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Heath v. College of Charleston

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

June 15, 2018

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


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. [Doc. 42.] This magistrate judge has been assigned the case to review all pretrial proceedings and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. [Doc. 6.]

         Plaintiff commenced this action on July 7, 2017, by filing a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of procedural and substantive due process as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.[1] [Doc. 1.] Defendants filed an Answer to the Complaint on July 14, 2017. [Doc. 7.] Thereafter, on March 5, 2018, with leave from the Court, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, adding two state law causes of action for breach of contract and breach of contract accompanied by fraudulent act and clarifying that Plaintiff's two due process claims were for procedural due process as to Plaintiff's alleged property interest and liberty interest. [Docs. 55; 57.] Defendants filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint on March 15, 2018. [Doc. 58.]

         On January 17, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Defendants McConnell and Roberts are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiff's due process claims under § 1983. [Doc. 42.] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment on January 31, 2018 [Doc. 45], to which Defendants filed a reply on February 2, 2018 [Doc. 51]. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for review.


         The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff was hired pursuant to an employment contract by Defendant College of Charleston (“College of Charleston”), a public university, in 2015 to fill the position of Head Coach of the Intercollegiate Men's Baseball Team (“the Team”). [Doc. 5-3 at 1.] The employment contract between the College of Charleston and Plaintiff (“the Contract”) provided for a base salary of $150, 000 and various performance bonuses to be paid to Plaintiff upon the occurrence of certain specified events, including championship, academic, and coaching incentives. [Id. at 5-6 § 4.1.] The Contract, effective on July 1, 2015, was set to expire on the later of either: (1) June 22, 2020; or (2) the last game played by the Team during the 2019-2020 season. [Id. at 1 § 1.1.]

         The Contract provides for termination by the College of Charleston for “Just Cause, ” which the Contract defines in eleven enumerated paragraphs. [Id. at 9 § 5.1.1.] The Contract also outlines procedures for initiating a termination for cause:

In the event the [Director of Intercollegiate Athletics (“DIA”)] initiates a termination action pursuant to Section 5.1, the DIA will notify [Plaintiff] of such action, in writing, and shall specify the reasons for such action (the “Notice”). The Notice to [Plaintiff] shall afford him a reasonable period of time, in the sole discretion of the DIA, to respond to such reasons and to identify persons and/or documents that may be probative of relevant issues. The failure to respond to the Notice in the time specified shall be deemed to constitute Just Cause for termination. If a response is received in a timely manner, the DIA shall have up to ten (10) days to submit a recommended final decision to the President, provided that, the President, in his discretion, may extend such time period as he deems appropriate under the circumstances. [Plaintiff] shall have the right to receive a copy of the DIA's recommendation to the President. The [Plaintiff] may contest that recommendation within 3 calendar days of notice by sending a written objection to the President and the DIA. Thereafter, the President shall decide the matter and the President's decision shall be considered the final action of the College on such matter. . . .

[Id. at 10 § 5.1.2.]

         By the summer of 2017, Plaintiff became aware that the College of Charleston's Athletic Department had hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into Plaintiff's conduct as Head Coach. [Doc. 5-2 ¶ 5.] On June 14, 2017, Plaintiff received a document entitled “Notice of Initiation of Recommendation for Termination Action for Just Cause” (“Plaintiff's Notice”), in which Defendant Matt Roberts (“Roberts”), Director of Athletics, notified Plaintiff that he had initiated a recommendation to terminate Plaintiff for “Just Cause” based on the findings of the investigation. [Doc. 5-4.] The misconduct described in Plaintiff's Notice includes verbally and physically abusing players on the Team, using excessive running and inappropriate training drills, and holding practices on the Team's required off days. [Id. at 3-5.]

         On June 16, 2017, Plaintiff, through counsel, objected in writing, asserting that he had not been afforded any type of hearing to respond to the allegations of misconduct. [Doc. 5-5.] On June 19, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a written response and objection to Plaintiff's Notice. [Doc. 5-6.] On June 23, 2017, Roberts submitted his “Final Recommendation for Termination Action for Just Cause” to Defendant Glenn F. McConnell (“President McConnell”). [Doc. 5-7.] On June 28, 2017, Plaintiff objected in writing to the final recommendation, again asserting that he had been afforded no meaningful opportunity to explain his version of the events or to have the witnesses identified or questioned and pointing out the biased nature of the investigation. [Doc. 5-8.] Plaintiff requested an opportunity to present his evidence and witnesses at a hearing or to meet with President McConnell before he was terminated. [Id.] On June 30, 2017, President McConnell rendered his decision to terminate Plaintiff for “Just Cause, ” and denied that Plaintiff's due process rights were violated. [Doc. 5-9.] As stated, Plaintiff then commenced the instant action on July 7, 2017, alleging violations of his procedural due process rights, among other things. [See Docs. 1; 57.]


         Summary ...

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