Wallin v. Minnesota Dept. of Corrections, Civ. No. 3-95-367.

Decision Date08 August 1997
Docket NumberCiv. No. 3-95-367.
PartiesCraig P. WALLIN, Plaintiff, v. MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Stephen Charles Fiebiger, Fiebiger Law Office, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiff.

Kurt J. Erickson, Marsha Eldot Devine, Minn. Atty. Gen., St. Paul, MN, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MAGNUSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Dismissal and Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Craig P. Wallin began working for Defendant Minnesota Department of Corrections ("Corrections") at the Stillwater facility ("STW") in 1980, progressing from a Corrections Officer I to a Corrections Officer III by 1985. The record shows no problems with Wallin's job performance until 1991, when he was diagnosed with symptoms of depression.

In March 1992, Wallin was charged with gross misdemeanor assault against his live-in girlfriend. While the charge was pending, he entered a chemical dependency treatment program and returned to work on the condition that he remain chemical free for a period of three years. He eventually pleaded guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to fifteen days in jail.

After the conviction for assault, Corrections sent Wallin a discharge letter. Then-Warden Robert A. Erickson cited as the cause of termination Wallin's criminal conviction and the negative message it sent to co-workers and inmates. Wallin's discharge became effective on August 27, 1992.

Wallin subsequently grieved his discharge through his union, AFSCME, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between AFSCME and the State of Minnesota. AFSCME reached a settlement with Corrections on behalf of Wallin, releasing all claims in return for Wallin's reinstatement at the same level of pay but with a demotion to Corrections Officer II. The settlement also provided for back pay and benefit accruals and contained a provision that Wallin's continued employment was contingent upon completion of his current treatment program.

Wallin returned to work on January 13, 1993. Problems between Wallin and his co-workers — in particular, Defendants Dennis Benson (Warden), David Corbo (Personnel Director), Elizabeth A. Hughes (Corrections Officer II), and Terry Bath (Corrections Officer II and III) — arose form the start. Wallin was accused of several transgressions, including calling co-workers derogatory names, mistreating and belittling inmates, breaching security, and threatening and intimidating Hughes. In turn, Wallin claims to have been harassed and discriminated against because of his disability, citing in particular one incident in which he overheard Bath make a reference to "alcoholic fuckers."

The incident between Wallin and Hughes, which occurred on April 20, 1993, prompted Corrections to convene a disciplinary committee to review allegations against Wallin. During the committee's investigation, Wallin was placed on a five-day investigatory suspension without pay. The committee recommended to Warden Benson that Wallin be terminated. Benson agreed and sent a discharge letter to Wallin on April 30, 1993. Also on that day, Wallin was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against him and to the discharge letter. After the hearing, Benson carried out Wallin's discharge, citing a pattern of misconduct and the need to protect both STW employees and the public.

Wallin grieved this second discharge once again through AFSCME, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. The grievance was eventually arbitrated. The arbitrator reinstated Wallin but denied him back pay from the time of his discharge in April 1993 until he returned to work in May 1994. Wallin also filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. He remains employed with Corrections at STW.

Wallin now brings this action, alleging twelve counts against Defendant Corrections and against Defendants Benson, Corbo, Hughes, and Bath in their individual and official capacities. Six counts invoke federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1331: violation of due process — property interest, violation of due process — liberty interest, violation of equal protection, conspiracy, violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The remaining six counts are supplemental state claims brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). Wallin asks the Court for compensatory and punitive damages, back pay, lost wages and benefits, and other equitable relief as the Court deems appropriate. Defendants move for summary judgment on the federal claims, alleging that Wallin has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact on at least one element of each count. Defendants move for dismissal of the state claims on jurisdictional grounds or, in the alternative, for summary judgment for failure to raise a genuine issue of material fact on each claim.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P.56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Unigroup, Inc. v. O'Rourke Storage & Transfer Co., 980 F.2d 1217, 1219-20 (8th Cir.1992). To determine whether genuine issues of material fact exist, a court conducts a two-part inquiry. The court determines materiality from the substantive law governing the claim. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the lawsuit according to applicable substantive law are material. See id. A material fact dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See id. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. at 2510-11.

Because discrimination is difficult to prove by direct evidence, courts should not grant summary judgment in employment discrimination cases "unless the evidence could not support any reasonable inference for the nonmovant." Wooten v. Farmland Foods, 58 F.3d 382, 385 (8th Cir.1995) (quoting Crawford v. Runyon, 37 F.3d 1338, 1341 (8th Cir.1994)); see also Johnson v. Minnesota Historical Soc'y, 931 F.2d 1239, 1244 (8th Cir.1991). Summary judgment is appropriate only when a plaintiff fails to establish a factual dispute on each element of the prima facie case. See Bialas v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 59 F.3d 759, 762 (8th Cir.1995).

III. DISCUSSION
A. Release of Claims

The Settlement and Release between the State of Minnesota, Department of Corrections, MCF-Stillwater and Minnesota State Employees Union, AFSCME, Council 6, AFL-CIO ("Settlement Agreement") is clear and unambiguous. Entered into on December 11, 1992 "to resolve the grievance of Mr. Craig Wallin," the Settlement Agreement declares its purpose to be "to finally and forever resolve this grievance and all disputes regarding this matter." (Second Amended Compl. Ex. A.) To this end, paragraphs seven and eight state:

7. The parties agree that this Settlement and Release is made for the purpose of releasing and discharging each other (including their employees, agents, officers and officials jointly and severally, individually and in their official capacities) by compromising and finally settling all claims, differences, grievances and causes of action against the above-noted parties based on any and all acts or omissions allegedly committed by them, including but not limited to, claims based upon contract, employment agreement, violation of statutory law, violation of civil or constitutional right, or tortuous [sic] conduct arising from or in any way connected with the parties' employment relationships, up to and including the date of this Settlement and Release.

8. This Settlement and Release waives or releases rights or remedies provided under Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 363, the Human Rights Act. This document constitutes written notice to the signatory party of the right to rescind this waiver or release within 15 calendar days of its execution by all parties. To be effective, the rescission must be placed in writing and be delivered to the departmental representative signing below either by hand or mail within the 15 calendar day period.

Id.

Defendants argue that the Settlement Agreement bars Wallin from asserting any claims arising from acts on or before December 11, 1992. Defendants contend that Wallin voluntarily accepted the terms of the agreement and is therefore bound by it. In support, Defendants adduce evidence that Wallin signed the agreement, stating, "I understand and voluntarily accept the terms of this Settlement and Release," and that Wallin testified in his deposition that he had indeed agreed to the Settlement Agreement. (Wallin Dep. at 318-20.) Moreover, Defendants note that Sid Helseth, the representative who signed the Settlement Agreement for AFSCME, testified that Wallin was a party to and had authority to revoke the agreement, and that Attorney Fiebiger wrote a letter to Helseth suggesting that Wallin was releasing all claims under the agreement. (See Helseth Dep. at 12-13, 16, 18-20, 90-91, Exs. 1 and 2.)

Wallin counters that the Settlement Agreement was between AFSCME and Corrections only and that he was not a party to it. Therefore, he argues, he is not bound by it and has not released any of his claims prior to December 11, 1992. (See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Summ. J. at 8 n. 4.)

Wallin, however, cites no authority to support his contention that the Settlement Agreement between Corrections and AFSCME,...

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