A University of Virginia professor has sued the school seeking $100,000 in damages over a campus police investigation into allegations he used his position to steer $1 million worth of business to his personal consulting firm, according to court records.
Paul E. Allaire, 71, claims the school violated his rights last month when UVa police conducted a 10-hour search of his Emerson Drive home, according to the complaint in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
An instructor at UVa's School of Engineering and Applied Science, Allaire has not been charged with a crime. The university launched an internal probe in May into his dealings as a professor and long-time director of the school's Rotating Machinery and Controls Industrial Program, the complaint states.
UVa police said they have asked for state and federal resources to process the dozens of computer drives and hundreds of files seized from Allaire's home and basement office.
Allaire is seeking the return of those materials and to block their being used as evidence against him.
"We don't know who the university police are really working for," said Charlottesville attorney J. Lloyd Snook III, who filed the six-page complaint along with Patrick Asplin and Allaire's lead attorney, Brock Green.
At least two dozen items seized from Allaire's $530,000 Albemarle County property contained privileged information pertaining to an employment dispute with the university, Snook said.
The school placed Allaire on administrative leave in May, the lawsuit said. His salary is $150,000 annually, according to university records. He still was listed Tuesday as director on the Rotating Machinery and Controls Industrial Program website.
UVa police Lt. Melissa Fielding referred questions to university spokesman McGregor McCance, who did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
Court documents filed with the complaint detail a criminal investigation into Allaire that began in November, when UVa's internal auditors summoned detectives to pore over a decade's worth of financial statements related to the professor's directorship of the research hub, which brings together engineering students, faculty and industry leaders.
Allaire allegedly set up a "shell of a company" -- Allaire Development Co. -- to do private business with companies using university assets, according to a search warrant affidavit filed last month,
"Being the director of the very entity that he was undercutting, it is unreasonable to believe that Mr. Allaire was unaware of the wrong that he was doing," UVa police investigator Matthew McBee wrote in the affidavit.
"The evidence is clearly documented" in emails auditors retrieved from Allaire's university computer, McBee wrote.
Allaire told a prospective research lab client that routing services through his personal company would be "a deal" because he "does not charge overhead," according to email excerpts quoted in the affidavit.
The disagreement centers on a software program that Allaire wrote in his capacity as a university employee and used for his personal business, Snook said.
"That's really where the guts of this battle is: intellectual property," Snook said.
Allaire is seeking the maximum damages award under a legal provision that allows an individual to hold the state or a state actor liable for failing to exercise reasonable care. That limit can be breached in certain instances.
A doctrine with roots in English common law, sovereign immunity protects the state and state workers from civil action in most cases, said R. Craig Wood, a local partner with the firm McGuire Woods.
"In certain situations, if a state actor does something to wrong an individual, you can sue," Wood said.
The Virginia Tort Claims Act limits compensation in situations of ordinary negligence, but not gross negligence, said Robert T. Hall, a Reston-based attorney representing families of Virginia Tech shooting victims in an appeal of a $4-million per plaintiff judgment later capped at $100,000 a piece.
The suits are dissimilar, but subject to the same limitations, Hall said.
"As a tenured, chaired professor he -- presumably -- had certain contract rights that he feels have been violated in this process," Hall said. "We're working under different legal theories, perhaps, but we're both facing the same issue."
If a judge rules the search of Allaire's home violated criminal procedure, the materials returned to him would be inadmissible in court.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Allaire referred questions to Green, who did not respond to an interview request.