presided.

The transcript of the hearings is plaintiff's exhibit 104. It contains approximately 2500 pages in 14 volumes covering 60 hours of proceedings. The hearings began with a lengthy procedural discussion between Gibson and Ramsey on the questions of (1) who had the burden of proof, and (2) whether and when opening statements would be permitted. Ramsey ruled that plaintiff would have the burden of proof and allowed Gibson to make an opening statement. (See Vol. II pp. 1-31 for this entire episode.)

Because plaintiff maintained that the Specifications were too vague to address, the Board opened the proceeding by first calling Charles L. Benton, Director of Finance for Baltimore City, to show that plaintiff had lost the confidence of other City departments. His testimony, concerning certain financial irregularities which occurred during plaintiff's administration, was objected to by plaintiff on the ground that the Specifications did not provide adequate notice of this charge. When Benton testified from certain materials, plaintiff requested copies to prepare for cross-examination. The documents were made available to plaintiff and cross-examination of Benton was postponed until July 11 to cure any lack of notice to plaintiff of his testimony. However, Gibson did not examine the materials until July 11—just prior to Benton's cross-examination.

A similar sequence occurred with respect to the testimony of Daniel L. Paul, called by the Board over plaintiff's objections. Once again, cross-examination was postponed until July 10, 1975.

The Board's next witness was Isiah White, a school principal, who testified there was low morale in the system as a result of favoritism and poor promotion policies. He also cited the existence on his payroll of a person of whom he had no knowledge.

At this point, the Board members gave their reasons for voting to terminate the plaintiff. Gibson objected to the inclusion of these statements as evidence on the ground that the Board was sitting as a judge in the case and could not, therefore, give testimony. The Board responded that the statements were given to state publicly the reasons for the vote (see Vol. II pp. 176-179). Plaintiff's later suggestion that the Board members, after speaking, should disqualify themselves as judges was also overruled. Each member spoke and was thoroughly cross-examined by Gibson. The Board's case was closed on July 3.

Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the Specifications was denied, and plaintiff then began the presentation of his case, calling approximately 40 witnesses. The thrust of the testimony of these witnesses was aimed primarily at Specification 2, suggesting that plaintiff delegated authority...

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