Sizelove v. Madison-Grant United Sch. Corp.

Decision Date07 April 2022
Docket Number1:19-cv-03659-SEB-TAB
Parties James R. SIZELOVE, Plaintiff, v. MADISON-GRANT UNITED SCHOOL CORPORATION, Steven A. Vore, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

Gavin Minor Rose, ACLU of Indiana, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff.

Jonathan Lamont Mayes, Tyler John Moorhead, Bose McKinney & Evans, LLP, Indianapolis, IN, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants.



This cause is before the Court on DefendantsMotion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 58] filed on November 11, 2020, Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 61], filed on December 21, 2020, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants’ Supplemental Brief [Dkt. 73], filed on January 31, 2022, and DefendantsMotion for Leave to Serve Discovery [Dkt. 75], filed on March 14, 2022. Plaintiff James R. Sizelove has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Madison-Grant United School Corporation and Mr. Vore, in his individual and official capacities as Assistant Superintendent, violated his First Amendment rights when he was administratively suspended (with pay) based on comments he made concerning a school realignment proposal for one week from his position as a bus driver and made subject to a directive from Defendants not to make any further "negative or unfavorable" comments about the school proposal. For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 58], GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 61], GRANT Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants’ Supplemental Brief [Dkt. 73] and DENY Defendants’ Motion for Leave to Serve Discovery [Dkt. 75].


The following facts are undisputed between the parties, unless otherwise noted.

I. General Background

Madison-Grant United School Corporation ("School Corporation" or "School") is an Indiana public-school corporation that operates several schools in Madison and Grant Counties. Am. Compl. ¶ 7. At all times relevant to the instant litigation, Mr. Scott Deetz ("Dr. Deetz") served as the Superintendent of the School Corporation, Mr. Steven A. Vore served as its Assistant Superintendent, and Ms. Kristy Drewitz served as its Transportation Director. Vore Dep. 6–8, 27–28. Mr. Vore, as a named defendant, is sued in both his official and individual capacities. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. As Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Vore supervises the School Corporation's food services, maintenance, buildings and grounds, technology, and transportation departments. Vore Dep. 8.

A. Mr. Sizelove's Employment History and Background

In August 2009, Mr. Sizelove was hired by the School Corporation as a bus driver in which position he remained for over a decade while working on occasion for the School as a substitute bus driver, security guard, and deejay at dances. See Sizelove Aff. ¶ 2; Sizelove Dep. Vol. 1 at 9–12, 22–23; Vore Dep. 11. Mr. Sizelove's responsibilities as a bus driver included transporting students to and from school and ensuring the upkeep and cleanliness of his school bus. Sizelove Aff. ¶ 2. At all times relevant to this litigation, Mr. Sizelove also served as chief of the Summitville Fire Department where he had the access to office space. Id. ¶ 3.

B. Madison-Grant United School Corporation's Speech Policies

The School Corporation has in effect several policies concerning employee speech. The School Corporation's Policy Manual contains a Staff Network and Internet Acceptable Use and Safety Policy ("Acceptable Use Policy"), formally adopted by the School Board, which states in relevant part:

An employee's personal or private use of social media ... may have unintended consequences. While the [School] Board respects its employees’ First Amendment rights, those rights do not include permission to post inflammatory comments that could compromise the Corporation's mission, undermine staff relationships, or cause a substantial disruption to the school environment. This warning includes staff members’ online conduct that occurs off school property including from the employee's private computer. Postings to social media should be done in a manner sensitive to the staff member's professional responsibilities.

Vore Dep. at 31–32, Ex. 6 at 4–6.

Although the terms of the Acceptable Use Policy specifically reference social-media use, the policy is applied more broadly than "just social media." Vore Dep. 33.

