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WOOD v. RUPPE

March 19, 1987

Dean E. Wood, Plaintiff,
v.
Loret M. Ruppe, et al., Defendants


Norma Holloway Johnson, U.S.D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHNSON

NORMA HOLLOWAY JOHNSON, U.S.D.J.

 Plaintiff Dean E. Wood brought this action on April 11, 1984, seeking declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief from the five Peace Corps officials who participated in the decision to terminate his services as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. The sole basis for Wood's termination was that he violated a Peace Corps policy that prohibits volunteers from publicly expressing views on United States or host country political issues while serving in their host countries. Wood alleged that this policy unconstitutionally violates his right to freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, both on its face and as applied to him and that his termination is consequently unlawful.

 In response to Wood's complaint, the defendants moved for summary judgment on Wood's claims against them in their individual capacities, arguing that they were entitled to absolute or, alternatively, qualified immunity. Wood cross-moved for summary judgment on his claims against the defendants in their official capacities. The defendants opposed the latter motion, stating that there were genuine issues of material fact "concern[ing] plaintiff's intentions with respect to his protest activities" that precluded summary judgment. Defendants' Rule 56(f) Affidavit of John D. Bates, August 31, 1984 at para. 4.

 In a Memorandum Opinion and Order issued September 27, 1985, defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted in that the defendants' were entitled to qualified immunity. At the same time, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was denied as there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute which precluded summary judgment.

 With the Court's approval, the parties agreed to engage in limited discovery and thereafter attempt to stipulate to a set of facts upon which the Court, after receiving legal memoranda from both sides, could decide this case. A set of Stipulated Facts was filed by the parties on February 25, 1986. Trial briefs were received by the Court thereafter. Upon consideration of the Stipulated Facts and the trial briefs, the Court holds that the Peace Corps' termination of Wood was not unconstitutional.

 BACKGROUND

 The facts of this case are set out in the Stipulated Facts filed by the parties. While the Court will not repeat those twenty-four pages of fact in full here, a brief summary is in order since the specific factual context in which the claim arose is particularly determinative in cases such as this. Wood joined the Peace Corps in August 1982 and was assigned to work in the Dominican Republic for a term of two years. During his tenure as a volunteer he earned praise as one of the "quieter, more serious volunteers," who was "highly qualified for his work," and had "an excellent record in the country."* The events that gave rise to Wood's termination began with the invasion of Grenada by United States Armed Forces in the early morning of October 25, 1983. Soon thereafter, the Dominican government assigned additional police to guard the United States Embassy.

 Wood first heard about the U.S. intervention in Grenada from a Dominican acquaintance on the evening of October 25, 1983. As he was on his way to visit a friend in the hospital and because he found the report difficult to believe he did not, at that time, consider any protest activity. When Wood arrived at work the next morning, he saw a newspaper account of the Grenada intervention. He then decided to protest that intervention at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo. Wood was not aware of the fact that violent demonstrations had taken place in Santo Domingo on the evening of October 25.

 Wood told his Dominican counterpart at the pottery project that he was going to Santo Domingo to protest the U.S. intervention in Grenada. Otherwise, he did not discuss his protest with anyone. Wood was wearing a tee-shirt which said "Cuerpo de Paz Republica Dominicana -- 1983" ("Peace Corps Dominican Republic -- 1983"). He decided to wear the tee-shirt before he went to work and saw the newspaper article describing the U.S. intervention. When he decided to go to Santo Domingo to protest, he did not change his clothes. According to a November 3, 1983, "Memorandum to the File" written by Noreen O'Meara, the Peace Country Desk Officer for the Dominican Republic, Wood stated at a meeting with the Dominican Republic Desk Unit of the Peace Corps "that he had not worn his Peace Corps tee-shirt intentionally (it was what he had worn to work that morning)."

 At approximately 10:15 a.m. on October 26, a delegation of about twenty-five members of the Dominican Leftist Front arrived at the U.S. Embassy to deliver a letter of protest against U.S. actions in Grenada to the Ambassador. An Embassy official accepted their letter outside the gates and they departed. The government of the Dominican Republic also officially protested the U.S. intervention in Grenada.

 After traveling more than an hour by bus, Wood arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo between 10:00 and 10:20 a.m. on October 26, and began carrying his signs in front of the Embassy on Embassy property. When he arrived, Wood did not see any other protesters. Almost immediately, Embassy guards told him he would have to leave. Shortly, thereafter, a policeman who was standing across the street from the Embassy approached Wood and told him that all legal protests had to take place across the street. Wood immediately complied and moved to the other side of the street.

 Once Wood was across the street, he was approached by reporters. In response to a reporter's question, Wood stated that he was a Peace Corps volunteer, but that he was expressing his personal viewpoint about the U.S. intervention in Grenada. At approximately 10:50 a.m., a Dominican policeman told Wood to move to the corner of the next block. When Wood attempted to comply, he was taken in for questioning by the Dominican police.

 Contemporaneous with Wood's demonstration, there were several student protests against the U.S. intervention in Grenada. One of these began approximately one mile from the U.S. Embassy at about the time of Wood's protest and moved toward the Embassy. The protesters, numbering between 200 and 300, passed the American Consulate but were prevented from reaching the U.S. Embassy by Dominican anti-riot police using tear gas. One Dominican newspaper reported that twenty-six students were injured in the protest. One protester was arrested and placed in the same car in which Wood was placed.

 Wood was taken to local police headquarters where he was held overnight but not interrogated by the police. Local counsel was retained for Wood by the Peace Corps and, together with Peace Corps and Embassy officials, worked with local authorities for Wood's prompt release. Mr. Duran, the Country Director for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, was informed by the Chief of Police, and later told U.S. Consul General Dudley Sipprelle, that Wood would be released immediately if the Peace Corps would return him to the United States forthwith.

 Late on October 26, a telephone call took place between Duran, Mr. del Rio, the Director of Inter-American Operations for the Peace Corps, and Ms. O'Meara, regarding the Wood incident. During that discussion, it was decided that since it seemed clear that Wood was speaking his personal opinion and was not connecting his protest with either the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government he would be given the opportunity to remain in the country. It was noted, however, that should the Ambassador recommend that Wood ...


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