Cleavenger vs. UO state lawsuit at a standstill

James Cleavenger sits in front of the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse where he now works. (Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

The state lawsuit filed against the University of Oregon by former UOPD officer James Cleavenger has come to a standstill. The lawsuit likely will not progress until the federal case verdict has been finalized.

James Cleavenger worked for the UOPD for several years. His employment was terminated in 2012 following a series of disagreements with colleagues and poor performance reviews. In Oct. 2013, Cleavenger filed a federal lawsuit against several UOPD employees, citing wrongful termination, retaliation and whistleblowing. In Sept. 2015, the jury awarded Cleavenger $755,000 in economic damages.

The university is considering filing for an appeal. UO attorneys have filed pre-trial paperwork.

Six days before the federal trial began however, Cleavenger filed a similar lawsuit in state court, at Eugene’s federal courthouse. While the federal case was filed against individual UOPD employees, the state case was filed against the university specifically.

After winning the federal case, the verdict is still out on whether the state case will continue.

On Dec. 21, 2015, there was a state case hearing at Eugene’s federal courthouse. The defendant and plaintiff both gave oral arguments. The hearing itself was very short. The final decision: keep the lawsuit under advisement.

UO attorneys argued for a full dismissal of the state lawsuit. Because Cleavenger won the federal case, they argued, he should not be allowed to file for the same damages again. In court documents UO attorneys said, “Plaintiff’s attempt to obtain a second recovery in this forum for identical harm, stemming from an identical factual transaction is both inappropriate and a waste of this court’s and the Defendant’s time and resources.”

“The university has filed a motion to dismiss the state case, because the claims are the same as they were in the federal case and one cannot recover damages twice,” university spokesman Tobin Klinger said in a statement. “The university is still giving consideration to a potential appeal of the federal case.”

However, Cleavenger has not been guaranteed any money yet, since UO still has the option of appealing the federal case. The judge is likely waiting on the federal case to wrap up, Cleavenger said.

“They’ll probably end up staying it until the end of the federal stuff,” Cleavenger said. “But we’ll see.”

In court documents, Cleavenger’s attorneys said that UO’s decision to file a motion to dismiss before deciding whether they would appeal the federal case was a tactical decision. “[The defendant, UO] chose to bring these motions to dismiss the state case knowing that the pre-trial motions in the federal case would still be pending,” plaintiffs said.

UO has filed post-trial motions in federal court, preparing for a retrial if they decide to appeal. Both sides will present their oral arguments for the federal case on Feb. 12.

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