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McGuire v. Independent School District No. 833

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 24, 2017

Nathan C. McGuire Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Independent School District No. 833; Julie A. Bowlin; Thomas M. Bowlin; Chelon L. Danielson; Joy M. Szondy; Keith Jacobus, in his individual and official capacities; Denise Griffith, in her individual and official capacities Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: February 9, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before LOKEN, COLLOTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         From 2012 to 2014, Nathan C. McGuire was the head varsity girls' basketball coach at Woodbury High School, a public school within Independent School District No. 833 (the District) in Woodbury, Minnesota. In March 2014, the South Washington County School Board (the School Board) decided not to renew McGuire's coaching contract for the following school year. McGuire brought suit, alleging that the District and two of its employees violated his due process rights by declining to renew his contract solely on the basis of parent complaints. The district court[1] granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed McGuire's due process claims. We affirm, finding that the 2013 amendment to Minnesota Statue § 122A.33 does not grant McGuire a property interest in the renewal of his coaching contract.

         I. Background

         For purposes of this appeal, we accept as true the following factual allegations which come from the second amended complaint. Ashley Cty. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009). The District hired McGuire in fall 2012 as the varsity girls' basketball coach at Woodbury High School. During the 2012-2013 basketball season, McGuire and the coaching staff decided not to include a student on the team roster for a tournament because she acted disrespectfully toward a referee. The student's mother, defendant Joy Szondy, along with another player's parent, defendant Chelon Danielson, complained to the school, claiming the coaching staff lied about the student's behavior. The following year, another student's parents, defendants Julie and Tom Bowlin, complained to the school and the District because their daughter was not getting enough playing time on the team. According to the complaint, the parents demanded that McGuire be removed as head girls' basketball coach. The Bowlins' daughter subsequently transferred to another high school. Szondy, Danielson, and the Bowlins (collectively, the parent defendants) continued to seek McGuire's removal even after their daughters were no longer playing on the team.[2]

         On January 8, 2014, the Woodbury High School principal notified McGuire that he was being placed on paid, non-disciplinary leave pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations against him, and that he would not be permitted to perform his coaching duties until further notice. McGuire alleges that he was placed on leave solely because of the complaints from the parent defendants. The District retained a law firm to conduct the investigation, and an attorney interviewed players, coaches, parents, and McGuire. McGuire alleges that the investigation was conducted to "give the appearance of compliance" with the law. Following the investigation, the attorney prepared a report and provided it to the District. Despite his requests, McGuire claims he has not been provided a copy of the report, nor has he been informed of the allegations against him, the identity of the persons who made the allegations, or the evidence supporting them.

         On January 31, 2014, the principal notified McGuire that his administrative leave would continue until his current contract expired on March 22, 2014. At its March 6, 2014, meeting, the School Board approved the non-renewal of McGuire's contract. McGuire received a letter from the principal on March 14, 2014, notifying him of the decision. The letter stated the decision "is based on the results of a recent investigation and is not based solely on parent complaints." It provided several reasons for non-renewal, including that McGuire "failed to meet the administration's expectations;" that the administration "would like the Woodbury Girls' Basketball program to move in a different direction;" and that McGuire's "leadership style, coaching philosophy, conduct, and coaching methods differ from the leadership style, coaching philosophy, conduct, and coaching methods that are desired by the administration." Despite the reasons given, the complaint alleges that the District defendants actually decided not to renew McGuire's contract based solely on the existence of parent complaints.

         McGuire requested a hearing before the School Board. The District notified him that he was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing, but he could address the members of the School Board at a meeting. On May 8, 2014, McGuire made a statement before the School Board, explaining that he felt the reasons for non-renewal were unjustified, unsupported, and based solely on parent complaints. McGuire also presented 19 statements from players, parents, and coaches, who supported him and his assertion that parent complaints were the most credible explanation for the non-renewal of his contract. Over the objection of one Board member, the School Board did not take any action on McGuire's contract.

         In December 2014, McGuire brought suit against the District, the superintendent, the human resources director, and the parent defendants. In the second amended complaint, McGuire states six claims for relief. The first and second counts were brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District and its employees, respectively, for violations of McGuire's procedural due process rights. The remaining four counts were state statutory and common law claims. The District, superintendent, and human resources director (collectively, the District defendants) moved for judgment on the pleadings as to counts one and two, arguing that McGuire does not have a constitutionally protected property interest in the renewal of his coaching contract. The district court granted the motion, dismissed counts one and two with prejudice, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. McGuire appeals the district court's grant of the motion.

          II. Discussion

         McGuire argues that Minnesota Statute § 122A.33 creates a property interest in the renewal of his contract as the head girls' basketball coach when the sole basis for non-renewal was the existence of parent complaints. The determination of whether there exists a constitutionally protected property interest is an issue of law we review de novo. Buchanan v. Little Rock Sch. Dist. of Pulaski Cty., 84 F.3d 1035, 1038 (8th Cir. 1996). We also review a grant of a motion ...


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