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Johnson v. Bd. of Junior College Dist. No. 508

JULY 29, 1975.

NOEL E. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

BOARD OF JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT NO. 508 ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES. — LEON NOVAR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

BOARD OF JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT NO. 508 ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. BENJAMIN SCHWARTZ, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE HAYES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiffs Leon Novar and Noel Johnson, formerly professors at Wilson Junior College (a unit in the system of Chicago City Colleges) appeal from an order dismissing their respective amended complaints for libel and miscellaneous related torts. Their complaints were brought against approximately 20 defendants, comprising the Board of Education of Junior College District 508, its members, certain administrative officers of the Board and of the College, and certain faculty members of the College. Basically, the suits arose out of a chain of events prompted by student charges that the appellants had refused to use black-authored books in their courses in breach of a Departmental agreement to do so. After considerable turmoil, Novar and Johnson were transferred at the end of the semester involved to another junior college within the system.

These cases were consolidated for hearing below and were decided together. Plaintiff's original complaints consisted respectively of 13 counts in 55 pages (plaintiff Novar) and 15 counts in 63 pages (plaintiff Johnson); both complaints were stricken as verbose. Upon plaintiffs' filing of two still-lengthy amended complaints, defendants renewed their motion to dismiss. The trial court thereupon dismissed the respective complaints on the merits, treating all counts of the complaints as an attempt to state a cause of action in libel. Citing New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), 376 U.S. 254, 11 L.Ed.2d 686, 84 S.Ct. 710, and Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc. (1971), 403 U.S. 29, 29 L.Ed.2d 296, 91 S.Ct. 1811, the trial court held that, on the facts alleged in the complaint, no cause of action in libel could be sustained.

While we disagree with the trial court's analysis of the substance of some of the counts in the complaints, we conclude that the complaints were properly dismissed on the merits. For various reasons which will be set forth in this opinion, plaintiffs' complaints fail to state any cause of action.

The two complaints are virtually identical except for two additional counts in the Johnson complaint. Therefore, for the purposes of this opinion, both complaints, with the exception noted, will be treated as identical. The Board, its members, and certain administrative officers are named in all counts except Counts VII and VIII. An individual faculty member is also named in Count XI. Members of the faculty only is are named in Count VII. The chancellor of the College System only is named in Count VIII. All allegedly defamatory statements are included in the complaints as exhibits. We will review the allegations of the several counts.

Paragraphs 1 to 18 of Count I contain information common to all counts and are realleged, with few exceptions, in all Counts. These paragraphs detail the careers of the respective plaintiffs and allege that each plaintiff had discharged all duties at the College and had complied with all the rules and regulations of the Chicago College System. In particular, it is alleged that each plaintiff had complied with the requirements of the Department of Social Science of Wilson College, imposed by virtue of a certain agreement with certain black students, by submitting a booklist in May of 1968 to the chairman of the department, which booklist had been accepted by the chairman and posted. The first 18 paragraphs further allege various duties of the Board, of its members, and of the administrators. In particular, it is alleged that those defendants had a duty to protect plaintiffs in their persons and reputations and to refrain from taking any actions which would cause injury to the persons or reputations of plaintiffs. It was further alleged that, prior to 8 November 1968, defendants had knowledge that the Afro-American Club at the College had violated college rules by seizing administrative offices and had selected plaintiffs as the prospective victims of further violent acts.

Counts I, III and V allege that the defendants either negligently or willfully and wantonly breached their duty to protect the plaintiffs' reputations by allowing certain defamatory documents to be published by certain students.

Counts II and IV allege that defendants either negligently or willfully and wantonly breached their duty to protect the plaintiffs' safety by failing to prevent students from taking control of plaintiffs' classes and from confining plaintiffs to their classrooms against their will.

Counts VI and IX allege that certain statements by the chancellor of the Chicago Junior College System constitute libel by virtue of innuendo and that this libel can be imputed to the remaining defendants who were members of the College Board.

Counts VII, VIII and X allege that statements published by certain faculty members, by the chancellor of the Chicago College System, and by the dean of instruction and faculty at Wilson College were libelous per se and that the alleged libelous statement in Count V is imputable to each of the defendants.

Count XIII alleges that, as a result of an order to stop meeting with their classes, issued in violation of established Board policy, plaintiffs suffered irreparable injury to their professional ability in that they were deprived of classroom contact.

Count XIV of Johnson's complaint alleges that defendant Charles Monroe, president of Wilson College Campus, intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Johnson by requiring her to leave a faculty meeting. Count XV of Johnson's complaint alleges that the act of transferring her to a different junior college carried with it a defamatory innuendo in that it was the established policy of the Board not to terminate an employee within a contractual period except for incompetence, immorality or conviction of a felony.

• 1 Initially, we note that plaintiffs have cited no authority, nor has our research disclosed any, in support of the proposition that faculty, administrators or board members of an educational institution have any duty to prevent students from making statements about given faculty members. We will not impose such a duty here. Hence, we will consider Counts I, III, and V no further.

Similarly, no authority has been cited to us, nor have we found any, in support of the proposition that the defendants had a duty to prevent students and other persons from taking control of the plaintiffs' classes. (See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 315 (1965).) The allegations that defendants approved and ratified these acts are mere conclusions of ...


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