Unpublished Disposition, 902 F.2d 40 (9th Cir. 1988)

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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 902 F.2d 40 (9th Cir. 1988)

Willa SCOTT, Plaintiff-Appellant,v.AMERICAN BAPTIST SEMINARY OF THE WEST, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 88-15653, 89-15007.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Submitted March 15, 1990.* Decided May 8, 1990.

Before SNEED, FARRIS and FERNANDEZ, Circuit Judges.


MEMORANDUM** 

Willa Scott appeals, pro se and in forma pauperis, the district court's judgment, following a jury trial, in favor of American Baptist Seminary of the West ("ABSW") in her action based upon sex discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and breach of contract. Scott alleges numerous errors, primarily evidentiary, in the district court's conduct of pre-trial discovery and the trial.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In September 1981, Scott enrolled in the Masters of Divinity Program at ABSW. Problems arose after her first semester. Scott claims that those problems occurred because she reported to the FBI that her fellow classmate and a ABSW Board member were involved in an alleged "money laundering scheme," because of a controversial stand that she took on abortion during a graded class presentation, and because she was a woman.

ABSW contends that the problems emanated from Scott's lack of interpersonal skills. ABSW asserts that during her tenure there Scott adopted inflexible, extreme positions and was unable to work with others toward consensus.

Scott first met with ABSW's Guidance Committee in 1982. At that time, the Committee informed her that it was concerned about her disruptive relationships with other students. On February 9, 1983, a motion was made at a faculty meeting to dismiss Scott from the Seminary. The motion was subsequently rescinded1  on February 11, 1983, when faculty members discovered that Scott was entitled to receive, but had not received, a hearing before the Guidance Committee.

On February 23, 1983, Scott's attorney allegedly sent a letter to ABSW confirming the contents of some discussions that they had had regarding Scott's future at the Seminary.2 

On May 19, 1983, the Guidance Committee informed Scott that she was being considered for dismissal because of her inability to work with others, the disruptions she caused in the classroom, her difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and her inability to gain the trust of others. After giving Scott notice, the Committee held a hearing on July 20, 1983, to determine whether Scott was fit for the ministry. The Committee voted unanimously to dismiss her from the Seminary for "non-academic reasons." The faculty then unanimously voted on July 21, 1983, to dismiss Scott from the Seminary. Scott claims that she was dismissed because she was a woman, and because she refused the sexual advances of Dr. Hines.3 

Scott was subsequently notified of her dismissal and instructed that she had 30 days in which to vacate her apartment. She then filed a claim with Office of Civil Rights ("OCR"). The Office conducted a summary investigation and concluded that Scott had no basis for her sex discrimination claim.

Scott filed her initial complaint against ABSW on May, 11, 1984. Over the course of the next three years, Scott filed six amendments to her complaint. On June 22, 1987, Scott filed a complaint that was able to withstand a motion to dismiss. This complaint named not only ABSW but also approximately forty other individuals who were connected with ABSW. ABSW moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and for lack of jurisdiction. The court ultimately denied the motion.

The original trial date was set for January 1, 1988. The trial was continued on ABSW's motion because one of ABSW's chief witnesses, Dr. Hines, was extremely ill. The court also ruled that discovery would remain closed until the trial.

On September 28, 1988, ABSW made a motion to introduce additional evidence at trial in the form of Dr. Hines' videotaped deposition. The motion was subsequently granted.

The trial began November 2, 1988. After the jury had been impaneled, Scott, through her attorney, and ABSW agreed to a voluntary dismissal of all of the individual defendants.4  The trial lasted five days and ended in a unanimous verdict for ABSW. The judgment was filed on November 28, 1988. Scott filed a timely notice of appeal from the judgment.

JURISDICTION AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

We review the district court's various evidentiary and procedural determinations for an abuse of discretion and will not reverse absent some prejudice. Roberts v. College of the Desert, C.A., 870 F.2d 1411, 1418 (9th Cir. 1988). See also United States v. Faust, 850 F.2d 575, 585 (9th Cir. 1988) (error must have "more likely than not affected the verdict").

DISCUSSION

We find eleven claims of error in Scott's briefing. We will consider each in turn.

First, she contends that the district court erred by refusing to admit the February 23 letter ("Exhibit 10") written by Scott's attorney to ABSW's attorney. However, a review of the trial transcript reveals that the court did, indeed, admit the letter into evidence.

Second, she contends that the court erred when it refused to allow her to introduce evidence to establish that ABSW did not have a quorum of two-thirds of the faculty when it decided to expel her from the Seminary. However, the record reveals that Scott never attempted to offer evidence to show that a certain percentage of the faculty was necessary in order to dismiss a student. She merely tried to introduce a letter that indicated that six faculty members voted on her expulsion and that there were 23 faculty members at the Seminary. Without some evidence linking the two pieces of evidence, the district judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that the evidence was irrelevant.

Third, she contends that the court abused its discretion by failing to ask veniremen whether they had an opinion about women priests. However, the evidence shows that she neither requested, nor objected to the court's refusal to ask the question.

Fourth, she contends that the district court improperly handled the OCR report. She claims that the court had a duty to inform the jury of the court's decision to exclude the OCR report, and that the court had a duty, after it had excluded the evidence, to prevent ABSW from referring to the OCR report.

In general, a court has no duty to inform the jury that it has decided to exclude a particular piece of evidence. Also, the transcript discloses the fact that ABSW made no further references to the report after the court formally excluded the evidence. Before the court excluded the report, ABSW did refer to it twice. Scott properly objected to the references on relevance grounds. The court sustained both of the objections. Therefore, the court did not err in its handling of the OCR report.

