Supreme Court split over whistle blower act | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Supreme Court split over whistle blower act

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 10:22 AM

A case brought under the Arkansas Whistleblower Act revealed a division on the court on whether that act can override the state's protection from lawsuit under the sovereign immunity doctrine.

Eugene Butler sued the University of Arkansas over his firing as a UAPB police officer. He alleged he was fired for reporting waste and ethical violations on campus and he sought relief under the Whistle Blower Act.

The UA said it was protected from suit by sovereign immunity and also said he had failed to state a cause of action under the law. Judge Tim Fox, however, rejected a dismissal motion without specifying why and the UA appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court found "no factual basis" for a whistle blower claim, reversed Fox and dismissed the lawsuit, in a split decision that didn't resolve the constitutional status of the the Whistle Blower Act.

The Constitution forbids the General Assembly from waiving sovereign immunity, but there are avenues to seek equitable relief for acts of bad faith. In this case, the Court said Butler made conclusory statements but it was "unclear what, if anything, he actually reported. Furthermore it is unclear what he refused to lie about or that he was terminated because he refused to lie." Absent such an argument, Butler failed to state facts that entitled him to relief. With no valid exception to sovereign immunity given, it cannot be waived. The majority said it "need not reach" the question of whether the statute was unconstitutional.l

Special Justice Margaret Dobson concurred in dismissal, though she argued that Butler HAD given a cause of action by showing he'd been threatened with firing for revealing information about an audit of a dormitory. However, she said that she believed the General Assembly's waiver of sovereign immunity through the Whistle Blower Act was unconstitutional.

Justices Paul Danielson, joined by Special Justice Robert Jones, dissented because they said Judge Fox hadn't clearly ruled on the sovereign immunity issue and thus the Supreme Court lacked authority to hear the interlocutory appeal. Justice Jo Hart also dissented for a similar reason. She said the court should have ordered Fox to make an express ruling on sovereign immunity.

Is the Whistle Blower Act constitutional? That question will have to be  decided another day.

Tags: ,

From the ArkTimes store



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • IHOP coming down, but .....

    I always scan the Little Rock City Board for items of interest this week and this one caught my eye: A zoning measure required by a proposal to tear down the IHOP at Markham and University.
    • Apr 30, 2016
  • LR speakers blast state board for double standard

    A series of speakers, beginning with Sen. Joyce Elliott, denounced what they saw as a hidden agenda favoring charter schools at the state Department of Education and asked the state Board of Education for return of local control.
    • May 12, 2016
  • Civil War over in Fort Smith; lawyer strikes his Rebel mascot battle tent

    KSFM reports that Joey McCutchen, the lawyer who's been trying to restart the Civil War in Fort Smith over the School Board's decision to drop the Rebel mascot and related trappingsfor Southside High School, is dropping his School Board takeover campaign.
    • May 27, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conflicts of interest in the legislatures

    The Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press collaborated for a project aimed at highlighting state legislators whose lawmaking might be affected by private business interests.
  • Industrial hemp pilot program coming soon to Arkansas

    One of the booths at this week's Ark-La-Tex Medical Cannabis Expo was hosted by the Arkansas Hemp Association, a trade group founded to promote and expand non-intoxicating industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in the state. AHA Vice President Jeremy Fisher said the first licenses to grow experimental plots of hemp in the state should be issued by the Arkansas State Plant Board next spring.
  • Cats and dogs

    I've always been leery of people who dislike animals. To my wife and me, a house without dog hair in the corners and a cat perched on the windowsill is as barren as a highway rest stop. We're down to three dogs and two cats, the smallest menagerie we've had for years.

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments



© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation