United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
JASON D. GATI, Plaintiff,
WESTERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. HALE, JUDGE
Jason D. Gati has moved to alter, amend, or vacate the
Judgment in this case and to certify a question of law to the
Kentucky Supreme Court. (Docket No. 46) Because the Court
concludes that it did not commit a clear error of law in its
previous Memorandum Opinion and Order (D.N. 44), and because
his request to certify a question is untimely and without
merit, Gati's motion will be denied.
alleges that he was discriminated against on the basis of
disability when he was denied certain accommodations while
attending Western Kentucky University. (D.N. 1-1) He asserts
claims of disability discrimination against WKU under the
Kentucky Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the
Americans with Disabilities Act. (Id.) He asserts
state-law claims of tortious interference with contractual
relations, promissory estoppel, and fraud against Crissy
Priddy, WKU's Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions.
(Id.) Gati further asserts that Priddy and Dr. Bill
Kline, WKU's Head of the Department of Counseling, aided
and abetted WKU's discriminatory practices.
moved for summary judgment, arguing that the individual
defendants were entitled to immunity and that Gati's
accommodation requests were not reasonable. (D.N. 38; D.N.
38-1) Gati also moved for partial summary judgment on his
claims against WKU, arguing that no genuine issues of fact
remained to be determined regarding the school's
liability. (D.N. 39; D.N. 39-1) In a Memorandum Opinion and
Order entered September 27, 2017, the Court granted
Defendants' motion and denied Gati's motion. (D.N.
44) The Court determined that Priddy was entitled to
sovereign immunity on Gati's official-capacity claims
against her under state law; Kline and Priddy were entitled
to qualified official immunity on Gati's
individual-capacity claims against them under both state and
federal law; and WKU-and by extension, Kline and Priddy in
their official capacities-did not violate the KCRA, the
Rehabilitation Act, or the ADA in denying Gati's
accommodation requests. (Id.) Gati now seeks relief
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and certification
of a question of law to the Kentucky Supreme Court. (D.N. 46)
59(e) allows for reconsideration; it does not permit parties
to effectively ‘re-argue a case.'” Howard
v. United States, 533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v.
Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998)). A motion
under Rule 59(e) may be granted for one of four reasons:
“(1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered
evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or
(4) a need to prevent manifest injustice.” Intera
Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005)
(citing GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters,
178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999)).
presented with questions of Kentucky law that may decide a
case, and when it appears that there is no binding precedent
from the Kentucky Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, then
this Court may certify those questions of Kentucky law to the
Kentucky Supreme Court. Ky. R. Civ. P. 76.37(1). The decision
to certify is, however, left to this Court's discretion.
Transamerica Ins. Co. v. Duro Bag Mfg. Co., 50 F.3d
370, 372 (6th Cir. 1995). Certification is “most
appropriate when the question is new and state law is
unsettled.” Ky. Press Ass'n v. Kentucky,
355 F.Supp.2d 853, 863 (E.D. Ky. 2005) (quoting
Transamerica, 50 F.3d at 372).
urges the Court to alter, amend, or vacate its earlier
Judgment and allow him to proceed with all of his claims
against Defendants. (D.N. 46-1, PageID # 856) The Court notes
at the outset that Gati has not pointed to any newly
discovered evidence, an intervening change in the law, or a
need to prevent manifest injustice. (See D.N. 46;
D.N. 46-1) The Court therefore presumes that Gati's Rule
59(e) motion is based only upon alleged errors of law.
See Henderson, 428 F.3d at 620.
Official-Capacity Immunity of Kline and Priddy
Court previously reasoned that because any recovery against
Kline and Priddy in their official capacities would be, in
effect, recovery against WKU, the Court's analysis of
Gati's claims against WKU applied equally to Gati's
claims against Kline and Priddy in their official capacities.
(D.N. 44, PageID # 843) Gati asserts that the Court skipped
an analysis of whether Kline and Priddy violated the KCRA by
aiding and abetting disability discrimination under Ky. Rev.
Stat. § 344.280. (D.N. 46-1, PageID # 858) But §
344.280 states that “[i]t shall be unlawful for a
person . . . to conspire . . . [t]o aid, abet, incite,
compel, or coerce a person to engage in any of the acts or
practices declared unlawful by this chapter.” Ky. Rev.
Stat. § 344.280(2). There can be no conspiracy to aid or
abet in the absence of any discriminatory acts or practices.
See Reed v. Gulf Coast Enters., No.