Fifth, she contends that the court erred when it allowed ABSW to cross examine her about an earlier suit that she had filed against Contra Costa County regarding an incident that occurred after her expulsion from the Seminary.5  She claims that since most of the jury members were civil servants, and her earlier suit was filed against a civil servant, the jury was prejudiced against her by the introduction of that evidence.

However, the evidence was admissible to support ABSW's theory that Scott had an unreasonable belief that the Baptists were persecuting her, and thus a resulting bias against the Baptists. Therefore, the district court did not err in allowing the introduction of evidence of the earlier suit.

Sixth, she contends that the court's repeated imposition of a stay on discovery prejudiced her ability to develop her case. However, the record reveals that the stay was imposed for such an extended period of time because of Scott's failure to draft a complaint that could withstand a motion to dismiss. Once Scott drafted a sufficient complaint, the record indicates that Scott had approximately eight months (subtracting a thirty day jurisdictional limitation on discovery in June) in which to conduct discovery. During that time, she failed to direct any discovery requests to ABSW. She also failed to request any extension of the discovery period. We see no abuse of discretion in the district court's discovery orders.

Seventh, she contends that ABSW had a duty to take her deposition prior to trial. There is absolutely no requirement that a party take an opposing party's deposition, even if that party had originally planned to do so.

Eighth, she contends that the district court erred in allowing ABSW to depose Dr. Hines after discovery had been closed. The record indicates that Dr. Hines was listed as one of ABSW's principal witnesses and that there was a fear that he might be too ill to testify since he was suffering from prostate cancer. Under the circumstances, we see nothing improper about the court's decision to allow ABSW to depose Dr. Hines. In any event, the videotape was not used at trial, since Dr. Hines recovered sufficiently to testify. Clearly a party is allowed to interview its own witness prior to trial. Here, the deposition must have benefited Scott by putting her on notice of the substance of Dr. Hines' testimony.

Ninth, she contends that the court erred in allowing a voluntary dismissal of her case against the individual defendants since she did not give her counsel permission to dismiss the case. However, Scott was present when her counsel agreed to the dismissal, and made no objections. Also, the fact that her counsel may have misunderstood her wishes is not evidence that the court erred in acting upon the stipulation. That stipulation was later memorialized in a writing.

Tenth, she contends that during the trial she was basically put on trial by ABSW for her religious beliefs as a member of the Sanctuary of the Holy Grail.

It is true that Fed.R.Evid. 610 precludes the admission of evidence of one's religious beliefs "for the purposes of showing that by reason of their nature the witness' credibility is impaired or enhanced." It is also true that some of ABSW's questions did deal with Scott's beliefs and gift of discernment. However, the evidence was not admitted for an improper purpose. It was admissible to rebut Scott's claim that she was persecuted at ABSW and ultimately dismissed from the Seminary merely because she was a woman. ABSW's questioning elicited information which was relevant to show that Scott's dismissal actually resulted from her inflexibility in religious matters--an inflexibility which directly affected her dealings with others. This evidence was highly probative of ABSW's reasons for finding her unfit for the ministry (in any denomination) and dismissing her from the Seminary.

ABSW also asked questions relating to Scott's psychic powers. These questions were relevant to show that she believed that she could discern when those around her disliked her. That information was probative of the source of her hostile and seemingly unreasonable reactions to others, even when, objectively speaking, their acts did not evince hostility on their part. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this evidence.

Eleventh, she contends that the court prejudiced her breach of contract claim with its response to a jury question during the jury's deliberations. However, we find no evidence in the record that the court ever responded to the jury's question, and she had not directed our attention to any. Thus, this claim also must fail.

ABSW claims that Scott's appeal is frivolous and therefore that it is entitled to sanctions. "An appeal is frivolous where the result is obvious and the claims are wholly without merit." Taylor v. Sentry Life Ins., 729 F.2d 652, 656 (9th Cir. 1984). As the district court pointed out below, there is no evidence that Scott appealed this case in bad faith.6  Scott's arguments, although unsuccessful, were not "wholly without merit." Moreover, her claims show no intent to abuse the appellate process. It is obvious that she sincerely believed that she had been wronged by ABSW. The jury did not agree, and we find nothing in the record that would permit us to overturn the jury's verdict. Perhaps she should simply have accepted the jury's verdict. However, Scott's actions in this case do not merit a fee award.

CONCLUSION

Scott has failed to show that the district court committed any prejudicial errors in its conduct of this case. We therefore AFFIRM the jury's verdict and district court's judgment.

 *

The panel finds this case appropriate for submission without argument pursuant to 9th Cir.R. 34-4 and Fed. R. App. P. 34(a)

 **

This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3

 1

But not before Scott had been notified of the pending motion

 2

This letter is Exhibit 10

 3

Scott received a flunking grade from Dr. Hines. Scott testified that she then went to his office to discuss the possibility of a grade change since he had been willing to change another male student's grade. She stated that while she was in Dr. Hines' office, he grabbed her left breast and told her that he would negotiate if she would cooperate. At trial, she testified that Dr. Hines reacted out of anger, not as a sexual advance. Dr. Hines adamantly denied that such an incident ever occurred. Evidently, the jury believed Dr. Hines

 4

Several had already been dismissed by the court for failure to prosecute

 5

It appears that Scott sued a county hospital receptionist for practicing medicine without a license and intentional infliction of emotional distress because the receptionist had written something in Scott's medical file. Scott claimed that she was certain that the Baptist receptionist was harassing her because the Baptist church had placed Scott on a "black list."

 6

The district court, in approving Scott's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, stated that " [t]he court finds that plaintiff's allegations, while highly imaginative, were made in good faith."