United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
OPINION AND ORDER
E. Wier, United States District Judge.
Court addresses two pending motions: Defendants'
dismissal effort (DE #9) and Plaintiff's request to again
amend the Complaint (DE #10). Because the sought amendment as
to Plaintiff's only federal claim would be futile, the
Court rejects the attempt and dismisses the claim. Under the
circumstances, as explained, the Court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's asserted state
claims and, thus, denies as moot the amendment request as to
those (here dismissed) claims.
Factual and Procedural Background
Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides-former Dean of the University of
Kentucky College of Dentistry (“UKCOD”)-accuses
UK and current UK Provost David A. Blackwell of
terminating him in violation of several state laws and
without affording him due process. DE #4 (Amended
Complaint). Kyrkanides was appointed as Dean of the
UKCOD on June 17, 2015 and served in the position until
January 16, 2019. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 25. Per
Kyrkanides's employment agreement, see DE
#10-18,  the position “include[d] a faculty
appointment as Professor, with tenure, in the Division of
Orthodontics in the Department of Oral Health Science.”
Id. at 1. The agreement further provided that
Kyrkanides would “serve at the discretion of the
Provost for an initial period of six years.”
Id. Plaintiff indicated, via his signature on the
document, that he accepted the appointment and understood its
conditions, as outlined in the agreement. Id. at 2.
general matter, Kyrkanides avers-under state law
theories-that the College terminated him in retaliation for
three activities: (1) reporting and seeking to discontinue
faculty misuse of funds; (2) exploring employee theft of
harvested gold crowns; and (3) supporting investigation into
perceived illegal discrimination at the UKCOD. See
DE #4 at ¶¶ 9, 33, 44, 54. As to the first class of
allegations, Plaintiff asserts that UK Healthcare's
Associate General Counsel Cliff Iler confirmed to him that
the UKCOD was paying faculty salary supplements out of
compliance with University regulations. Id. at
¶ 11-12. Kyrkanides discovered that, as a result, the
UKCOD incurred a substantial deficit. Id. at ¶
13. He alleges that his subsequent attempts to address the
salary supplement issue with faculty and administrators drew
hostility. He claims lack of support from the Provost.
Id. at ¶¶ 14-24. Kyrkanides maintains that
he otherwise consistently received praise from the UKCOD,
including Provost Blackwell, for his job performance.
Plaintiff thus attributes the abrupt January 2019 termination
(at least in part) to his unpopular fund misuse correction
efforts. Id. at ¶¶ 26-31.
second alleged demotion basis stems from Kyrkanides's
concern that UKCOD clinical employees were “stealing
gold crowns and either selling them on the secondary market
to purchase gifts for their own families, or converting them
to gold coins and taking them home.” Id. at
¶ 34. Plaintiff, considering this violative of UKCOD
rules or law, sought to stop the theft but received little
administrative support in doing so. Id. He alleges
that Human Resources ultimately informed him (on January 15,
2019) that prevalence of the theft made it impossible to
address and, despite reaching out to the Provost for
assistance, he encountered refusal. Id. at ¶
36. Kyrkanides, (apparently based on this interaction's
temporal proximity to his January 16 termination) surmises
that the UKCOD retaliated against him for reporting the theft
Plaintiff contends that the demotion in part resulted from
his efforts to address alleged UKCOD discrimination against
minority students. After “underrepresented minority
students in the College of Dentistry and a recent graduate of
the College of Dentistry complained to the Plaintiff about
discriminatory experiences in their interactions with some
dental faculty members[, ]” Kyrkanides sought
Blackwell's support. Id. at ¶ 44-47. When
he did not receive it, Plaintiff endeavored to address the
perceived discrimination issues without Provost support.
Id. at ¶ 52. Upon backlash from Blackwell,
Kyrkanides filed a September 2018 formal complaint against UK
“alleging that he was being harassed by Provost
Blackwell[.]” Id. at ¶ 54. UK's
investigation into the harassment matter concluded, per
Kyrkanides, on January 15, 2019. Id. Plaintiff
claims that his involvement in the three investigations
prompted retaliatory demotion on January 16, 2019.
Id. at ¶¶ 55-56.
initiated this case in March 2019,  see DE #1, and soon
amended the Complaint as of right per Rule 15, see
DE #4. The Amended Complaint includes three state law claims
(retaliation based on the fund misuse efforts, retaliation
based on the crown theft report, and retaliation based on
Kyrkanides's involvement in the discrimination and
harassment investigations), as well as one federal Fourteenth
Amendment due process claim. Plaintiff, as grounds for the
due process claim, avers that the UKCOD deprived him of a
protected property interest in the deanship without affording
him adequate process. Id. at ¶¶ 58-59.
