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Okuarume v. Southern University of New Orleans

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

April 25, 2018

AUGUSTINE "AUSTIN" OKUARUME
v.
SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS; THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY; AND DR. ROBERT B. GEX, CHANCELLOR OF SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 1995-06843, DIVISION "F" Honorable Christopher J. Bruno, Judge

          Dwan S. Hilferty ATTORNEY AT LAW COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          Winston G. DeCuir, Sr. DECUIR CLARK & ADAMS COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          (Court composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Tiffany G. Chase)

          TIFFANY G. CHASE JUDGE.

         The Appellant, Augustine Okuarume (hereinafter "Mr. Okuarume"), appeals the June 12, 2017 trial court judgment granting the motion for summary judgment filed by his former employer, Southern University of New Orleans (hereinafter "SUNO").[1] Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment granting the motion for summary judgment.

         Mr. Okuarume was hired as an adjunct instructor by SUNO, in the Spring semester of 1991, to teach evening and weekend business courses. He maintained this position from Spring 1991 to Spring 1994. Mr. Okuarume signed a teaching assignment memorandum (hereinafter "teaching agreements") for Fall 1991, Fall 1992, Spring 1993, Fall 1993 and Spring 1994.[2] The teaching agreements indicated which classes Mr. Okuarume would teach and the projected salary schedule for each class taught.[3] On May 12, 1995 Mr. Okuarume filed a petition for damages for unpaid wages arguing that SUNO added classes to his teaching schedule whereby he was teaching the same amount of classes as a full-time instructor but was not being compensated the same. He further argued that SUNO refused to pay him the additional salary in accordance with La. R.S. 23:631.[4]

         On December 1, 2016, SUNO filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that there was no contractual dispute between the parties because Mr. Okuarume was paid the amount he agreed to in his teaching agreement and that the revisions of La. R.S. 23:631 were inapplicable. In support of its motion for summary judgment, SUNO submitted teaching agreements, signed by Mr. Okuarume, for Fall 1991, Fall 1992, Spring 1993, Fall 1993 and Spring 1994; correspondence from Viola D. King, Dean of Evening and Weekend College, regarding Mr. Okuarume's employment; pay stubs for Mr. Okuarume for the relevant semesters; an affidavit from Winston G. DeCuir, Sr. providing excerpts of the rules and policies of SUNO as well as, excerpts from the faculty guide for the evening and weekend college at SUNO; and an affidavit from Dr. Press L. Robinson, former chancellor of SUNO, providing details on the role and responsibilities of an adjunct instructor at SUNO.

         In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Mr. Okuarume maintained that SUNO expanded his duties and failed to comply with the signed teaching agreements because it added additional courses after the teaching agreements were executed and as such, he was entitled to be paid as a full-time instructor. In support of his opposition to the motion, Mr. Okuarume submitted logs which listed other instructors, the courses assigned to each and the salary received; an unsigned position vacancy announcement indicating the position for which Mr. Okuarume was applying for as a "tenure" position; SUNO's evening and weekend college faculty guide; and an affidavit from Mr. Okuarume detailing the specific work he performed as an instructor.

         A hearing on the motion was held on February 3, 2017. The trial court noted that Mr. Okuarume had the burden of establishing that a contract existed and a subsequent breach thereof. The trial court concluded:

The fact is that he has the burden of establishing an agreement and a breach thereof. He has done nothing other than say, well, other professors were getting more money than me, therefore, I should have gotten the same money because they taught the same course that I taught. There has to be some connection in the facts; an affidavit by him saying that is what they told me or not that other people were getting more money than me. I cannot presume an agreement unless one is set forth in writing or orally… . When you look at the evidence the document that he did sign on those four or five occasions do not limit him to two classes. It says specifically, we reserve the right to modify this assignment if necessary. He says, I accept the above assignment with the understanding that modifications may be necessary or he could have simply said I do not want this assignment. He understands that he may be receiving modifications when he signs this. He gets additional assignments and he gets paid exactly in accordance with this document an additional $1, 100.00… . He has just not established a contractual relationship between himself and the university by oral or written form, and he has not shown a breach of an agreement whereby the university promised him X dollars for four-course teaching similar to that of a full-time professor.

         Following the hearing, the trial court granted SUNO's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Okuarume's case. This appeal followed.

         An appellate court reviews a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment de novo. In Chatelain, this Court set forth the applicable standard of review as follows:

Appellate courts review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, using the same criteria applied by trial courts to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. This standard of review requires the appellate court to look at the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, to determine if they show that no genuine issue as to a material fact exists, and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material when its existence or nonexistence may be essential to the plaintiff's cause of action under the applicable theory of recovery; a fact is material if it potentially insures or precludes recovery, affects a litigant's ultimate success, or determines the outcome of the legal dispute. A genuine issue is one as to which reasonable persons could disagree; if reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, no need for trial on that issue ...

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