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Case 5:11-cv-00123-cr Document 27-1

Filed 12/13/11 Page 1 of 11

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF VERMONT

JAMES “JAK” KNELMAN,
Plaintiff,
v.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE and
BILL BEANEY,
Defendants.

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Docket No. 5:11-cv-123

DEFENDANTS’ STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS
IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
NOW COME Defendants President and Fellows of Middlebury College (“Middlebury”
or the “College”) and William Beaney, by and through their attorneys, Dinse, Knapp &
McAndrew, P.C., and pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) submit the following Statement of
Undisputed Material Facts (“SUMF”) in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment.
1.

James (“Jak”) Knelman, a student at the College, was dismissed from the men’s

ice hockey team in late January 2011. (Doc. 1 ¶ 1.) The circumstances leading to Knelman’s
dismissal from the team came to a head after his unauthorized early departure from a major
celebratory alumni hockey banquet held on January 15, 2011. (Id.)
2.

Every player, including Knelman, was made aware of the significance of the

banquet, which was held to honor the 1960-1961 Middlebury College Men’s Hockey Team, 50
years after the team’s legendary winning season. (Dawson Aff. Ex. A ¶ 4, Dec. 12, 2011.)
Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.

3.

The hockey alumni weekend, including the banquet, had been planned since the

209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT

early stages of the season, and players were well aware that their attendance at the banquet was

05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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expected. (Id.) The players also knew that their family members were specifically invited to
attend. (Id. ¶ 5.)
4.

According to Knelman, he attended the banquet for roughly two-and-a-half hours

before deciding to leave early to meet his father and cousin for dinner at a restaurant in Bristol.
(Doc. 1 ¶ 41; Knelman Dep. Ex. B 166:16–67:17, Nov. 29, 2011.)
5.

Knelman got up and left without permission and without notice to his coaches or

team captains, as the honorees started the “open mic” portion of the banquet with reminiscences
of their hockey experiences at the College. (Ex. A ¶ 6.)
6.

On the following Monday, January 17, 2011, during a team meeting, Coach

Beaney asked the players if any of them had left early from the banquet. (Ex. B 171:6–72:22.)
Knelman (the only player who did) responded that he had left early at which point Coach Beaney
reacted by criticizing Knelman for what he deemed to be a selfish act that reflected poorly on the
team on such an important occasion. (Id.)
7.

Knelman—a junior at the time and one of the older players on the team—claims

that Coach Beaney’s statements were “bullying” and “humiliating.” (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 11–13, 42.)
8.

Although Knelman asserts that he was “berated” by Coach Beaney, Knelman’s

friend and former teammate on the Middlebury hockey team, Thomas Clayton, testified at
deposition that he had never observed Coach Beaney “berating” a player on the team and that he
would not use the term “berating” because every coach he had ever had “raised his voice . . . in
anger and in encouragement.” (Clayton Dep. Ex. C 34:10–16, Sept. 26, 2011.) Clayton also
testified that he personally would not have left the banquet without permission and that he would
Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street

have expected there to be consequences for such behavior. (Id. 49:3–50:12.)

P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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9.

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On Tuesday, January 18, 2011, Knelman was informed by his captains that he

was suspended from practice for the week, including the two upcoming weekend games. (Ex. B
185:8–86:23.)
10.

Coach Beaney met with Knelman again on Sunday, January 24, 2011, after

consulting his Assistant Coach and the team captains, and informed him of the decision to
dismiss him from the team for the remaining half of the regular season. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 50–51.)
11.

Knelman’s dismissal resulted from a culmination of what his coaches perceived

was an unwillingness to take ownership for his action (in leaving early from the banquet without
permission) and Knelman’s prior challenges to coaching decisions about his playing time and
position. (Ex. A ¶ 7.)
12.

Knelman had in the past made no secret of his belief that he should be playing on

the team’s power-play line, and persisted in this request even after Coach Beaney explained to
him that he could best serve the team by playing on the defensive penalty-killing unit. (Id.)
Coach Beaney specifically told Knelman on prior occasions that he felt he could be a leader of
the unit and, as a result, see more playing time, but Knelman insisted he belonged on offense.
(Id.) Knelman’s unauthorized departure from the banquet and lack of genuine understanding and
remorse reinforced Coach Beaney’s view that Knelman was not a team player and ultimately led
to the dismissal. (Id.)
13.

