Wefel v. Rockwood R-6 School Dist., 91-1278C(6).

Decision Date30 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. 91-1278C(6).,91-1278C(6).
Citation779 F. Supp. 468
PartiesMarguerite L. WEFEL, Plaintiff, v. The ROCKWOOD R-6 SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri

William J. Fletcher, Kirkwood, Mo., for plaintiff.

Thomas A. Mickes, Timothy J. Sarsfield, Peper, Martin, Jensen, Maichel & Hetlage, St. Louis, Mo., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GUNN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff Marguerite L. Wefel's complaint alleges that defendants, the Rockwood R-6 School District and individuals associated with that district, violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

Plaintiff was a tenured librarian with the Rockwood School District. In April 1990, plaintiff accepted early retirement effective June 1990. Plaintiff's communications with defendants indicated that she desired to retire in order to take care of an ill family member. Plaintiff now maintains that the sick family member was her niece who was born with Down's Syndrome and that plaintiff was so traumatized by her niece's condition that she was mentally incompetent to make a decision of this magnitude. Plaintiff asserts that when she regained her mental capacity in July 1990 she requested reinstatement, although she soon thereafter withdrew this request. In September, plaintiff again requested reinstatement, and in December, plaintiff, through her attorney, sought a hearing on her competency to enter into the original contract for retirement. Defendants refuse to reinstate plaintiff or hold a hearing on this or any issue relating to her early retirement.

Defendants contend that they did not deprive plaintiff of a protected property or liberty interest. Defendants agree with plaintiff that a tenured employee has a protected property interest in continued employment, but maintain that plaintiff freely decided to accept early retirement without even the slightest encouragement or suggestion from defendants, other than the announcement of the policy in the Staff Newsletter. Thus, plaintiff deprived herself of her property interest. Furthermore, defendants assert that they have not made any false public statements regarding plaintiff and that loss of employment without such false public statements does not constitute deprivation of a protected liberty interest.

Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion on two grounds. First, plaintiff asserts that her incompetence when she accepted early retirement makes that contract voidable and, therefore, defendants' refusal to hold a hearing constitutes discharge of a tenured employee without notice and a hearing. Second, plaintiff contends that defendants placed a letter in her personnel file characterizing plaintiff as a "liar and a fake." Plaintiff believes that potential employers accessed this information, resulting in stigmatization to her reputation.

Defendants object to plaintiff's assertions of law and fact. Defendants' reply, supported by affidavit, maintains that state law and district policy permits the district to disclose only dates of employment and positions held. Accordingly, the letter placed in plaintiff's personnel file was not publicly disclosed and plaintiff was not deprived of a protected liberty interest. With regard to plaintiff's property interest, defendants claim that even if the court accepts plaintiff's argument that the retirement contract is voidable, defendants hired a replacement for plaintiff, thus changing position in reliance on the plaintiff's resignation. They conclude, therefore, that plaintiff's retirement contract would no longer be voidable.1

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a movant is entitled to summary judgment if he can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that he is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See also Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467, 82 S.Ct. 486, 488, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962). The burden of proof is on the moving party and a court should not grant a summary judgment motion unless it is convinced that there is no evidence to sustain a recovery under any circumstances. Foster v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 787 F.2d 390, 392 (8th Cir. 1986). Under Rule 56(e), however, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the allegations of his pleadings but must present affirmative evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514-15, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Due process requirements apply if state action has deprived an individual of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest. See Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 570-71, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2705-06, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); Walker v. City of Kansas City, 911 F.2d 80, 93 (8th Cir.1990), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 111 S.Ct. 2234, 114 L.Ed.2d 476 (1991). Tenured faculty enjoy a protected property interest because tenure guarantees a teacher continued employment unless sufficient cause is shown for termination. Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 601, 92 S.Ct. 2694, 2699, 33 L.Ed.2d 570 (1972). Voluntary resignation, without force or coercion, however, does not violate a tenured teacher's right to procedural due process of law because state action does not...

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  • Bhattacharya v. The Bd. of Regents of Se. Mo. State Univ.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • December 22, 2022
    ...sufficiently has alleged a property interest entitled to due process protection. Doc. [1] ¶ 191; Wefel v. Rockwood R-6 Sch. Dist., 779 F.Supp. 468, 471 (E.D. Mo. 1991) (citing Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 601 (1972)); Bd. of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576 (1972).......

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