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Taylor v. University of Cumberlands

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

October 31, 2018



          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.

         Both parties seek reconsideration [R. 112; R. 113] of the Court's September 7, 2018, order granting partial summary judgment [R. 105] for the Defendant. The Plaintiffs also seek leave to amend their complaint for the third time. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motions are DENIED and the Defendant's motion is DENIED.


         A lengthy recitation of the facts is unnecessary. However, a brief outline is provided below. All other facts are incorporated by reference in this order.

         Dr. James Taylor served as the President of the University of the Cumberlands for 35 years before retiring from that role in October 2015. [R.70 at 4.] According to Dr. Taylor, he then assumed the role of Chancellor, a position that he alleges was created for him. [R. 81 at 4.]

         While Dr. Taylor served in his new position with the University, the school retained Phillip Blount and Associates, Inc., which provided to the University an opinion on an “appropriate Total Reportable Compensation range for a Chancellor with the part-time job description provided. . . .” [R. 81-36.] According to Phillip Blount and Associates, Inc., an appropriate Total Reportable Compensation for Dr. Taylor as Chancellor with part-time responsibilities ranges between $125, 000 and $145, 000. [Id. at 4.] This assumed a guaranteed one-year term of employment, which would be subject to renewal based on performance. [Id.] If, however, the term of employment was extended to two years, regardless of performance, the appropriate Total Reportable Compensation range would be adjusted to $90, 000 to $108, 000 per year. [Id.]

         In late March 2016, the ad hoc sub-committee made a recommendation to the Executive Committee that, among other things, the University continue to employ Dr. Taylor “to promote the interests of the University on substantially the terms and conditions set out on the attached Exhibit to this recommendation, subject to his written acceptance of the offer.” [R. 81-3.] However, the exhibit is not included in the record. Additionally, no member of the subcommittee or the Executive Committee signed the recommendation, and there is no indication whether the recommendation was approved. [See id.]

         In early April 2016, the University, through counsel, offered Dr. Taylor a one-year contract as Chancellor with a compensation package totaling approximately $152, 000. [R. 70-8; R. 81-37.] Dr. Taylor rejected the offer and his role with the University, whether as Chancellor or otherwise, was “terminated on or about April 6, 2016.” [R. 70-8 at 3.] The Taylors sued approximately two months later. [R. 81 at 26; R. 1.] The Taylors allege that they are entitled to Dr. Taylor's full salary for both of their lives because the University's Board of Trustees, on three occasions, unanimously voted “to pay Dr. Taylor for his service as Chancellor the same salary or benefits he was receiving when he stepped down as President.” [R. 81 at 4, 9.] Therefore, the compensation package offered by the University was substantially less than the Taylors believe they are entitled. The University responded to the suit two days later by releasing a press release with their version of the facts and circumstances. [R. 70-29.] It is this press release that forms the basis of the Taylors slander claim.

         Previously, the University moved to dismiss this action for failure to state a claim alleging the Disputed Agreement lacked valid consideration. [R. 12.] The University also claimed the Disputed Agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law as it was “terminable at will . . . because it has no definite end date but instead purports to require the University to continue paying Dr. and Mrs. Taylor into perpetuity.” [Id. at 2.] Furthermore, according to the University, the remaining claims built upon the enforceability of the Disputed Agreement and therefore should also be dismissed. [Id. at 10, n.4.] The Court rejected these claims and denied the University's Motion as to the Taylors' claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, punitive damages, and reformation. [R. 21.]

         Subsequently, the Taylors moved for summary judgment alleging the University's former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Jim Oaks, had apparent authority to bind the University to the Disputed Agreement. [R. 38.] However, the Court found there to be a genuine issue as to whether Dr. Oaks had such apparent authority and, thus, denied the Taylors' motion. [R. 69.]

         The University then moved for summary judgment claiming the Disputed Agreement is unenforceable as a matter of law because it is not supported by valid consideration. [R. 70 at 22-26.] Additionally, the University argued that summary judgment was appropriate on the Taylors' claims of slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and reformation because there exists no evidence to support those claims. [Id. at 26-39.] The Court agreed with the University on each of these claims except for the Taylors claim for breach of contract. [R. 105.] The University now asks for the Court to dismiss the breach of contract claim for a third time. [R. 123.] The Taylors, likewise, ask for reconsideration of their slander claim or in the alternative to be given leave to amend their complaint for a third time. [R. 113.]



         Motions to alter or amend a judgment will be granted only when there “is a clear error of law, newly discovered evidence, an intervening change of law, or to prevent manifest injustice.” GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters,178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999). Rearguing the merits of a petitioner's claims is not an appropriate use of a motion to alter or amend. See Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998) (“A motion under Rule 59(e) is not an opportunity to re-argue a case.”). Additionally, petitioners may not raise arguments under Rule 59(e) that they failed to raise prior to the district court's order. See Id. (quoting FDIC v. World Univ. Inc., 978 F.2d 10, 16 (1st Cir. 1992). Amending or ...

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