3:15-CV-00295-JHM, 2016 WL 79998, at *12 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 6,
2016) (“A party who cannot be liable for the underlying
tort as a matter of law-as [the defendant] cannot be liable
for the underlying disability discrimination claim- cannot be
liable for conspiracy to commit that tort.”) (citing
CNH Capital Am. LLC v. Hunt Tractor, Inc., 568
Fed.Appx. 461, 472-73 (6th Cir. 2014); GATX Corp. v.
Addington, 879 F.Supp.2d 633, 649-50 (E.D. Ky. 2012)).
And the Court already concluded that WKU did not unlawfully
discriminate against Gati. (D.N. 44, PageID # 848-52) The Court is
unaware of any authority, and Gati cites none, suggesting
that the Court's analysis on that point was flawed. In
the absence of a clear error of law, Gati's argument
provides no basis for Rule 59(e) relief. See
Henderson, 428 F.3d at 620.
next points to an argument Defendants made in their motion
for summary judgment, namely, that “[b]ecause any claim
against these Defendants in their official capacities is
actually a claim against WKU . . . Plaintiff has failed to
state a viable claim against them other than the claims
asserted directly against WKU.” (D.N. 46-1, PageID #
858-59; D.N. 38-1, PageID # 709) Gati then argues that this
statement was “insufficient to sustain a Motion for
Summary Judgment, yet this claim [for aiding and abetting
discrimination under § 344.280] was dismissed.”
(D.N. 46-1, PageID # 859) Again, Gati cites no authority
suggesting that the Court made a clear error of law in its
earlier Memorandum Opinion and Order.
also takes issue with the Court's observation that
because all of the individuals who made decisions related to
his accommodation requests were employed by WKU, it was not
critical to the Court's analysis that WKU's decisions
be precisely attributed to a specific WKU official. (D.N.
46-1, PageID # 859; D.N. 44, PageID # 840) Specifically, Gati
argues that the Court skipped an analysis of Kline and
Priddy's aiding-and-abetting liability. (D.N. 46-1,
PageID # 859) This argument is unpersuasive for the reasons
already discussed. Gati also argues, without citation to any
legal authority, that the Court's logic “ignores
each person's convoluted role in violating the
law.” (Id.) The Court's prior Memorandum
Opinion and Order explained in detail why particular
defendants could not be held liable under the law, and Gati
has failed to demonstrate any clear errors of law that would
necessitate Rule 59(e) relief.
Gati asserts that a jury should be able to determine whether
different provisions of the KCRA were violated by Priddy and
Kline individually or by WKU as a whole given that he sought
the possibility of equitable or injunctive relief. (D.N.
46-1, PageID # 858) In his summary-judgment briefing, Gati
argued that the claims against Defendants in their official
capacities should not be dismissed “[s]ince equitable
relief is still a possibility in this case.” (D.N. 41,
PageID # 783) As the Court explained in its earlier ruling,
the distinction between monetary and equitable relief is
relevant for purposes of sovereign immunity. (See
D.N. 44, PageID # 843) See Woodward v. Elizabethtown
Cmty. & Tech. Coll., No. 3:14-CV-00776-CRS, 2015 WL
4464100, at *4 (W.D. Ky. July 21, 2015) (“The Ex
parte Young exception allows claims for prospective
relief against state officials in their official capacities
to proceed uninhibited by sovereign immunity.”).
Sovereign immunity is not a bar to Gati's claims against
Kline and Priddy in their official capacities, however,
because the Kentucky legislature has waived sovereign
immunity for claims brought under the KCRA. See,
e.g., Dep't of Corr. v. Furr, 23 S.W.3d
615, 616 (Ky. 2000). The Court granted Kline and Priddy
summary judgment on Gati's official-capacity KCRA claims
because it concluded that WKU did not violate the KCRA. (D.N.
44, PageID # 843, 848, 852) Because Gati has pointed to no
clear error of law with respect to that conclusion, his
argument concerning equitable relief is also unavailing.
Tortious Interference with Contract, Promissory
Court granted summary judgment in favor of Priddy on
Gati's official-capacity claims against her for tortious
interference with contract, promissory estoppel, and fraud.
(D.N. 44, PageID # 844) The Court reasoned that because Gati
alleged these state-law claims seeking damages rather than
injunctive relief, Priddy was entitled to sovereign immunity
and could not be held liable for these claims in her official
capacity. (Id.) Gati asserts that the Court erred
because he “specifically included [Priddy's]
official capacity because he could be entitled to
equitable/injunctive relief, ” citing the prayer of his
complaint, which included equitable and injunctive relief.
