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Calautti v. Shanahan

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 7, 2019

PETER CALAUTTI, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES SHANAHAN in his individual capacity, LAUREN K. ROBEL individually, and in her official capacity as Provost of Indiana University, Bloomington, SAA BOARD OF REVIEW MEMBERS ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE AND SIX in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          ENTRY GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants James Shanahan in his individual capacity (“Dean Shanahan”); Lauren K. Robel, individually and in her official capacity as Provost of Indiana University, Bloomington (“Provost Robel”); and SAA Board of Review Members One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six in their individual capacities (“SAA Board Members”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) (Filing No. 41). Plaintiff Peter Calautti (“Calautti”) brought this action alleging violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Calautti did not file a response to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment asks that the court find that a trial based on the uncontroverted and admissible evidence would-as a matter of law-conclude in the moving party's favor and is thus unnecessary. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court must give the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence submitted and resolve “any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial … against the moving party.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n. 2 (1986). Nevertheless, “the Court's favor toward the non-moving party does not extend to drawing inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture.” Singer v. Raemisch, 593 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2010). The non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a material issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. 317. The key inquiry is the existence of evidence to support a plaintiff's claims or defendant's affirmative defenses, not the weight or credibility of that evidence, both of which are assessments reserved to the trier of fact. See Schacht v. Wis. Dep't of Corr., 175 F.3d 497, 504 (7th Cir. 1999).

         When a party offers no response to a motion for summary judgment, the Court will treat the moving party's supported factual assertions as uncontested. Ind. S.D. L.R. 56-1(b); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). The entry of summary judgment is not automatic, however, and may only be granted when the undisputed facts lead to judgment as a matter of law. O'Brien v. Moores, 784 F.Supp.2d 1054, 1055 (S.D. Ind. 2011).

         Because Calautti did not respond to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court must treat Defendants' supported factual assertions as uncontested.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Calautti's Position at IU and His Facebook Post

         In the fall of 2015, Calautti enrolled as a Ph.D. student in the inaugural class at Indiana University's (“IU”) Media School. (Filing No. 43-1 at 4.) During his time, he was also was employed as a student academic appointee (“SAA”). Id. at 5-6. SAAs work either as teaching assistants or research assistants for professors. Id. at 5. During the 2015-2016 academic year, Calautti was a teaching assistant in two separate courses. Id. As an SAA, Calautti received a tuition waiver, a stipend, and health insurance benefits. Id.

         On May 20, 2016, Mohammed Bagha (“Bagha”), a person not affiliated with IU, sent an e-mail addressed to James Shanahan, the Dean of IU's Media School, “to discuss and express concerns” about Calautti. (Filing No. 43-2; Filing No. 43-3.) Bagha wrote that “Calautti has repeatedly expressed racist views & threatened violence against myself, my family (including my children), and others on social media.” (Filing No. 43-3.) The e-mail included multiple screenshots which depicted racist and threatening statements allegedly made by Calautti on social media. Id. One screenshot showed that Calautti had posted the following message to Bagha on Facebook:

Don't forget about forcing you to watch as I beat your shitskin children into being wheelchair bound, brain damaged, drooling drones.

PS - You still live in a small town and you and your kin have a rather unusual last name. Watch out.

Id. at 2. Calautti originally denied posting the message during IU's investigation, but later admitted that he authored the Facebook message during a deposition conducted for this litigation. (Filing No. 43-1 at 6-7.) Calautti did not accept or deny responsibility for other offensive posts he was shown that appeared to have been posted by his Facebook account, saying he did not recall whether he had posted them or that the screenshots “could have easily been altered.” Id. at 7.

         When he received Bagha's e-mail, Dean Shanahan immediately notified Chief Laury Flint of the Indiana University Police Department (“IUPD”) and asked her thoughts on how he should proceed. (Filing No. 43-2 at 2; Filing No. 43-4.) Chief Flint responded that Calautti had “crossed the line from expression to intimidation” and that IUPD wanted to take a report from Bagha. (Filing No. 43-5.) Dean Shanahan relayed that information to Bagha and provided him with IUPD's contact information, but Bagha did not come forward to make a police report. (Filing No. 43-6.) Therefore, IUPD was never able to pursue criminal charges against Calautti. (Filing No. 43-7.)

         On July 25, 2016, Dr. Andrew Weaver, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Media School, forwarded Bagha's email to Carol McCord, who was IU's Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Deputy Coordinator at the time. (Filing No. 43-8 at 1-2; Filing No. 43-9.) After receiving that email, IU's Office of Student Ethics (“OSE”) initiated an internal investigation into Calautti's Facebook post. (Filing No. 43-2 at 2; Filing No. 43-8 at 2.) On August 11, 2016, Dr. Weaver emailed Calautti to notify him that his SAA position for the fall semester “likely will be with a specific faculty member rather than a teaching assignment” and informed him that he would have more details soon. (Filing No. 43-8 at 2; Filing No. 43-10.) In the same email, Dr. Weaver wrote, “On a somewhat related note, some potentially problematic information coming from a social media account of yours has come to the attention of the Dean of Students office.” Id. The email notified Calautti that the Dean of Students Office would like to meet with him and Dr. Weaver. Id.

         For the beginning of academic year 2016-17, Calautti was assigned to a research position with Dr. Stephanie De Boer, an associate professor in the Media School. (Filing No. 43-8 at 2; Filing No. 43-11.) The Deans at the Media School chose to place Calautti in a research position as opposed to a teaching position while the investigation of Calautti's Facebook post was pending because they were concerned that he posed a risk to student safety. (Filing No. 43-8 at 2.) On August 22, 2016, Calautti signed an Application and Agreement for Student Academic Appointee (“Agreement”) accepting a SAA position for the 2016-17 academic year. (Filing No. 43-12.) The Agreement stated that IU made no commitment to reappoint Calautti after academic year 2016-17. Id.

         B. The Office of Student Ethics Conduct Hearing

         On August 18, 2016, Elizabeth Spotts (“Spotts”), who was serving as the Interim Director of the OSE, sent Calautti a letter explaining that he was being charged with three violations of the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct and the Apartment/Residence Halls Rules and Regulations. (Filing No. 43-13.) The letter set forth the allegations against Calautti and notified him that a conduct hearing would take place on August 23, 2016. Id. Calautti requested more time to prepare for the hearing, which the OSE granted. (Filing No. 43-1 at 9-10.) Calautti requested the opportunity to review the contents of the OSE's case file prior to the conduct hearing, and that request was granted. Id.

         The OSE conduct hearing occurred on September 1, 2016. (Filing No. 43-14.) During the hearing, Calautti called a witness, an acquaintance he met on the internet who appeared via videoconference. Id. Calautti admitted that he was responsible for the comments charged to him but that he made the comments in response to inflammatory comments made by Bagha. Id. Calautti mainly defended his actions and comments but did eventually express ...


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