The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:
Violation of a Court order.
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,
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
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, 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 ...