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Nickerson v. Webster Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 19, 2014

MRS. JANE S. NICKERSON, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
WEBSTER PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant-Appellee

Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Webster, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 69,650. Honorable Michael O. Craig, Judge.

CULPEPPER & CARROLL, PLLC, By: Bobby L. Culpepper, Counsel for Appellant.

HAMMONDS, SILLS, ADKINS & GUICE, LLP, By: Jon K. Guice, Counsel for Appellee.

Before BROWN, WILLIAMS & PITMAN, JJ.

OPINION

Page 248

[49,435 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] PITMAN, J.

Plaintiff Jane S. Nickerson appeals the district court's granting of a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Webster Parish School Board (" School Board" ). For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS

In March 2008, Mrs. Nickerson, a tenured teacher at Shongaloo High School who taught sixth-and seventh-grade students, met with Webster Parish Superintendent Wayne Williams regarding deficiencies in her teaching practices and classroom management skills. Supt. Williams gave Mrs. Nickerson the option to retire or to have formal tenure charges brought against her. On March 20, 2008, Mrs. Nickerson submitted a handwritten letter stating that she " plan[ned] to retire on June 10, 2008." Mrs. Nickerson was placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the school year.[1] On June 6, 2008, Mrs. Nickerson wrote a letter to Supt. Williams stating that she no longer intended to retire and requesting that she have the opportunity to continue teaching. As a result, Supt. Williams initiated a hearing process by recommending to the School Board that formal tenure charges be brought against Mrs. Nickerson. The School Board brought the following charges: Charge 1: Incompetency; Charge 2: Willful Neglect of Duty;

Page 249

Charge 3: Willful Neglect of Duty; Charge 4: Willful Neglect of Duty and Incompetency; and Charge 5: Willful Neglect of Duty. The School Board scheduled a tenure hearing, and Supt. Williams [49,435 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] notified Mrs. Nickerson of this hearing and provided her with a written copy of the charges against her.

At the October 20, 2008 tenure hearing, the School Board heard testimony from numerous witnesses and reviewed copious documentary evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the School Board found Mrs. Nickerson guilty of Charges 1, 2, 3 and 4 (incompetency only). At the recommendation of Supt. Williams, the School Board terminated her employment by a unanimous vote of nine to zero.

On August 31, 2009, Mrs. Nickerson filed a petition alleging that her discharge from her teaching position violated La. R.S. 17:443, the Louisiana Teacher Tenure Law.[2] She stated that she was entitled to be reinstated with full pay for any loss of time or salary she sustained by reasons of the action of the School Board. Mrs. Nickerson argued that the actions of the School Board were arbitrary, capricious and/or an abuse of discretion and that her dismissal should be reversed.

On October 7, 2010, the School Board filed an answer and stated that Mrs. Nickerson was afforded all procedural protections to which she was entitled by La. R.S. 17:443. The School Board also noted that Mrs. Nickerson resigned from her position and that she was terminated by a unanimous vote of the School Board. The School Board stated that the matter before the district court was to be an appeal from an administrative [49,435 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] hearing and not a trial de novo.

On August 19, 2011, the School Board filed a motion for summary judgment. In support of this motion, it submitted several exhibits, including Mrs. Nickerson's retirement letter, the School Board's policy regarding resignation of employees, correspondence from Supt. Williams regarding Mrs. Nickerson's placement on paid leave, correspondence from the School Board to Mrs. Nickerson regarding the charges against her and a photograph of prescription medication left unsecured on Mrs. Nickerson's desk. In a memorandum in support of the motion for summary judgment, the School Board stated that the district court was to review the actions of the School Board, specifically whether the statutory formalities were complied with and whether the School Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence. It argued that a review of its decision was unnecessary because Mrs. Nickerson resigned from her teaching position and could not rescind her resignation. The School Board explained that, after Mrs. Nickerson attempted to rescind her resignation, it initiated the hearing process out of an abundance of caution. The School Board stated that it fully complied with all of the statutory requirements of La. R.S. 17:443 and that its decision was based on substantial evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.

Page 250

On November 21, 2011, Mrs. Nickerson filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. She stated that it was improper for the district court to weigh the affidavits and other evidence submitted in support or opposition of a motion for summary judgment. In an affidavit, Mrs. Nickerson gave her account of the tenure hearing, stating that [49,435 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] it lasted from 6 p.m. to 4 ...


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