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Ali v. University of Louisville

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 11, 2019

SYED ALI Plaintiff
v.
UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE, ET AL. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Syed Ali brings this action against Defendants University of Louisville (the “University”), Dr. Marcia Hern, Dr. Angela Calloway, and Katherine Weckman alleging violations of Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 (20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.), the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (42 U.S.C. § 6101 et seq.), the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (42 U.S.C. § 1983), breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). [DE 1-2, Compl.]. Defendants now move to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [DE 7, Univ. First MTD; DE 10, Weck. First MTD; DE 34, Univ. Second MTD; DE 36, Weck. Second MTD]. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for judgment. [See DE 38, Resp. Univ. MTD; DE 39, Resp. Weck. MTD; DE 40, Weck. Reply].

         Having considered the parties' filings and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS the University's, Dr. Hern's, and Dr. Calloway's Second Motion to Dismiss [DE 34] and DENIES AS MOOT the University's, Dr. Hern's, and Dr. Calloway's First Motion to Dismiss [DE 7]. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction on Ali's remaining state-law claims against Weckman. Weckman's First and Second Motions to Dismiss [DE 7; DE 36] are therefore DENIED AS MOOT, and the case is REMANDED to state court.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are set out in the Complaint and accepted as true for purposes of Defendants' Motions. See Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 440 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Beginning in 2015, Ali was a student at the University of Louisville School of Nursing. [DE 32, Am. Compl. at ¶ 11]. On September 19, 2016, Ali was arrested for two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 12 and one count of distribution of obscene material to a minor under the age of 12. Id. at ¶ 12. Following Ali's arrest, Dr. Hern, Dean of the School of Nursing, placed Ali on interim suspension for potential violations of the University Code of Student Conduct. Id. at ¶ 17; [DE 9-1, Interim Suspension Letter]. The University also claimed that Ali failed to complete a background check required for admission. [DE 7-1, Univ.'s Motion to Dismiss at 40]. Ali contends that he did not violate the Code of Student Conduct and complied with all admissions requirements, including the background check. [DE 32 at ¶ 11]. Ali then completed a background check at the University's request but voluntarily remained on suspension. [DE 7 at 40; DE 9-1; DE 32 at ¶ 21].

         On December 1, 2016, Ali alleged that Dr. Calloway, a clinical professor at the University, violated his rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) by discussing his case in her classes. [DE 32 at ¶ 23]. The University held a hearing on Ali's grievance and determined that Dr. Calloway had not violated Ali's rights. Id. at ¶ 25. In May 2017, Ali complained to the University that another student, Katherine Weckman, violated Ali's rights under Title IX during the discussions in Dr. Calloway's classes by claiming that she “knew” Ali was a “pedophile.” Id. at ¶ 26. The University determined that Weckman's conduct did not implicate Title IX and informed Ali that it would not hold a hearing on his complaint. Id. at ¶ 27.

         Ali filed this civil action under the pseudonym “John Doe” in Jefferson County Circuit Court on September 25, 2017. Id. The state court declined Ali's request for a protective order to allow him to proceed as “John Doe.” [DE 1-2; DE 25-1 at 272]. On October 17, 2017, Defendants removed the action to this Court. [DE 1, Not. Removal]. Defendants moved to dismiss the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [DE 7; DE 10]. Ali then moved for leave to proceed as “John Doe” and to seal or remove his name from all documents. [DN 13]. The Court denied Ali's request and ordered Ali to file an amended complaint using his full name [DE 28; DE 29], which Ali did on July 18, 2018 [DE 32]. Defendants then filed updated Motions to Dismiss. [DE 34; DE 36]. Timely responses and replies were filed. [See DE 38; DE 39; DE 40].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires a court to dismiss a complaint if the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To properly state a claim, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When considering a motion to dismiss, courts must presume all factual allegations in the complaint to be true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Mich. Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “A complaint will be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if no law supports the claims made, if the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or if the face of the complaint presents an insurmountable bar to relief.” Southfield Educ. Ass'n v. Southfield Bd. of Educ., 570 Fed.Appx. 485, 487 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561-64).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Procedural Due Process