Coach Beaney stated his belief that Knelman would be fine given that he chose

the College mainly for its academics—specifically its Environmental Sciences program—and
because he had other extracurricular activities to satisfy and fulfill him. (Ex. B 72:10–76:17,
Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street

77:15–80:6; 206:17–10:19; see also Ex. A ¶¶ 7–8.)

P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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14.

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Barbara Marlow, the Associate Director for International Admissions and liaison

to the hockey, swimming, and golf programs, who met with Knelman during his 2007 college
visit, similarly testified at deposition that when she encountered Knelman at the hockey rink
following his dismissal she asked Knelman if he was doing alright to which he responded by
shrugging and saying “he was [at the College] for academics.” (Marlow Dep. Ex. D 31:12–23,
Nov. 30, 2011.)
15.

Knelman testified at deposition that when he first looked at the College and met

with Coach Beaney he informed him that environmental studies were “important” to him to
which Coach Beaney replied that the College offered a “great environmental studies
curriculum.” (Ex. B 134:13–23.) Although Knelman alleges that Coach Beaney’s statements
regarding “environmental studies” during the January 24th meeting were “belittling [of]
academics,” Knelman later conceded that Coach Beaney might have intended his comments
“differently.” (Id. 204:2–09:16.)
16.

During the meeting, Coach Beaney also invited Knelman to return for tryouts

with every other incoming or returning player the following season.1 (Ex. B 73:19–23.)
17.

The decision to dismiss Knelman from the team was not taken lightly and was

made only after careful consideration. (Ex. A ¶ 7.)
18.

Knelman pursued redress for his dismissal from the Director of Athletics

(“A.D.”), Erin Quinn, who, along with the Vice President for Administration, Tim Spears,
investigated the matter on Knelman’s behalf. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 66–67.) A.D. Quinn and Vice President

Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

1 All varsity sports teams at the College hold tryouts at the opening of each season. Freshmen and upperclass
student-athletes compete for spots on team rosters, however, there is no guarantee that players, including
upperclass student-athletes, will make a given team based solely on past participation. (Quinn Aff. Ex. E ¶ 10,
Dec. 13, 2011; see Doc. 1-1–1-8.)
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Spears have general oversight of issues regarding coaches’ conduct. (Collado Dep. Ex. F 4:23–
25; 32:1–10, Nov. 30, 2011.)
19.

Knelman also enlisted support from numerous members of the faculty and

administration, most of whom were initially supportive of Knelman—based solely on his version
of events—and even assisted him in preparing a written complaint to A.D. Quinn (a copy of
which is attached to his Complaint in this action). (Id. ¶¶ 55–69; Doc. 1-10.)
20.

Although Knelman was offered the opportunity to meet with Coach Beaney and

A.D. Quinn to discuss the situation and Knelman’s future with the team, he refused after being
informed that the College would not agree to his precondition that Coach Beaney be suspended
for the upcoming 2011-2012 season. (See Ex. B 53:14–57:23.) Knelman stated that he would
simply not play for Coach Beaney. (Doc. 1 ¶ 67.)
21.

On May 11, 2011, Knelman filed this action alleging that his dismissal from the

team was wrongful, and asserting claims against the College for breach of contract, breach of the
covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent supervision, and
defamation, and also stating direct claims against Coach Beaney for breach of fiduciary duty and
defamation. (Id. ¶¶ 80–120.) Knelman contends that his dismissal from the hockey team was
both unfair and improper, and has damaged his reputation and prospective employment
opportunities, and in particular his pursuit of a professional hockey career. (Id. ¶¶ 75–79.)
22.

Knelman’s dismissal was a coaching decision within Coach Beaney’s sound

discretion. (Ex. E ¶ 5.)
23.

The College supports the authority of its coaches to make such decisions

Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street

regarding player conduct in the same way that coaches make decisions about playing time, or

P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT

which players make their teams in the first instance. (Id. ¶ 6.)

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24.

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Pursuant to the “Rules of Reappointment for Physical Education Faculty,”

coaches, including Coach Beaney, are reviewed annually in accordance with the criteria set forth
in the College Handbook. (Id. ¶ 7; Doc. 1-8.) Coaches are also subject to major reviews by the
Physical Education Committee on Reappointment (“PEACOR”) as provided in the Handbook.
(Ex. E ¶ 7; Doc. 1-8.) Additionally, all coaches are reviewed by their players through
anonymous written evaluations at the end of every season. (Ex. E ¶ 7.) Coach Beaney’s annual
and PEACOR reviews as well as hockey player evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive.
(Id.)
25.

