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Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Clinton Com.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of De Witt County; the Hon. WORTHY B. KRANZ, Judge, presiding.


This case involves a suit for damages by plaintiff George Williams, a former Clinton High School coach, against the defendant Board of Education of Clinton Community Unit School District No. 15 (Board), for the loss of plaintiff's personal coaching library which had been contained in plaintiff's file cabinet and removed and thrown away by defendant's agents. Plaintiff had been a football coach at Clinton High School for 10 years. Prior to that he had coached for seven years at other high schools. His career as a player had spanned 12 years from little league through college. While playing and studying football, he compiled a reference file supplemented by extensive notes for future use in his coaching career. After he commenced coaching, he attended at least 60 coaching clinics and acquired other reference material and made similar notes of the presentations at the clinics as well as making notes of plays in football games he saw on television. All this material made up plaintiff's coaching reference library and was kept in a file cabinet in the coach's room.

The plaintiff was relieved of his coaching duties by the Board on December 18, 1973. On Friday, January 15, 1974, while having coffee with Al Austin, the athletic director, he was requested by Mr. Austin to remove part of his coaching reference materials from the file cabinet. On that same day plaintiff took two boxes to the area and determined that they would not hold all of the material. On Monday, January 28, 1974, he took additional empty boxes to the area to remove the materials and found the drawers of the file cabinet empty. Subsequently, on February 8, 1974, plaintiff, accompanied by Mr. Austin, discovered a small quantity of the material that had been missing previously. It consisted mainly of noncoaching material. Later that same day, Mr. Reineck, Mr. Austin and plaintiff were in the coach's office and discovered 85 empty manila folders. These folders had contained the plaintiff's reference material and notes and were labeled as to their contents. Using the labels, plaintiff was able to compile a list of the materials for which notes had been made and filed in the folders.

This list was attached to the amended complaint as Exhibit A and was marked for identification at trial, but was not admitted.

At trial, evidence was adduced that student manager, Norman Hoback, during January 1974, had removed the plaintiff's coaching materials from the file cabinet on two separate occasions. The first time was at the direction of Mr. Austin who told him to take the material from one drawer. Austin, in rebuttal, stated he had already checked with Williams about clearing out the entire file cabinet because he needed a file drawer for some of his own material. He asked Hoback to clear a drawer out and put the material in a box and put the box under the desk. The second time plaintiff's material was removed from the cabinet was the next evening or the evening after that. This time the removal was approved by Mr. Reineck. On cross-examination, Hoback stated: "Question: He [Reineck] told you to get rid of them? Answer: Yea, to get rid of, I don't remember saying throw out or anything to indicate destruction, I mean to get rid of."

On both occasions the coaching materials had been placed on the floor of the office in which the file cabinet was located. The school janitor, Ralph Pear, stated that on January 28, 1974, he had removed the material he had found on the floor and placed it in the trash and again on January 29, 1974, he removed material found on the floor. The material found the second night was put in the janitor's room and two nights later discarded. The janitor was told to remove the material by Hoback and he assumed that the student manager had authority to tell him to remove it.

The school superintendent, Dr. George Edwards, testified that the security of the school was adequate for the protection of the files the teachers maintained there. He stated that teachers could rely upon the security and assume that their property would be safe.

Dr. Harold Allen, a school board member during the 1973-74 school year, testified that a teacher or coach had a right to rely on the security furnished him by the school for the protection of his materials in the school and that the administrators of the school would be derelict if they did not develop policies to further this end.

The plaintiff testified that the value of the material destroyed was $50,000. He arrived at this figure by discussion with other coaches and stated that he could not use other coaches' notes to replace the material. He said it was customary for coaches to take their coaching material with them when they changed teaching positions. These materials, he said, were essential for coaching and represented many hours of long hard work. On cross-examination, plaintiff maintained that it would be impossible to do a good job of coaching without his materials.

Seven other experienced football coaches testified as expert witnesses in plaintiff's behalf. Testimony of two of them was stricken while that of the other five was admitted over defendant's objections that their testimony was speculative since none of them knew exactly what was in the plaintiff's files. Each of these coaches testified that, like plaintiff, they had developed extensive reference files based on notes from prior games, coaching clinics and tips from other coaches. The witnesses described such files in such terms as "essential," "very important," "useful," and one coach even stated that "he could not coach without it." Each of these witnesses was asked the following hypothetical question:

"I ask you to assume the following facts. Assume the football coach has a reference file of football materials consisting of notes and records he had made and accumulated as a result of 13 years of playing football and 17 years of coaching. During this coaching career he had attended approximately 60 football clinics, corresponded and held discussions with other coaches, including nationally famous coaches, attended high school and college football games and observed football games on TV and made notes of all pertinent and relevant materials and included these in his files. Assuming further that these files occupied 2 1/2 file drawers, approximately three feet long. Now, based on these facts, do you have, in your experience, do you have an opinion as to the value of such a file?"

Their opinions as to value were as follows: (1) $40,000 to $50,000; (2) $40,000 to $60,000; (3) $75,000 to $100,000; (4) $40,000 to $45,000; and (5) $50,000.

Defendant presented no witnesses as to value, did not challenge the expertise of plaintiff's witnesses and made no effort to challenge ...

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