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Vukadinovich v. Bartels

decided: July 29, 1988.

BRIAN VUKADINOVICH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KATHRYN BARTELS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE OF NEW DURHAM TOWNSHIP SCHOOL CORPORATION AND NEW DURHAM TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 82 C 108--Michael S. Kanne, Judge.

William J. Bauer, Chief Judge, John L. Coffey, and Joel M. Flaum, Circuit Judges.

Author: Bauer

WILLIAM J. BAUER, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff, Brian Vukadinovich, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 alleging violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments in connection with the termination of his employment as a public high school teacher.*fn1 His complaint also included pendent state law claims. Vukadinovich alleged that the defendants fired him in retaliation for the exercise of his right to free speech after his comments regarding his resignation as basketball coach were published in a local newspaper. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the First and Fourteenth Amendment claims and dismissed the pendent claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Vukadinovich appeals pro se. Because we agree with the district judge's determination that the speech at issue addressed a matter of personal rather than public concern, we affirm the judgment for the defendants.

I.

From 1976 to 1981, Brian Vukadinovich was a teacher of industrial arts, physical education, and drivers education at Westville High School. When he was hired, Vukadinovich was not licensed to teach industrial arts. He was assured, however, that the school would obtain a limited teaching license for him, allowing him to teach industrial arts until he could complete the courses required for certification. The superintendent did obtain a limited license for Vukadinovich by certifying "an emergency need for personnel in the teaching area," as required by Indiana regulation. See 530 Ind. Admin. Code 2-2-12 (1984). Vukadinovich never obtained permanent certification to teach industrial arts.

Vukadinovich also was coach of Westville's junior varsity basketball team. He alleges that, in March 1981, defendant James Rose, Principal of Westville High, told him that the New Durham Township Advisory Board had asked for his resignation as basketball coach. Vukadinovich therefore resigned from that position. Shortly thereafter, an article was published in a local newspaper regarding the resignations of Vukadinovich and another coach, Rick List. Containing quotations from Vukadinovich and List, the article stated:

More upset [than List] at the decision was Vukadinovich, who said, "I feel it's a shame for the school and the community it represents."

"It was Mr. Rose and the board and trustee's wishes. For me to get called in after a 14-5 season, I certainly have questions. I feel they're obligated to say why."

But so far, according to Vukadinovich, no reason has been given. "I've never been told that I've done anything wrong. All I was told was I wouldn't be offered a coaching position next year."

Vukadinovich has been at Westville five years, and posted the following records: 11-8 in '76-'77, 14-6 in '77-'78, 6-12 in '78-'79, 12-8 in '79-'80 and 14-5 in '80-'81. His team won the conference championship in 1977-'78, and tied for the crown the next three years. "I'm 100 percent impressed with the school's performance. I feel it's their loss."

"If there was a lack of interest I could understand it. But the community backed the team and I respect it. If anybody has anything to hide, fine. But I don't."

"The decision came as a surprise after what I achieved," Vukadinovich said. When asked if technical fouls which were a common occurrence in j.v. games, were the cause of his being fired, he said, "Any verbal disagreements were between me and the refs."

"I stood up for my players. I won't mention any names, but at a lower level there seems to be more technicals than are called on me. So if technicals were the issue, why would they come to me. They couldn't justify it as ...


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