Knelman, like all College student-athletes, was not without redress, as evidenced

by the fact that members from the Department of Athletics and Administration conducted an
investigation into the circumstances of his dismissal. (Id. ¶ 4; Doc. 1 ¶¶ 66–68.)
26.

Prior to Knelman’s dismissal, the College had begun discussions about

formalizing a policy that called for coaches to inform the A.D. about their decisions to dismiss
athletes from teams. (Id. ¶ 8.) This policy would not have changed the outcome of Knelman’s
dismissal, however, because the A.D., after a thorough investigation, concluded that Coach
Beaney’s decision was reasoned and consistent with his educational coaching philosophy and
within his discretion. (Id.)
27.

Coach Beaney is a widely respected and beloved coach and educator who has

worked at the College for over twenty years. (Letter from former players to Middlebury College
President Ronald Liebowitz in support of William Beaney, Ex. G, May 23, 2011; William
Beaney Resume, Ex. H.)
Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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28.

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As his players—both current and former—can attest, Coach Beaney sets very

high standards for his players, which extend to their conduct both on and off the ice, and as
students and citizens in general. (Ex. A ¶ 8.)
29.

Coach Beaney is well known for placing the highest importance on academics and

insists that his players focus on their studies at the College. (Id.) In fact, Coach Beaney has
required players to take temporary leaves of absence from the team so that they can—and do—
dedicate additional time and effort to their studies and academic responsibilities. (Id.; Ex. C
64:23–66:8.)
30.

Knelman’s contract claim is predicated on the assertion that the College promised

him the opportunity “to pursue an undergraduate degree as well as participate in intercollegiate
hockey,” (Doc. 1 ¶ 84), and that the College Handbook and National Collegiate Athletic
Association (“NCAA”) Division III Manual provide the material terms of the parties’ contract,
(id. ¶¶ 21–33). Knelman specifically alleges that this contract was breached as a result of (a) his
“arbitrary” dismissal from the team; (b) Coach Beaney’s alleged statement that Knelman failed
to make hockey a priority; (c) Coach Beaney’s alleged hazing of and defamatory remarks
towards Knelman; and (d) Middlebury’s failure to ensure that Knelman received adequate due
process. (See Doc. 1 ¶¶ 89(a)–(g).)
31.

As a Division III member of the NCAA, the College is not permitted to offer

athletic scholarships to its students. (Doc. 1-3, at 3.)
32.

Knelman claims that the College’s endeavors to comply with NCAA rules and

regulations are enforceable by student-athletes. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 21–26.) He specifically relies on
Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street

language in the “Community Standards and General Policies” section of the College Handbook,

P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT

which states:

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Middlebury College requires all its faculty, staff, and students to adhere to certain
policies and regulations. These regulations, which differ for different segments of
the College community, are all designed to further the educational goals of the
College.
(Id. ¶ 27.)
33.

Knelman argues that the College promised in its Manual that it would comply

with NCAA rules and regulations for his benefit. (Id. ¶ 88.)
34.

Knelman also relies on the “Rules of Reappointment for Physical Education

Faculty” section of the Handbook, (id. ¶ 33), which provides reappointment criteria for College
coaches, as incorporating provisions of the NCAA rules and regulations.
35.

He asserts that Defendants breached other alleged promises set forth in various

sections of the Handbook. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 27–33.)
36.

“Athletics are an essential part of the overall educational experience at

Middlebury College.” (Doc. 1-7.) “The College recognizes that intercollegiate athletics have an
important and desirable role in a liberal arts college. The faculty is responsible for seeing that
the intercollegiate athletic program is a well-integrated part of the entire educational endeavor.”
(Id.; see also Ex. D 40:3–15 (“[W]e are a school that respects academics first, and that the [New
England Small College Athletic Conference] league was formed to allow students to be very
good students, as well as having an opportunity to pursue athletics, if that comes their way.”).)
37.

