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Nigam v. Wright State Univ.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

June 26, 2018

PRATIBHA NIGAM, Plaintiff,
v.
WRIGHT STATE UNIV., et al., Defendants.

         DECISION AND ENTRY SUSTAINING DEFENDANTS WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY AND VICKI EVANS'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF PRATIBHA NIGAM'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOC. #12); CLAIMS ONE AND TWO IN PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOC. #10) ARE DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; CLAIMS THREE AND FOUR ARE DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE AS THEY PERTAIN TO DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION; CLAIMS THREE AND FOUR ARE DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE TO REFILING, SUBJECT TO THE STRICTURES OF RULE 11, AS THEY PERTAIN TO RETALIATION UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES AND REHABILITATION ACTS; CLAIMS FIVE THROUGH SEVEN ARE DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, SUBJECT TO REFILING IN A COURT OF COMPETENT JURISDICTION; JUDGMENT SHALL ULTIMATELY ENTER IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF ON CLAIMS ONE AND TWO IN THEIR ENTIRETIES, AND ON CLAIMS THREE AND FOUR AS THEY PERTAIN TO DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION

          WALTER H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Pratibha Nigam ("Plaintiff') was a student in the Bachelor's of Science in Nursing program ("Program") in Defendant Wright State University's ("WSU") College of Nursing and Health ("CoNH") from Fall 2011 until Fall 2015, when she was dismissed from the Program. During her entire tenure at WSU, Plaintiff was under a disability, and she claims that she suffered discrimination on the basis of that disability by Defendant Vicki Evans ("Evans"), one of Plaintiff's clinical professors in the CoNH, and suffered retaliation by Evans as a result of her reporting that discrimination, culminating in her dismissal from the Program. WSU and Evans (collectively "Defendants") have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint ("Motion"), arguing that "this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over some of Plaintiff's claims, and the claims over which this Court has jurisdiction fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Doc. #12, PAGEID #86. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is SUSTAINED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1]

         Plaintiff enrolled at WSU in Fall 2010 and matriculated into the Program in Fall 2011. Doc. #10, ¶¶ 14-15, PAGEID #66. In December 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and withdrew from the Program while she underwent treatment. Id., ¶¶ 16-17. Plaintiff was readmitted to the Program in 2014, and enrolled in Nursing 4420, a clinical course taught by Evans, in Summer 2014. Id., ¶ 18. During the course, Evans, who knew of Plaintiff's past cancer treatments, id., ¶ 20, PAGEID #67, "harassed Plaintiff throughout the semester by regularly singling her out from the other students based on actual and perceived weaknesses due to Plaintiff's disabilities." Id., ¶ 21. "On June 25, 2014, Plaintiff suffered a panic attack during a clinical shift immediately after Defendant Evans admonished Plaintiff in her clinical." Id., ¶ 22. Plaintiff withdrew from Nursing 4420 and petitioned CoNH for an extension of time to complete the Program; on appeal, she was granted such an extension. Id., ¶¶ 24-25. During the petition and appeals process, Plaintiff reported to CoNH that Evans had verbally abused her in public, and she submitted anonymous written statements from other students corroborating her description of harassment. Id., ¶ 26, PAGEID #67-68. Evans became aware of Plaintiff's reports, and in an interview with Lindsay Wright ("Wright"), an investigator with WSU's Office of Equity and Inclusion ("OEI"), "Evans alleged that Plaintiff 'campaigned' against her 'by claiming her rights were violated.' This was 'very frustrating' to Ms. Evans." Id., PAGEID #68.

         Upon receiving an extension of time, Plaintiff re-enrolled in Nursing 4420 in Summer 2015, with a different instructor, and "excelled in both the lecture and clinical portions of the course[.]" Doc. #10, ¶ 27, PAGEID #68. In Fall 2015, Plaintiff enrolled in Nursing 4460, "and was placed at the Grandview Medical Center ('GMC') in Dayton, Ohio[, ] for her clinical rotation. Liz Pulley [('Pulley')] was assigned as Plaintiff's Clinical Instructor[, ] and Jessica Roberts [('Roberts')] was assigned as Plaintiff's Preceptor[2] at GMC." Id., ¶ 28. In an evaluation dated October 17, 2015, Roberts indicated "that Plaintiff's performance was satisfactory in all ten areas of evaluation." Id., ¶ 31, PAGEID #69. However, on October 16, 2015, Plaintiff informed Evans that she was working full-time outside of her clinical rotations for Nursing 4460. Id., ¶ 30. Evans then contacted Pulley to voice her concerns about Plaintiff working while performing clinical rotations. Id., ¶¶ 32-33. In an October 19, 2015, meeting, Pulley informed Plaintiff of Evans's concerns, id., ¶ 34, PAGEID #70, and the next day, "Roberts relayed apparently newfound concerns about Plaintiff's competency, knowledge of medications and overall safety." Id., ¶ 36.

