UO bringing lawsuit of former UOPD officer to national court of appeals

The University of Oregon filed motions to appeal the verdict of a former UOPD officer’s lawsuit in a national court of appeals on Tuesday. The university lost their first appeal of the case on Feb. 29 in Portland.

In 2013, former UOPD officer James Cleavenger sued the university for wrongful termination and retaliation. He won the case in September 2015. UO filed appeal motions, but those were denied by the same judge that presided over the original case.

UO filed the motions in the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court with power to review and change the outcomes of cases tried in lower courts. Decisions made in the Ninth Circuit set legal precedents for future cases, giving this trial national implications. The court can decide whether to review the case or deny it, depending on whether they believe the jury and the original judge, David Carter, made a mistake in their verdict. If it is reviewed, it could set a national precedent for wrongful termination cases. If it’s denied, the lawsuit will end.

“Naturally, I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised because of the way the university has handled this matter from the beginning,” Cleavenger said. “But I’m in for the long haul, just disappointed because the costs of the case have become astronomical.”

The jury originally awarded Cleavenger $755,000. Adding in UO’s attorney fees, Cleavenger’s attorney fees (which UO also has to pay), costs of arbitration while Cleavenger was still a UOPD officer and other small fees, the known costs of the case have risen above $1.6 million. Unknown costs include UO’s attorney fees during the appeal process and arbitration. If the Ninth Circuit accepts the case, it will cost even more.

“It’s gonna cost another half million, I’m sure,” Cleavenger said. The university’s insurance policy, PERMIT, will ultimately pay for the damages. UO General Counsel did not reply for comment by time of publication.

The defendants are still Lieutenant Brandon Lebrecht, Sergeant Scott Cameron and former chief Carolyn McDermed. McDermed retired from the UOPD chief position on Feb. 26. UO’s appeal in the Cleavenger case was denied Feb. 29.

Here’s a breakdown of what UO will be charged for the lawsuit if their Ninth Circuit Court appeal is denied:

  • $755,000.00 – Jury Award
  • $12,268.75 – Interest on the jury award (estimated by Cleavenger’s attorneys)
  • $448,642.99 – Plaintiff legal fees and costs for original trial
  • $394,925.70 – Defense legal fees and costs for original trial
  • $30,226.65 – Arbitration award for back-wages, retirement plan and interest
  • $6,392.50 – Half the cost of arbitration (the Service Employees International Union paid the other half)
  • $505.00 – Filing fee for Ninth Circuit Court Appeal

Total: $1,617,734.94

Fees Unknown at this time:

  • $55,201.60 – Plaintiff attorney fees requested for appeal process (not yet reviewed by the judge)
  • UO legal fees during arbitration process
  • UO legal fees during appeal process

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Noah McGraw

Noah McGraw

Noah is the 2016-17 Senior News Editor at the Emerald. His earliest journalistic influences were Tom Wolfe, Eric Schlosser and Batman. He loves '70s comics, '80s action movies and '90s music.