from the Hamilton Superior Court, No. 29D01-1202-PL-001050.
The Honorable Steven R. Nation, Judge. On Petition to
Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
FOR APPELLANT JEFFREY HEWITT: Jason R. Delk, Daniel J.
Gibson, Delk McNally LLP, Muncie, Indiana.
FOR APPELLEE WESTFIELD WASHINGTON SCHOOL CORPORATION, et al.:
Séamus P. Boyce, Noblesville, Indiana; Brent R. Borg,
Kelleigh I. Fagan, Church Church Hittle & Antrim, Fishers,
FOR AMICUS CURIAE INDIANA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION: Lisa F.
Tanselle, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Justice. Rush, C.J., Dickson, Rucker and Massa, J.J., concur.
case involves termination of an elementary school principal
after the school board learned that the principal had been
involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher, one of his
subordinates. At issue is whether the school board provided
the principal with appropriate process when it terminated his
employment as an administrator. In a case of first
impression, we hold that the teacher's termination
statute, found at Indiana Code § 20-28-7.5-1 et seq.,
does not apply to termination of an administrator when his
underlying teaching contract is not being terminated. We
further hold that the provisions in the form teacher's
contract that make reference to an opportunity for hearing
and a just cause determination also apply only to the
termination of an administrator's underlying teaching
contract. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, the
principal was given sufficient notice and an opportunity to
and Procedural History
1, 2011, Jeffery Hewitt signed a contract with Westfield
Washington School Corporation (Westfield) that provided that
he would serve as Principal of Monon Trail Elementary School
(MTES). Hewitt's contract was the regular teacher's
contract used throughout Indiana, except that the contract
was limited to a two-year term and specified that Hewitt
would serve as Principal. With regard to termination, the
It is agreed by the parties hereto that in case the said
teacher should, after opportunity for hearing with benefit of
legal counsel, be held by said employer to be guilty of
incompetency, immorality, insubordination or other offense
recognized as just cause according to law for cancellation of
contract such teacher, subject to proper appeal shall be
deemed to be dismissed and shall thereafter hold no claim for
further compensation subject, however, to the provisions of
law concerning the employment and dismissal of teachers which
are in force and effect.
(Appellant's App. at 25.) In addition, the contract
included a provision that the parties agree " that all
laws governing the employment and dismissal of teachers shall
be construed to be a part of this contract."
November of 2011, Hewitt was approached by the Superintendent
of Westfield, Mark Keen, who informed Hewitt that there were
some concerns with his performance as Principal. Following
that meeting, Hewitt met with the Executive Director of Human
Resources, Chris Baldwin, who asked Hewitt about rumors that
Hewitt was engaged in a sexual relationship with another
staff member at MTES. Hewitt admitted to having a sexual
relationship with a MTES teacher from February of 2011 until
November of 2011.
concerns about the appropriateness of the relationship
between a supervisor and subordinate, the School requested
Hewitt's resignation. On December 13, 2011, Hewitt
tendered his letter of resignation, which was to become
effective June 30, 2012. When the resignation was presented
to the school board, the board was concerned with
Hewitt's continued employment as principal and thus, Keen
proposed the board accept the resignation but seek an earlier
effective date. The board agreed to this approach. However,
Hewitt refused to sign a revised resignation letter that
would have made his resignation effective immediately and
attempted to revoke his previous resignation.
upon Hewitt's refusal to resign immediately, he was
placed on leave while the school board sought cancellation of
his administrator's contract. Baldwin sent a letter dated
December 22, 2011 to Hewitt, explaining that a preliminary
recommendation was being made to the board to have
Hewitt's employment as an administrator terminated,
effective immediately. Several reasons were listed for
Hewitt's termination, including that Baldwin had concerns
about Hewitt's ability to be an administrator. The letter
also explained that Hewitt could request a " private
conference with the School Board regarding this
recommendation." (Appellee's App. at 67.) The letter
provided that Hewitt would be allowed to bring counsel to the
private conference and would be given an opportunity to
respond to the reasons set out in the recommended
responded in a letter dated December 26, 2011, requesting a
private conference before the school board. Hewitt also
requested that the school identify the applicable sections of
the Indiana Code under which this action was being taken. The
school's counsel responded, explaining that " there
is no statute applicable to a private conference for
cancellation of your administrator's contract."
(Appellee's App. at 71.) The letter further explained
that, " [t]he statutory process for a private conference
is only applicable to the cancellation of a teacher's
contract (which, again, the School Corporation has not yet
sought cancellation in your case)." (Appellee's App.
at 71.) The letter explained that at the private conference
Hewitt would be permitted to request records, have counsel
present, make a personal statement to the board, and describe
what witnesses would say on his behalf; however, there would
" not be witnesses or any formal evidence
procedure." (Appellee's App. at 71-72.)
January 10, 2012, the school board met in an executive
session for a private conference regarding the recommendation
for immediate cancellation of Hewitt's
administrator's contract. Hewitt was present at the
private conference and represented by counsel. Once the
public meeting began, the board moved for Hewitt's
administrator's contract to be immediately terminated.
This motion was approved by a 4-0 vote.
February 1, 2012, Hewitt filed a complaint against Westfield
Washington School Corporation, the Board of School Trustees,
and various named individuals. (collectively referred to as
the " School" ) Hewitt's complaint alleged
breach of contract
and denial of due process, challenging the notice and
procedure utilized by the school board in immediately
terminating his administrator's contract.
and the School each filed cross motions for summary judgment.
On January 29, 2014, a hearing was held on the School's
motion for summary judgment and Hewitt's motion for
partial summary judgment (on the issue of liability only). On
February 18, 2014, the Hamilton County Superior Court granted
summary judgment for the School on Hewitt's breach of
contract and denial of due process claims and denied
Hewitt's motion for partial summary judgment. Hewitt
appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for
further proceedings. Hewitt v. Westfield Washington
School Corp., 24 N.E.3d 459, 460 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014),
Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in
granting summary judgment for the School. Hewitt, 24 N.E.3d
at 460. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that
pursuant to Hewitt's contract, he was entitled to a
hearing and that the hearing procedures found in Indiana Code
§ 20-28-7.5 et seq., that are related to the termination
of teacher contracts, applied to Hewitt's
administrator's contract. Id. at 465.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that there were
genuine issues of material fact regarding the School's
hearing process that precluded summary judgment in its favor.
Id. at 467-68. The Court of Appeals did not engage
in a separate analysis regarding Hewitt's due process
claim, but rather determined there were genuine issues of
material fact " [f]or the same reasons" a genuine
issue of material fact exists regarding Hewitt's breach
of contract claim. Id. at 468.
Court of Appeals denied the School's Petition for
Rehearing. The School subsequently sought transfer, which we
granted, thereby vacating the opinion below. See Ind.
Appellate Rule 58(A).
When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, our standard of
review is the same as that of the trial court."
Dreaded, Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Ins. Co., 904
N.E.2d 1267, 1269 (Ind. 2009) (citations omitted).
Considering only those facts that the parties designated to
the trial court, we must determine whether there is a genuine
issue as to any material fact and whether the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule
56(C), (H); Freidline v. Shelby Ins. Co., 774 N.E.2d
37, 39 (Ind. 2002). Furthermore, " the trial court's
judgment arrives on appeal clothed with a presumption of
validity, and the challenging party bears the burden of
proving that the trial court erred in determining that there
are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving
party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 762 (Ind. 2009)
(internal citation and quotation omitted.).