(D.N. 46-1, PageID # 859; D.N. 1-1, PageID # 20) Gati also
cites an argument he made earlier with respect to equitable
or injunctive relief:
Plaintiff could be entitled to equitable/injunctive relief in
this matter. For example, if the jury decides Defendants are
liable for Plaintiff's worthlessly used GI Bill benefits
at WKU, it could award credit hours/classes to Plaintiff to
further pursue his education in the future. Other equitable
relief that may be sought here is prospective injunctive
relief, i.e., making the programs available to disabled
students via ITV or online. Since equitable relief is still a
possibility in this case, the claims against Defendants in
their official capacities should not be dismissed.
(D.N. 46-1, PageID # 859; D.N. 41, PageID # 783)
Court's finding that Gati alleged these state-law claims
against Priddy seeking damages is supported by Gati's
earlier briefing. Within his discussion of the
tortious-interference claim, Gati argued that his damages
included “lost GI Bill benefits, attorney's fees,
and two years of wasted time.” (D.N. 41, PageID #
791-93) While discussing his promissory-estoppel and fraud
claims, Gati again stated that his damages included
“two years of [wasted] time, GI Bill benefits, and
attorneys' fees/costs.” (Id., PageID #
793-95) Gati did, however, mention the possibility of
equitable or injunctive relief in his complaint and elsewhere
in his summary-judgment briefing. (See D.N. 1-1;
D.N. 41, PageID # 783) The Court will therefore err on the
side of caution and address the merits of these claims to
determine whether Rule 59(e) relief is warranted.
asserted a promissory-estoppel claim against Priddy, alleging
that she made promises to him that she did not keep. (D.N.
1-1) Defendants sought summary judgment on this claim,
arguing that Priddy made no promise to Gati that would
support a promissory-estoppel claim. (D.N. 38-1, PageID #
724) Gati responded that Priddy promised him that he could
complete his program at the Elizabethtown campus, inducing
him to enroll in the program only to find out later that
Priddy's promises were false. (D.N. 41, PageID # 793)
Kentucky law, the four elements of promissory estoppel are
‘(1) a promise; (2) which the promisor should
reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part
of the promise[e]; (3) which does induce such action or
forbearance; and (4) injustice can be avoided only by
enforcement of the promise.'” Derby City
Capital, LLC v. Trinity HR Servs., 949 F.Supp.2d 712,
728 (W.D. Ky. 2013) (quoting Bergman v. Baptist
Healthcare Sys., Inc., 344 F.Supp.2d 998, 1003 (W.D. Ky.
2004)). In determining whether injustice can be avoided only
by enforcement of the promise, the Court must also consider
whether the promisee's reliance was reasonable. See
TWB Distribution, LLC v. BBL, Inc., No. 3:08-CV-509-S,
2009 WL 5103604, at *6 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 17, 2009); see also
Derby City Capital, 949 F.Supp.2d at 728
(“Additionally, the promisee's reliance on the
promise must be justified.”).
the parties dispute whether Priddy told Gati that he could
complete the entire mental-health counseling program at the
Elizabethtown campus (compare D.N. 33-1, PageID #
474, with D.N. 30-1, PageID # 86), it is undisputed
that Gati later transferred fifteen of the credits he earned
at WKU to Lindsey Wilson College, where he graduated with a
mental-health counseling degree. (D.N. 33-2, PageID # 533-34;
D.N. 33-1, PageID # 470-71) And although Gati asserts that he
had to “start [the program] from the beginning, ”
it is also undisputed that his education at Lindsey Wilson
was paid for in full by the GI Bill; Gati still paid nothing
out of pocket. (D.N. 33-1, PageID # 470-71) And Gati
completed the Lindsey Wilson program at a campus near his
home. (Id.) The Court finds that the circumstances
here do not constitute “the kind of injustice that can
be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.”
Harris v. Burger King Corp., 993 F.Supp.2d 677, 692
(W.D. Ky. 2014). In any event, it is unclear whether the
prospective injunctive relief Gati suggests-an award of
credit hours for unspecified future education and program
availability for other students at WKU (D.N. 41, PageID #
783)-would even benefit him. See Auto Channel, Inc. v.
Speedvision Network, LLC, 144 F.Supp.2d 784, 792 (W.D.
Ky. 2001) (finding that plaintiffs had not shown that
injustice would be avoided only by enforcement where
enforcing promise would give no benefit to plaintiffs). The
Court therefore did not clearly err in granting summary
judgment to Priddy on this claim.
also asserted a fraud claim against Priddy, alleging that she
made misrepresentations of material fact to him while he was
deciding whether to enroll at WKU. (D.N. 1-1) Defendants
argued that Gati could not prove fraud because no one at WKU
promised Gati that he could complete all of his classes in
Elizabethtown. (D.N. 38-1, PageID # 727) In contrast, Gati