As part of his claim, Knelman argues that the College failed to take action against

Coach Beaney for his alleged defamatory remarks and hazing. (Doc. 1 ¶ 89.)
38.
Dinse,

Knelman argues that Coach Beaney’s remarks to him during the January 17, 2011

team meeting, in which Coach Beaney described Knelman’s unauthorized early departure from

Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988

the banquet as “selfish,” were “bullying” and “humiliating.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 42.) According to

Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

Knelman, Coach Beaney’s comments that he: acted selfishly; “had problems” on the hockey
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team the year before with respect to his unwillingness to accept his role as a defensive, rather
than offensive, player; and failed to make hockey a “priority” are defamatory and may harm his
“[p]otential professional hockey opportunities, and professional opportunities that deal with
Middlebury alumni.” (Ex. B 228:6–23.)
39.

Knelman does not allege that he has incurred any actual financial harm or lost

business opportunity as a result of the alleged defamatory statements. (Id. 216:4–24:12; 226:17–
39:7.) Knelman at most asserts unsupported claims of “insomnia” and personal “humiliati[on]”
due to the statements of his hockey coach, but he concedes that he has not sought any related
medical treatment. (Id. 220:13–22:8; 223:10–224:8.) Knelman testified that when he graduates
from the College in February 2012, he will spend several months at his family’s Kentucky horse
farm to train for hockey before returning to Minnesota. (Id. 135:20–138:19; 139:14–140:9.) He
admits that he has no current plans to attend graduate school or apply for any jobs but hopes to
pursue a playing career in hockey. (Id.)
40.

It should be noted that Knelman is not simply alleging that his dismissal from the

team was arbitrary, but advances a broader argument that Coach Beaney should not have
discretion to make routine coaching decisions regarding player conduct or even playing time, as
he explained at his deposition:
Q.

MS. KNOBLAUCH: And your hypothetical
is he didn’t tell him, didn’t give any
warning, didn’t give any notice?

Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

Let me ask you, you’re on the men’s ice
hockey team at Middlebury College and Coach
Beaney decides that you’re not showing enough
enthusiasm, enough commitment on the ice and
you're benched.

Q.

No; just says Jak, I don’t like the way
you’ve been playing, I’m not putting you on the

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ice until I'm good and ready and see a wholesale
change in your attitude?
A.

So he’s telling me that.

Q.

Yeah, telling you that.

A.

He’s warning me.

Q.

No, he’s pulling you from the ice.
MS. KNOBLAUCH: So with no warning he’s
pulling him from the ice.

Q.

Absolutely. And you think under the
Middlebury College Handbook or some community
standards you have a right to a hearing before
some body; is that right?

A.

Yes.

Q.

What body?

A.

That’s what I asked for.

(Id. 40:16–49:1.)
41.

Knelman further testified that were he to be benched because, in Coach Beaney’s

opinion, he lacked a desirable attitude and performance in previous games, he would at least
expect an “open investigation” into the situation. (Id. 47:10–49:1.)
42.

Knelman understood Coach Beaney’s alleged defamatory remarks were intended

to address his unauthorized departure from the banquet. (Id. 79:21–25; 170:8–77:21; Doc. 1 ¶
51.)
43.
Dinse,

Knelman alleges that the comment that hockey was not his “priority” was meant

to address his alleged focus on academics to the detriment of hockey. (Ex. B 72:10–76:17,

Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988

77:15–80:6; 206:17–10:19.)

Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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44.

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Knelman hired a public relations firm from New York to provide favorable media

coverage of his suit. (Press Release by Banana Pub. Relations & Event Mgmt., LLC, Ex. I, Dec.
1, 2011.) The firm, known as Banana Public Relations and Event Management, LLC, issued the
attached press release the day after Knelman’s deposition, which states: “Media Note: Jak
Knelman is available for media interviews.” (Id.)
45.

Knelman specifically asserts that “Middlebury knew or had reason to know of

Coach Beaney’s propensity to engage in tortious acts of breach of the fiduciary duty owing to his
students and defamation.” (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 117–20.)
Dated at Burlington, Vermont, this 12th day of December 2011.
DINSE, KNAPP & McANDREW, P.C.
/s/ Karen McAndrew
Karen McAndrew, Esq.
Wm. Andrew MacIlwaine, Esq.
Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street, P. O. Box 988
Burlington, VT 05402-0988
802-864-5751
kmcandrew@dinse.com
amacilwaine@dinse.com

Dinse,
Knapp & McAndrew, P.C.
209 Battery Street
P.O. Box 988
Burlington, VT
05402-0988
(802) 864-5751

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