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Odom v. University of Michigan

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 16, 2017




         This lawsuit arises from the termination of Plaintiffs' positions with University of Michigan Health System (“UMHS”) in July 2013. In an Amended Complaint filed August 1, 2016, Plaintiffs assert: (I) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Defendants' alleged violation of Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process right to a neutral decision-maker at their post-termination hearing, and (II) an age discrimination claim under Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”). Presently before the Court is Defendants' “Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings, ” filed October 17, 2016. (ECF No. 19.) Plaintiffs filed a response to the motion on November 7, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) Defendants filed a reply brief on February 2, 2017, which Plaintiffs move to strike because it was untimely.[1] (ECF Nos. 28, 29.)

         In their motion, Defendants first argue that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim against the University of Michigan (“Uof M”), UMHS, and the individual defendants to the extent they are sued in their official capacities for monetary relief. Thus, Defendants seek dismissal of this claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Next, Defendants cite Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), (c), and 56 in support of their request to dismiss Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim against the individual defendants, to the extent they are sued in their individual capacities.[2] Specifically, Defendants contend that the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiffs cannot establish a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights.[3] Finally, Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiffs' pendent state-law claim and thus this claim also must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).

         I. Applicable Standards

         A motion to dismiss on the ground that sovereign immunity bars the plaintiff's claims is properly treated as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). See Lee Testing & Eng'g, Inc. v. Ohio Dep't of Transp., 855 F.Supp.2d 722, 725 (S.D. Ohio 2012); see also Nair v. Oakland Cty. Cmty. Health Auth., 443 F.3d 474, 476 (6th Cir. 2006). When a defendant raises the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff generally bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 104 (1998). However, “ ‘the entity asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity has the burden to show that it is entitled to immunity.' ” Nair, 443 F.3d at 474 (quoting Gragg v. Ky. Cabinet for Workforce Dev., 289 F.3d 958, 963 (6th Cir. 2002)).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard of review as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Grindstaff v. Green, 133 F.3d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1998).

         A pleading 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). To survive motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6) or (c), a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . ..” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         As the Supreme Court provided in Iqbal and Twombly, “[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.' ” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has set forth a “plausible” claim, the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). This presumption, however, is not applicable to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 668. Therefore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The central inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).

         The movant has the initial burden of showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant meets this burden, the “nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.

         “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, “including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-movant's favor. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         II. Factual Background

         Uof M owns and operates UMHS. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 4.) Defendant Russ Laurin was employed in UMHS' Human Resources Department at all times relevant to this lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 5.) Defendant Kathy Jordan-Sedgeman was employed as the Director of Labor Relations for UMHS during the relevant period. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         On or about August 9, 2005, Plaintiff Joanne Odom (“Ms. Odom”) began working for UMHS as a linen distribution supervisor. (Id. ¶ 10; Pls.' Resp. Br., Ex. A ¶ 2, ECF No. 23-2.) Ms. Odom subsequently was transferred to the position of Patient Transportation Supervisor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 4.) On or about January 15, 2008, Plaintiff Reginald Whitlow (“Mr. Whitlow”) began working for UMHS as a Multifunctional Material Management Intermediate Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 13.) LaKita Pogue supervised Ms. Odom and Mr. Whitlow (collectively “Plaintiffs”) during their employment. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         In an affidavit submitted in response to Defendants' motion, Ms. Odom asserts that when she was hired, she met with Deborah Cobbs, the manager of patient transportation, and Rolando Crooks, the director of the linen department. (Pls.' Resp. Br., Ex. A ¶ 3, ECF No. 23-2.) Ms. Odom attests that during this meeting, Ms. Cobbs “promised me that I can continue working at the University until I voluntarily retired, which would be in 2022.” (Id. ¶ 4.) Ms. Odom further states that Ms. Cobbs also “promised … that as long as I am following the employment policies and procedures of the University of Michigan, I am guaranteed to keep my job.” Ms. Odom claims that Ms. Cobbs was the person responsible for terminating her employment, if necessary, and “[t]hus, she spoke with authority when making the statements.” (Id.)

         Ms. Odom also asserts in her affidavit that supervisors in the patient transportation department trained with human resources at least once a year and “[t]he human resources department trainers would repeatedly say that as long as we follow the Uof M employment policies and procedures, we can continue to be employed and be promoted up the employment ladder.” (Id. ¶ 6.) Ms. Odom claims that she heard this statement from the time she began working at Uof M, until the year she was discharged. (Id.)

         On or about July 30, 2013, Plaintiffs learned that there had been an investigation concerning whether they had committed time sheet fraud by falsely reporting hours worked. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) The investigation concluded that Plaintiffs were not working for numerous hours they reported on their time sheets. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiffs dispute this finding. Nevertheless, their employment was terminated in late July 2013, and they were placed on a list precluding their employment with any Uof M entity. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 31.)

         According to Plaintiffs, “Defendants have a policy of treating employees fairly and equitably.” (Id. ¶ 32.) Managers are advised to suspend, discipline, and discharge employees only as needed. (Id.) Defendants utilize progressive discipline and provide for a Disciplinary Review Committee prior to terminating an employee for misconduct. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 37.) Defendants afford an employee “the opportunity to file a grievance on matters associated with their employment relationship with Defendants or enter into a dispute resolution process to facilitate resolving misunderstandings and maintain ...

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