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MCGUFFIN v. SPRINGFIELD HOUSING AUTHORITY

July 1, 1987

ROBERT MCGUFFIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SPRINGFIELD HOUSING AUTHORITY, ITS BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; BRUCE STRATTON, PHINEAS HURST, IN THEIR CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE SPRINGFIELD HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:

OPINION ORDER

Violation of a Court order.

Civil contempt?

Just so.

Court orders are to be complied with both in letter and spirit — lack of scienter is beside the mark.

Robert McGuffin, former Executive Director of the Springfield Housing Authority, instituted this lawsuit in May 1979 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the municipal body and its governing board to contest the termination of his employment as violative of procedural due process.

The litigants subsequently settled the controversy in October 1979. The late Judge J. Waldo Ackerman entered an order under which McGuffin agreed to resign in exchange for, among other things, Defendants' promise to furnish a form letter to any prospective employer of Plaintiff making inquiry:

  The Springfield Housing Authority will answer all
  employment inquiries made by prospective employers of
  Robert McGuffin by a letter . . . attached
  hereto. . . .

On April 19, 1985, Plaintiff filed a petition for a rule to show cause why Defendants should not be adjudged in civil contempt of the Court's lawful decree. Following a review of the record, this tribunal on December 3, 1986, ordered the Defendants to appear and answer McGuffin's charges. Argument ensued June 8, 1987.

McGuffin was one of the final candidates for the position of Executive Director with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Housing Authority in May 1983. According to the uncontroverted affidavits of the personnel director for the town and members of the agency's board of commissioners, the authority inquired by telephone about the Plaintiff but failed to receive the responsive letter from Defendants. Specifically, the personnel director spoke unsuccessfully with both an administrative assistant and a director, as well as the chairman, of the Springfield commission. Because she did not receive a reference, verbal or written, the director contacted a local newspaper and obtained unfavorable articles regarding McGuffin. Needless to say, McGuffin's efforts to secure employment in Chapel Hill fell short.

As a result of his former employer's inaction, Plaintiff claims his prospects for receiving the position were substantially diminished and his professional reputation harmed. He seeks compensatory damages of $50,000, reimbursement of fees and costs, and an order insuring future compliance.

Civil Contempt

Civil, as well as criminal, contempt proceedings arise under 18 U.S.C. § 401:

    A court of the United States shall have power to
  punish by fine or imprisonment, at its discretion,
  such contempt of its ...

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