The School Corporation has also promulgated a policy covering freedom of speech in noninstructional settings ("Speech Policy"), which states:

The School Board acknowledges the right of its professional staff members, as citizens in a democratic society, to speak out on issues of public concern. When those issues are related to the Corporation, however, the professional staff member's expression must be balanced against the interests of this Corporation.
The following guidelines are adopted by the [School] Board to help clarify and, therefore, avoid situations in which the professional staff member's expression could conflict with the Corporation's interests. In situations in which the professional staff member is not engaged in the performance of professional duties s/he should:
A. state clearly that his/her expression represents personal views and not necessarily those of the School Corporation;
B. not discuss with others any individual with whom s/he would normally be in daily contact in the performance of duties, in order to avoid the disruption of cooperative staff relationships;
C. refrain from expressions that would disrupt harmony among co-workers or interfere with the maintenance of discipline by school officials;
D. not make abusive or personally defamatory comments about co-workers, administrators, or officials of the Corporation;
E. refrain from making public expressions which s/he knows to be false or are made without regard for truth or accuracy;
F. not make threats against co-workers, supervisors, or Corporation officials.
Violation of these guidelines may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Vore Dep. at 50–51, Ex. 9.

II. Elementary School Realignment Plan

In early 2017, the School Corporation undertook consideration of a plan to consolidate two elementary schools in the towns of Summitville and Fairmount: instead of having a school in each town that serves students from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade, the proposed realignment plan would split the students into two schools: one school would enroll the pre-kindergarten through second grade children and the other school, the third grade through sixth grade children. Dkt. 62 at 3; Sizelove Aff. ¶ 4; see also Vore Dep. 17–18. The realignment plan required a vote of the Madison-Grant School Corporation's School Board to take effect and thus became a topic of public conversation and debate over the course of two separate years: first in 2017, and again in 2019. Vore Dep. 19–20. Mr. Vore and Dr. Deetz supported the realignment plan from its inception, but Mr. Sizelove was vocal in his opposition to the plan, making public comments both in 2017 and 2019 that the School Corporation considered inappropriate. Id. at 19, 22–23.

Mr. Sizelove asserts that his opposition to the reorganization plan stemmed from his familial connections to the schools involved. See Am. Compl. ¶ 13. Both of Mr. Sizelove's children attended schools operated by the School Corporation when they were elementary school age, and his grandchildren will begin attending elementary school in the School Corporation during the next few years. See id. Mr. Sizelove maintains that the realignment plan would directly affect his family because his grandchildren will be required to attend two different elementary schools located in two different towns. Id.

A. Realignment Plan Proposal in 2017

Discussions regarding the realignment plan commenced in early 2017. The goal of the plan was to place similar grade levels in each designated school and reduce the number of bus drivers and bus routes. Vore Dep. 19; Sizelove Dep. Vol. 1 at 29. Several events occurring in April 2017 prompted the School Board to table discussions of the realignment plan and schedule a vote at a later time.

In early April 2017, the School Corporation's Transportation Supervisor, Ms. Kristy Drewitz, provided detailed bus schedules for the upcoming school year to Mr. Sizelove and at least one other bus driver. Sizelove Aff. ¶ 7. These schedules reflected significantly longer routes for many of the bus routes. Mr. Sizelove understood that these bus schedules would take effect if the realignment plan were approved. Id. Around the same time, the School hosted multiple public forums to discuss the realignment plan in order to share information about the plan and to solicit feedback from the community. Id. at ¶ 8. These public forums were not formal School Board meetings, but members of the School Board were in attendance, including Dr. Deetz and Mr. Vore. Id.

At a public forum held on April 19, 2017, Mr. Sizelove voiced his opposition to the plan during the public comments period. Sizelove Aff. ¶ 9; see Vore Dep. 64. He opined that if the plan were adopted bus routes would be too long and too costly for the School Corporation, and that emergency personnel response times would be too long. Vore Dep. 24–26. During this public forum, according to Mr. Sizelove, Dr. Deetz reported that he had previously met with the School's bus drivers and that the bus drivers were "on board" with the proposed realignment. Mr. Sizelove regarded Dr. Deetz's statement as untrue because Mr. Sizelove knew that he, as well as various other bus drivers, were opposed to the plan and that Dr. Deetz had never met with the drivers personally to discuss their opposition. Id. ¶ 8.

In reaction to Dr. Deetz's statement, Mr. Sizelove signed an online Facebook petition titled "Stop the realignment plan for Madison Grant United School Corp." Sizelove Dep. Vol. 1...

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