         First, Ali claims that the University violated his due-process rights as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by failing to follow its own published policies and procedures when responding to the allegations against Ali. [DE 32 at ¶¶ 34-35]. Ali seeks both damages related to his suspension under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and reinstatement into the Nursing Program. Id. at ¶¶ 38-39; see Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012) (holding that a plaintiff who seeks to recover damages for violation of his constitutional rights must bring his action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

         In response, the University asserts that the Eleventh Amendment protects it from suit. The Eleventh Amendment stipulates that a state and its agencies may not be sued in federal court, regardless of the relief sought, unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has overridden it. P.R. Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993). Eleventh Amendment immunity can only be waived if (1) the state consents to suit; (2) the Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), exception applies; or (3) Congress has abrogated a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Kovacevich v. Kent State Univ., 224 F.3d 806, 817 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Nelson v. Miller, 170 F.3d 641, 646 (6th Cir. 1999)).

         “The University of Louisville is a state agency cloaked with Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Graham v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 804 F.2d 953, 960 (6th Cir. 1986) (citing Martin v. Univ. of Louisville, 541 F.2d 1171, 1174 (6th Cir. 1976)); see also Hutsell v. Sayre, 5 F.3d 996, 999 (6th Cir. 1993) (noting that public universities in Kentucky and their directors are state agencies and officials for Eleventh Amendment purposes). It is well settled that Kentucky has not consented to waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity. Adams v. Morris, 90 Fed.Appx. 856, 857 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Whittington v. Milby, 928 F.2d 188, 193 (6th Cir. 1991)). Further, the Ex parte Young exception only allows suits seeking prospective injunctive relief against college administrators, professors, and other state officials acting in their official and individual capacities. Flaim v. Med. Coll. of Ohio, 418 F.3d 629, 641 (6th Cir. 2005). It does not affect the Eleventh Amendment's prohibition on suing state entities themselves. Id. Finally, the Sixth Circuit has found that Congress did not intend for Section 1983 to override states' immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. See Whittington, 928 F.2d at 193. Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits Ali from seeking damages under Section 1983 or asserting a due-process claim against the University, and Ali's due-process claim against the University is dismissed.

         However, it is unclear from Ali's Complaint whether he asserts his due-process claim only against the University itself-which, as discussed above, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits-or against both the University and Dr. Hern, who suspended Ali in her role as dean of the School of Nursing. [DE 32 at ¶¶ 15, 34-35]. Because the Court must make all reasonable inferences in Ali's favor when considering Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the Court will construe Ali's Complaint as asserting his due-process claim against both the University and Dr. Hern in her official capacity as dean. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc., 552 F.3d at 434. And while the Eleventh Amendment prohibits Ali from proceeding against the University with his due-process claim, it does not bar his claim against Dr. Hern as it relates to Ali's reinstatement into the Nursing Program. Flaim, 418 F.3d at 637 n. 4 (noting that the Eleventh Amendment did not prohibit Flaim's claim against state officials in their official capacities for prospective injunctive relief requiring his readmittance to medical school).

         A plaintiff claiming violation of his procedural due-process rights must allege facially plausible facts showing that (1) he had a fundamental liberty or property interest (2) that was deprived without sufficient notice or opportunity to be heard. Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 572-73 (1972). Ali's Complaint cites four separate instances where he was allegedly denied due process: (1) Ali's grievance hearing relating to the complaint that he filed against Dr. Calloway; (2) the University's decision not to hold a hearing on Ali's Title IX complaint against Weckman; (3) Dr. Hern's letter to Ali stating that Ali needed to complete a criminal background check; and (4) Ali's interim suspension following his criminal charges for sexual misconduct with a minor. [DE 32 at ¶ 34].

         Of these four instances, Dr. Hern was involved only in the decision to suspend Ali from the Nursing Program.[1] Courts have consistently held that higher-education disciplinary decisions implicate due process. See, e.g., Goss, 419 U.S. at 575 (liberty and property interest implicated in high-school suspension); Board of Regents, 408 U.S. at 564; Doe v. Univ. of Cincinnati,872 F.3d 393, 399 (6th Cir. 2017) (“Suspension clearly implicates a protected property interest, and allegations of sexual assault may impugn a student's reputation and integrity, thus implicating a protected liberty interest.”); Flaim, 418 F.3d 629, 634 (6th Cir. 2005); Gorman v. Univ. of R.I.,837 ...


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