Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Judge tosses former principal's lawsuit against Huff, Besendorfer, Doerr

Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Gayle Crane sustained a motion to dismiss former Royal Heights Principal Larry Master's lawsuit against former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff and assistant superintendents Angie Besendorfer and Steve Doerr.

The decision apparently marks the end of the road for Masters' legal action against the former R-8 officials. Masters had already been given a contract to be Royal Heights principal for the 2010-2011 school year when allegations surfaced that cheating had taken place on the annual MAP tests.

Court filings indicate that Doerr and former Curriculum Director Chris Templeton investigated and found no evidence that there had been any cheating. Though no evidence of wrongdoing was found, the investigation turned in another direction, with claims that Masters and teacher Kristi Stuck were creating a "negative and intimidating" environment.

Following a closed door session of the R-8 Board of Education, Masters was demoted from building principal to teacher, a step that had to be taken since he was a tenured teacher.

Though the steps that led to Masters' demotion were carried out by Doerr and Templeton, evidence from the closed session that might have implicated Huff and Besendorfer was never allowed to be examined.

When Masters first filed his lawsuit two years ago, the only defendant was Besendorfer. A deposition had been scheduled for former R-8 Board member Jim Kimbrough, in which Kimbrough was apparently prepared to share what had occurred in the closed session. Judge David Dally agreed with Besendorfer's attorney, Karl Blanchard, that the information from the closed session was off limits. His ruling was appealed and Masters also lost in the Southern District Court of Appeals.

At that point, the first lawsuit was dismissed by Masters' attorney and a few days later, the second complaint was filed, adding Huff and Doerr as defendants.

In an October 19 filing, Masters' attorney Raymond Lampert, Springfield, refuted the points Blanchard made in his motion to dismiss.

The record in this matter shows that there remain genuine issues of material fact that would preclude the entry of summary judgment for the defendants in this matter. Defendants have raised five points in support of their motion:

1. That the record contains no evidence of ill will

2. That the defendants made no misrepresentations or improper acts

3. That there is no evidence that the defendants acted without justification

4. The defendants are protected by official immunity, and

5. Because there is no underlying text, there is no basis to find a civil conspiracy.

The record shows that there is sufficient evidence to support each element of the plaintiff's claim and therefore summary judgment is inappropriate.

Plaintiff Masters had been offered a contract to continue his term as a principal of Royal Heights Elementary in Joplin by the Board of Education in 2010. Immediately following this, Defendant Doerr began investigating alleged improprieties involving the administration of the MAP test at Royal Heights Elementary. When the investigation failed to uncover any wrongdoing on the part of Plaintiff Masters, Doerr instead began to interview the teachers at Royal Heights about allegations of "bullying" and "intimidation."

As the deposition excerpts above show, this investigation also failed to uncover any tangible evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Larry Masters. Rather, the investigation found vague allegations that some teachers stated they felt intimidated by one of Masters' subordinates, Kristi Stuck. Again, as the deposition excerpts show, none of the complaints involved allegations of misconduct or even any specific wrongful acts on the part of Ms. Stuck or Mr. Masters.

Although Masters was not personally aware of the statements the Defendants made to the Board because said statements were made in a closed meeting without him personally present, Defendant Doerr did testify as to his own statements to the Board.

When asked about his report to the Board of Education, Mr. Doerr testified that he recommended that the Board rescind its offer of employment to Mr. Masters because "there was a lot of unrest in the building and that the climate was not conducive to a positive learning environment."

This report was based solely on allegations that certain teachers at Royal Heights had negative feelings about one of Mr. Masters' subordinates. Based on this, Dr. Doerr recommended that Mr. Masters be demoted from his position and lose his status as a principal.

A finder of fact could reasonably conclude that Dr. Doerr acted with malice and without justification in making such a recommendation after having failed to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Masters or any evidence that he had permitted Kristi Stuck to take any improper or wrongful action.

Likewise, if a finder of fact determines that Dr. Doerr acted in bad faith, then that would defeat his claim of official immunity and the Defendants' claim that there is no evidence of civil conspiracy.

There is sufficient evidence in the record to show that the Defendants made a decision to remove Larry Masters from his position as a principal or Royal Heights Elementary. When Doerr was unable to uncover any evidence that Masters had committed any wrongdoing with the MAP test, he instead decided to find a reason involving allegations that teachers had negative feelings toward Kristi Stuck, and that therefore Masters should be removed because of those feelings, absent any solid testimony that either Masters or Stuck had actually taken action to "bully" or "intimidate" any of the teachers.

This recommendation was supported by the co-Defendants, who were present at and participated in the decision in front of the school board. Summary judgment is therefore inappropriate and the Defendants' motion should be denied.


Anonymous said...

Does he have appeal rights for this case?

Anonymous said...

Such an injustice.................

Anonymous said...

Stop with that picture!

Anonymous said...

Irving wasn't a pleasant place to work either.
There was bullying going on. That's something that is hard to prove.