Ousted OU Professor’s Contract Suit Revived

     OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An Oklahoma appeals court has reinstated a former tenured University of Oklahoma professor’s breach of contract lawsuit filed after he was acquitted of child sex abuse.
     Dwain Pellebon was acquitted by a Cleveland County jury in November 2013 on six counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child and three counts of child sex abuse. He sued OU two months later, claiming the school “used coercive tactics and contrived statements to force” his resignation and refused to give his associate professorship back.
     The complaint alleges the school forced him out instead of placing him in an “alternate administrative position or to place [him] on administrative leave pending the resolution of the criminal charges and with the knowledge that [he] maintained his innocence and had a constitutionally-protected presumption of innocence from those criminal charges.” Pellebon said the school “vigorously” fought his application for unemployment benefits.
     The school breached the employment contract “when it failed to act in utmost good faith and to deal fairly with [him] by forcing plaintiff to resign his position as an associate professor after threatening plaintiff with a lengthy abrogation of tenure proceeding ‘that [university] told plaintiff he could not win;’ by stating that it would take months to conclude the abrogation proceeding; and by stating that he would be without any pay or compensation during the abrogation process,” the complaint states.
     “These actions were taken with knowledge that plaintiff needed all of his financial resources, including his university retirement benefits, to support his family’s necessary living expenses, and to finance his criminal defense in order to prove his innocence and avoid prison for the rest of his life, and thereafter, by vigorously and repeatedly resisting plaintiff’s efforts to obtain unemployment compensation and creating for plaintiff a condition of destitution,” Pellebon continues.
     The trial court later granted the school’s motion to dismiss due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. A three-judge panel with the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals unanimously reversed and remanded the ruling on Sept. 24.
     Writing for the court, Judge Jane P. Wiseman concluded the trial court’s dismissal order erroneously failed to grant the plaintiff leave to amend or find that no amendments to the claim could cure its defects. She pointed to the trial court’s failure to address each defect in issuing its dismissal.
     “The trial court must as a general rule specify the deficiencies as to each claim which subject that claim to dismissal and either state that no amendment of the claim could cure the stated defect(s) or set a reasonable time for plaintiff to amend,” Wiseman wrote. “We therefore reverse the order granting university’s motion to dismiss and remand the case for further proceedings.”
     Wiseman also gave the plaintiff 20 days to file a list of all documents filed in both the state suit and in federal court after the lawsuit was removed.
     “To avoid any confusion or question regarding what federal documents have become incorporated into the state court file, we conclude, as Missouri has, that the better practice is to require plaintiff to file a list of all documents filed in federal court that are to be made a part of the state court file and to provide a copy of each document to the court for filing in the state court case,” Wiseman wrote.
     University officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

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