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Heath v. College of Charleston

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

November 14, 2017

Matthew Heath, Plaintiff,
v.
College of Charleston, Glenn F. McConnell, President of the College of Charleston and Matt Roberts, Director of Athletics, in their Official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Matthew Heath's objections to United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin's report and recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 27 & 26). The Magistrate Judge recommends denying Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction (ECF No. 5). For the reasons stated herein, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and denies Plaintiff's motion.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Since the parties have no objections, the Court, finding no clear error, adopts the background set out in the R & R. The Court briefly summarizes and supplements that factual and procedural background as relevant.

         Plaintiff entered into a contract with Defendant College of Charleston on July 1, 2015, to be the head coach of the men's baseball team for five years. Plaintiff's contract provided that he could be terminated for “Just Cause, ” such as violating school or athletic conference rules, failing to perform job responsibilities, or violating the terms of the contract. The contract provided that if the athletic director initiated a termination for Just Cause, the director would notify Plaintiff, provide him an opportunity to respond, and submit a final recommendation to the College president. Plaintiff would have an opportunity to contest the recommendation, and the President would then make a final decision.

         In summer of 2017, the College investigated Plaintiff's performance and conduct. On June 14, 2017, the College's Athletic Director, Matt Roberts, notified Plaintiff of the initiation of Just Cause termination procedures. On June 16, Plaintiff objected that he had not been afforded a hearing to respond to the allegations of misconduct. On June 19, Plaintiff submitted a response to the notice. On June 23, Roberts submitted his final recommendation to Defendant College President Glenn McConnell. On June 28, Plaintiff objected to the recommendation and reiterated his request for a hearing. On June 30, President McConnell rendered a final decision to terminate Plaintiff.

         This suit was initiated on July 7, when Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting a deprivation of his constitutional due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On July 11, Plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin Defendants from violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights and to order a hearing with the opportunity to be represented by counsel, present evidence, and call and cross-examine witnesses. On August 30, the Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiff filed objections on September 13, and Defendants replied on September 25. Plaintiff filed a sur-reply on October 3, and Defendants filed a response on November 1. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         DISCUSSION

         A party seeking injunctive relief must show (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) that the injunctive relief he seeks is in the public interest. Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). The Magistrate Judge based her recommendation to deny the injunction on her finding that Plaintiff had not established that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his procedural due process claims.

         I. Objections One, Two, and Four

         Plaintiff's first objection is that that Magistrate Judge misapplied Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985), in determining that an adequate post-termination remedy exists for Plaintiff in the form of a claim for breach of contract in state court. Plaintiff's second objection is that the Magistrate Judge failed to apply the correct legal standard for determining when an adequate post-termination remedy exists for a public employee in a breach-of-contract action in state court. Plaintiff's fourth objection is that the Magistrate Judge erred in relying on Burch v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety, 158 F.Supp.3d 449 (E.D. N.C. 2016). All three objections require the Court to examine whether Plaintiff has an adequate post-termination remedy through a state court action, such as a claim for breach of contract.

         Applying Loudermill, the Magistrate Judge found that the College had provided Plaintiff with “oral or written notice of the charges against him, and an opportunity to present his side of the story, ” id. at 546, before termination because Plaintiff submitted an objection to the notice on June 16, a response with objections on June 19, and objections to Roberts' recommendation on June 28, all before President McConnell rendered his termination decision on June 30. Relying on Loudermill's direction that pre-termination procedures “need not be elaborate” when an employee is afforded adequate post-termination procedures, id. at 545, the Magistrate Judge ...


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