Kyrkanides also alleges that, by demoting him, the University
unlawfully deprived him of a liberty interest in reputation.
See Id. at ¶ 60 (“In addition,
Plaintiff's good name, honor, and integrity has been
harmed.”). Kyrkanides seeks reinstatement as Dean and
an order enjoining further retaliation against him.
Id. at 16, ¶¶ (a)-(b). He further demands
a court order requiring the “state” to
investigate certain perceived regulatory violations.
Id. at 16, ¶ (c). Lastly, as monetary relief,
Plaintiff pursues lost wages, benefits, and grant funds, $7.5
million for embarrassment and humiliation, and $10 million in
punitive damages. Id. at 16, ¶¶ (d)-(k).
April 2019, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint,
without seeking leave to do so, DE #7, and the Court struck
the Rule 15-violative filing, see DE #8. Defendants
moved to dismiss (all claims) roughly a month after these
events. DE #9. Plaintiff then sought leave to amend the
Complaint a second time five days later. DE #10. The proposed
Second Amended Complaint (DE #10-2) adds (only slight) detail
to some of Plaintiff's allegations, injects two new
parties (UK General Counsel William Thro and UK Chief of
Staff Bill Swinford), and alleges a new state claim for
breach of Plaintiff's employment contract. Both the
dismissal motion and amendment request are fully briefed and
ripe for decision. See DE ##12, 13, 14, 15.
Amendment and Dismissal Standards
permits pleading amendment once as a matter of course,
subject to certain limitations. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1).
Kyrkanides took advantage of that opportunity here. “In
all other cases, ” though, “a party may amend its
pleading only with the opposing party's written consent
or the court's leave.” Id. at (a)(2). In
such instances, “[t]he court should freely give leave
when justice so requires.” Id. Rule 15 thus
sets a relatively low amendment justification bar. See
Moore v. City of Paducah, 790 F.2d 557, 562 (6th Cir.
1986) (noting Rule 15's “liberality in allowing
amendments to a complaint”); see also Janikowski v.
Bendix Corp., 823 F.2d 945, 951 (6th Cir. 1987) (quoting
Teft v. Seward, 689 F.2d 637, 639 (6th Cir. 1982))
(“The thrust of the provision ‘is to reinforce
the principle that cases should be tried on the merits rather
than on the technicalities of pleadings.'”).
Rule's liberality, though, is bounded; some
considerations weighing against amendment include
“undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part
of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by
amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the
opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [and]
futility of the amendment[.]” Leary v.
Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 905 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Foman v. Davis, 83 S.Ct. 227, 230 (1962)).
Ultimately, “leave to amend remains within the sound
discretion of the trial court[.]” Id. “A
proposed amendment is futile if the amendment could not
withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Rose
v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 420
(6th Cir. 2000) (citing Thiokol Corp. v.
Department of Treasury, State of Michigan, Revenue Div.,
987 F.2d 376, 382-83 (6th Cir. 1993)); accord Riverview
Health Inst. LLC v. Med. Mut. of Ohio, 601 F.3d 505, 512
(6th Cir. 2010); Kreipke v. Wayne State Univ., 807
F.3d 768, 782 (6th Cir. 2015). This case thus sits at the
intersection of Rules 15 and 12(b)(6).
is appropriate to the extent a complaint “fail[s] to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The 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).
In deciding a Rule 12 motion, “the complaint is viewed
in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the allegations in
the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable
inferences are drawn in favor of plaintiffs.”
Nwanguma v. Trump, 903 F.3d 604, 607 (6th Cir. 2018)
(citing Bassett, 528 F.3d at 430). However, the
Court is not required to accept as true “a legal
conclusion couched as a factual allegation[.]” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007).
Rule 12(b)(6) survival “requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action[.]” Id. Rule 8 “does not
unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with
nothing more than conclusions.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).
on Rule 8's minimal standards, Twombly and
Iqbal require a plaintiff to “plead facts
sufficient to show that her claim has substantive
plausibility.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135
S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). The factual allegations collectively
must “raise a right to relief above the speculative
level[, ]” id., and “state a claim that
is plausible on its face, i.e., the court must be
able to draw a ‘reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.'”
Nwanguma, 903 F.3d at 607 (quoting Iqbal,
129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citation omitted)). This
“plausibility standard” does not require a
showing that success on the claims is probable,
“but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 129
S.Ct. at 1949. Where plaintiffs state “simply,
concisely, and directly events that . . . entitled them to
damages, ” the rules require “no more to stave