         On October 22, 2015, Roberts issued a new evaluation, Doc. #10, ¶ 37, PAGEID #70, rating Plaintiff "as satisfactory in only four out of ten areas." Id., ¶ 38. The next day, "Pulley informed Plaintiff that she could not return to the clinical [rotation at GMC] until the 'narcotics issue'" pertaining to her "was investigated." Id., ¶ 41, PAGEID #71. Pulley completed her own midterm evaluation of Plaintiff, assigning her "the lowest possible scores in each category." Id., ¶ 42. Plaintiff was never provided a remedial action plan or offered a different clinical placement, and on November 10, 2015, Plaintiff was dismissed from the Program. Id., ¶¶ 44-47, PAGEID #72.

         On January 6, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter to Matthew Boaz ("Boaz"), the OEI Director, in which she alleged "ridicule, harassment, discrimination and retaliation based on the foregoing circumstances." Doc. #10, ¶ 52, PAGEID #73. Wright, on behalf of OEI, conducted interviews of: Evans; Pulley; Roberts, Will Matcham, Ph.D., Course Coordinator, and Sherrill Smith, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs. Id., ¶ 53. From her investigation, Wright concluded that it was more likely than not that WSU's Non-Discrimination Statement had been violated with respect to Plaintiff, and she informed Thomas Sudkamp, Ph.D., Provost of CoNH, of same. Id., ¶ 55, PAGEID #74. Nonetheless, on July 18, 2016, Dr. Sudkamp determined that Plaintiff had not suffered discrimination or retaliation, and would not be permitted to re-enter the Program. Id., ¶ 56. As Plaintiff was not permitted to appeal Dr. Sudkamp's decision, id., ¶ 58, she alleges that she was "dismissed from the CoNH without being afforded . . . reasonable procedural process, for reasons that were purely pretextual." Id., ¶ 60.

         On December 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint against WSU and Evans, raising a First Amendment Retaliation Claim, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Evans in her Official and Individual Capacities (Claim II). Doc. #10, ¶¶ 76-83, PAGEID #77-78.[3] Plaintiff also claims that WSU engaged in disability-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (Claim III) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Claim IV). Id., ¶¶ 84-99, PAGEID #78-79. Plaintiff also brings three state common law claims: breach of contract against WSU (Claim V); intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") against Evans in her individual and official capacities (Claim VI); and tortious interference with contract against Evans in her individual capacity (Claim VII). Id., ¶¶ 100-25, PAGEID #80-83. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and prospective injunctive relief, as well as money damages. Id., PAGEID #83.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         "The objection that a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised by a party, or by a court on its own initiative, at any stage in the litigation[.]" Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)). "[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden to prove that [subject matter] jurisdiction [exists]." Global Tech., Inc. v. Yubei (XinXiang) Power Steering Sys. Co., Ltd., 807 F.3d 806, 810 (6th Cir. 2015). As parties cannot waive the requirement of subject matter jurisdiction, " Ammex, Inc. v. Cox, 351 F.3d 697, 702 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Riggs v. Island Creek Coal Co., 542 F.2d 339, 343 (6th Cir. 1976)), the Court must dismiss any claims over which it lacks jurisdiction.

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the [plaintiff] is entitled to relief." The complaint must provide the defendant with "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2LEd.2d80(1957)).

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint on the basis that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The moving party "has the burden of showing that the opposing party has failed to adequately state a claim for relief." DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991)). The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "is to allow a defendant to test whether, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief even if everything alleged in the complaint is true." Mayer v. Mylod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir. 1993). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must "construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its [well-pleaded] allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, 695 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Treesh, 487 F.3d at 476).

         Nevertheless, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Unless the facts alleged show that the plaintiff's claim crosses "the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id. Although this standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," it does require more than "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555. "Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Legal conclusions "must be supported by well-pleaded factual allegations . . . [that] plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Id. at 679. "Although for the purposes of this motion to dismiss we must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).

         C. Leave to ...


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