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Heavin v. Kentucky State University

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

November 7, 2019

KAREN S. HEAVIN, Plaintiff,
v.
KENTUCKY STATE UNIVERSITY, and LUCIAN YATES III, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Kentucky State University and Lucian Yates III's Motion to Dismiss. [R. 4.] Plaintiff Karen S. Heavin seeks damages under various theories of liability against Kentucky State University (KSU) and the Provost of KSU after the termination of her employment at the University. However, Ms. Heavin's claims against the official defendant is barred by sovereign immunity. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I

         A

         After being a math instructor for KSU since 2007, Karen Heavin was appointed as a tenure track assistant professor for a term from August 13, 2018 through May 13, 2019. [R. 1 at 1-2.] On February 13, 2019, the provost of KSU, Dr. Lucian Yates, and the Human Resources Director of KSU met with Ms. Heavin to inform her that her appointment as a tenure track assistant professor was being terminated. Id. at 2. KSU informed Ms. Heavin that her appointment would terminate on November 12, 2019, which was a notice of almost months before termination was final. Id. Ms. Heavin claims that Dr. Yates ordered KSU representatives to escort Ms. Heavin to her office following the meeting, where she was instructed to remove all of her personal belongings, and escort her out of her office. Id. at 3. Thereafter, Ms. Heavin submitted a grievance in regards to her termination pursuant to such policy in the KSU Faculty Handbook, which was denied by KSU Executive Vice President. Id. at 3-4. After Ms. Heavin received the denial of the grievance, she appealed it to the President of KSU, who did not render a decision on the matter. Id. at 4.

         On June 25, 2019, Ms. Heavin sued the Kentucky State University and Dr. Lucian Yates III. [R. 1.] In her complaint, she seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, state-law breach of contract, and violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Id. Count I applies to all defendants, while Counts II-III allege liability only for Kentucky State University. Id. at 4-7.

         B

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a defendant may assert lack of subject-matter jurisdiction as a defense. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is different from a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) because it challenges the Court's power to hear the case before it. When jurisdiction is challenged under this rule, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that jurisdiction exists. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). In answering this question, the Court is “empowered to resolve factual disputes” and need not presume that either parties' factual allegations are true. Id.

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court, however, “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court explained that in order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Courier v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2009).

         II

         A

         KSU contends that the Court has no subject matter jurisdiction over KSU because the official defendant enjoys sovereign immunity against all claims asserted by Ms. Heavin.[1] [R. 4 at 20.] When jurisdiction is challenged under this rule, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that jurisdiction exists. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). In answering this question, the Court is “empowered to resolve factual disputes” and need not presume that either parties' factual allegations are true. Id. Generally, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states and state agencies in federal court unless a state legislature has waived immunity or has consented to being sued in federal court. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989); Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 572 (6th Cir. 2008). The Eleventh Amendment protects states against all types of claims, “whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief.” Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 381 (6th Cir. 1993); see also McCormick v. Miami Univ., 693 F.3d 654, 661 (6th Cir. 2012).

         There are three exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity. First, Congress may abrogate a state's immunity pursuant to its Fourteenth Amendment powers, see Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 756, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999). Second, a state may waive its immunity. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 284-85, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 179 L.Ed.2d 700 (2011). And third, a state's waiver may be invalidated under the exception found in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). For this sovereign immunity analysis, it is important to note that Ms. Heavin seeks monetary and injunctive relief [see R. 1 at 8], which places only the Ex Parte Young exception in question.

         Under Ex parte Young, individuals who are "officers of the state" who are violating or threatening to violate the Federal Constitution "may be enjoined by a Federal court of equity from such action." 209 U.S. at 155-56. Claims brought under Ex Parte Young cannot provide "retroactive relief," but can only provide prospective relief. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984). A "court may enter a prospective suit that costs the state money . . . if the monetary impact is ancillary, i.e., not the primary purpose of the suit." Boler v. Earley, 865 F.3d 391, 413 (6th Cir. 2017). Put another way, "a suit by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment." Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974). To make the determination of whether the relief sought is prospective or retroactive, the Court looks at whether "money or the non-monetary injunction is the primary thrust of the suit." S & M Brands, Inc. v. Cooper, 527 F.3d 500, 510 (6th Cir. 2008). It follows that injunctive relief pursuant to the Ex Parte Young exception is only available against the state officers and not the state itself. Lawson v. Shelby ...


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