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SEEFELDT v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIV. OF THE

December 14, 1979

Eugene Paul SEEFELDT, Plaintiff,
v.
The BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF the UNIVERSITY OF the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and Anita Hughes, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Eugene Seefeldt, an untenured faculty member under a one-year contract with the University of the District of Columbia, has brought this action for breach of contract, wrongful discharge, interference with contractual rights, and deprivation of property without due process, as a result of the decision not to reemploy him at the expiration of his contract. The Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia and Anita Hughes, Chairman of the department in which plaintiff taught, are named as defendants. This action is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, we dismiss the first three counts of plaintiff's complaint for lack of jurisdiction and we grant summary judgment for the defendants on the issue of deprivation of a property interest without due process.

 Plaintiff, Eugene Seefeldt, entered into an employment contract on July 12, 1971 with the Board of Higher Education and Federal City College to serve as an associate professor in the Graduate School of Federal City College. Plaintiff continued this employment, primarily on one-year contracts, until the public institutions of post secondary education in the District of Columbia were consolidated, at which time plaintiff entered into another one-year employment contract with defendant Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia to serve as an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecological Systems and Services (HESS).

 In December, 1975, plaintiff's evaluation by the HESS Department Evaluation Committee resulted in a recommendation that plaintiff be given a one-year terminal contract, which would end his employment with the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). To avoid this result, plaintiff wrote the chairman of the Evaluation Committee to acknowledge "slippage" in his job performance, to outline personal performance objectives which he would meet in the 1976-77 academic year, and to request that he be put on probationary status rather than on a terminal contract. This letter was characterized and accepted by the Evaluation Committee chairman and the Department chairman as a "performance contract," and plaintiff was placed on probationary status rather than on a terminal contract.

 Because plaintiff was on a yearly contract, he was again evaluated by a Faculty Evaluation Committee on December 13, 1976. The Evaluation Committee gave plaintiff a satisfactory rating and recommended retention for the 1977-78 academic year at current rank and salary. HESS Department Chairman, defendant Anita Hughes, disagreed with this evaluation and recommended a one-year terminal contract, noting on the evaluation form that plaintiff had not performed all of the objectives of his performance contract. On December 16, 1976, Dean Jenkins reviewed this form and recommended "terminal contract with sufficient justification." On this same date, Dean Jenkins wrote a memorandum to defendant Anita Hughes reiterating this recommendation. Plaintiff received a copy of this memorandum. On January 25, 1977, plaintiff wrote defendant Anita Hughes saying he intended to appeal the recommendation for a one-year terminal contract. On January 31, 1977, defendant Anita Hughes and Chairman of the Evaluation Committee, Anne Hughes (no relation to Anita), met with plaintiff. At this meeting, plaintiff signed the faculty evaluation form which proposed a one-year terminal contract for the 1977-78 academic year, which form gave him a satisfactory rating and noted that "Dr. Seefeldt is seeking employment elsewhere and has been kind enough to give the department a year's notice." The form also specifically contained plaintiff's concurrence with the evaluation and a statement that he did not plan to appeal. *fn1" Although plaintiff had noted an intention to appeal on January 25, 1977, he pursued no administrative appellate or reconsideration procedure, as provided for in university regulations.

 On December 21, 1978 plaintiff filed this action alleging breach of contract, interference with contractual rights, and wrongful discharge. The complaint was permitted to be amended to include an allegation of deprivation of property without due process of law.

 DISCUSSION

 Contractual Rights

 To fully understand these allegations and our handling of these issues, it is necessary to expand upon and enliven the sterile recitation of facts set forth above.

 The faculty evaluation form consists of two pages. The first page contains individual ratings for specific categories, which are combined for a Total Evaluation Score. The second page contains the recommendation and signatures of the chairman of the Evaluation Committee, the chairman of the department, the division chairman, and the dean of the school. Although this seems relatively straightforward, what resulted was more than a little confusing. Apparently, there are as many as four different versions of plaintiff's evaluation form with different page ones and page twos in various combinations. Who signed or wrote what at what time and who intended what when they signed or wrote on the evaluation forms is open to some question.

 A close and careful reading of several hundred pages of depositions suggests the following scenario. The initial evaluation form completed by the committee rated plaintiff "good," with a score (on page one) of 82/100. This was forwarded to defendant Anita Hughes, the department chairman, who disagreed with the recommendation, pointing out that the committee had not considered the plaintiff's failure to fully perform his performance contract. Defendant Anita Hughes asked Evaluation Committee Chairman Anne Hughes to have the committee reevaluate the plaintiff. Defendant Anita Hughes testified that at a subsequent meeting, Chairman Anne Hughes represented to her that the committee had reevaluated plaintiff and had reached a new and unsatisfactory evaluation. They then changed plaintiff's evaluation sheet to reflect a lower and unsatisfactory score (70/100). Defendant Anita Hughes testified she made the physical changes in the form with the concurrence of and in the presence of Chairman Anne Hughes. Chairman Anne Hughes does not remember whether or not the committee reevaluated plaintiff, does not remember signing the revised page one with the lower score, and is not sure that the signature in her name on that form is her signature. The other two members of the faculty evaluation committee do not recall a reevaluation of plaintiff, and they believe that the performance contract was considered by the committee in the initial evaluation. Apparently, there also was confusion whether the performance contract had to be fully performed or partially performed. Defendant Anita Hughes maintained it had be fully performed if plaintiff was to receive a satisfactory evaluation, while some members of the committee apparently felt that the contract only required good faith partial performance in order for plaintiff to receive a satisfactory evaluation. The record does not disclose a UDC policy offering guidance on this dispute.

 The record, such as it is, further reveals that another page two of the evaluation form was prepared, indicating that plaintiff was signing a terminal contract because he was voluntarily seeking new employment. This page two was then affixed to the page one which gave plaintiff a good rating (82/100). The net result was the appearance that plaintiff decided to leave of his own volition when he was in good standing with UDC. Defendant Anita Hughes testified that this arrangement was done at plaintiff's request, so that he would not be prejudiced in future job seeking by a terminal contract from UDC with an unsatisfactory job rating. This evaluation form is the document that plaintiff signed at the January 31, 1979 meeting with defendant Anita Hughes and Evaluation Committee Chairman Anne Hughes. Plaintiff does not remember much about that meeting except the names of those present. ...


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