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Lyons v. Vaught

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 24, 2015

Henry E. Lyons, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
F. Wayne Vaught; Reginald Bassa, Defendants - Appellants

Submitted: January 14, 2015.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City.

For Henry E. Lyons, Plaintiff - Appellee: Kenneth Eugene Cox, Kelly L. McClelland, Ryan L. McClelland, Jerome M. Patience, Mcclelland Law Firm, Liberty, MO.

For F. Wayne Vaught, Reginald Bassa, Defendants - Appellants: Michael L. Blumenthal, Deena B. Jenab, Seyferth & Blumenthal, Kansas City, MO.

Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 959

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

Henry Lyons taught a self-developed course for seven semesters as a part-time lecturer at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). He was not offered a position for the Spring 2012 semester and his course was dropped from UMKC's course catalog. Lyons brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 damage action in state court against three UMKC administrators, alleging unlawful retaliation in violation of his First Amendment free speech rights as a

Page 960

public employee. Defendants removed and moved to dismiss, arguing the Petition for Damages failed to allege that they were personally involved in the retaliatory conduct. Lyons filed an Amended Complaint and voluntarily dismissed his claim against UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton. The remaining defendants -- F. Wayne Vaught, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Reginald Bassa, Director of the Program for Adult College Education -- again moved to dismiss, arguing the Amended Complaint failed to state a claim and they are entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants appeal the denial of this motion.

We have jurisdiction over the denial of a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, including " whether a particular complaint sufficiently alleges a clearly established violation of law." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 673, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). We accept as true the facts alleged in Lyons's Amended Complaint and review de novo whether the complaint " state[d] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted). Applying these standards, we reverse.

I.

The Amended Complaint alleged that Lyons gave a student athlete a grade of " F" in the Fall 2010 semester. The student invoked UMKC's grade-appeal process in January 2011. Lyons met with Bassa and defended his grading. Bassa determined the student should be allowed to submit a second midterm paper before resolving the appeal. " Concerned about the legitimacy of the appeals process, as well as the preferential treatment afforded to this Student Athlete and others," the Amended Complaint alleged, Lyons complained to Dean Vaught, who referred the student's appeal to the Academic Standards Committee for the College of Letters and Science. The Committee determined the student should be allowed to write a second paper. Lyons " challenged the determination" to Dean Vaught, who upheld the Committee's ruling. In November 2011, the student submitted a second midterm paper, " a committee" appointed to grade the paper gave it a 75% grade, and Vaught instructed the registrar to change the student's course grade to D, a passing grade.

In late November 2011, the Amended Complaint alleged, Lyons -- accompanied by two " community leaders" and by the former Deputy Chancellor for Diversity -- met with Chancellor Leo Morton " to express [Lyons's] concerns about the preferential academic treatment afforded to student athletes on the UMKC campus." Lyons told Morton that preferential grading for athletes was unfair to other students and was " a growing problem on the UMKC campus" that " could lead to adverse publicity and sanctions." Lyons requested that Morton " undertake a comprehensive investigation into the preferential treatment afforded to student athletes." Morton said he was not prepared to take action. After this meeting, " Lyons also spoke with Bassa and Vaught, and voiced the same concerns he communicated to Chancellor Morton." " Both Bassa and Vaught said they would contact Chancellor Morton to discuss the situation moving forward." Lyons heard ...


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