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Rudolph v. Lloyd

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

March 21, 2018

Charles Rudolph, Plaintiff,
v.
Sheryl Lloyd, et al., Defendants.

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [17], GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DECLARATORY RELIEF, AND REINSTATEMENT [24]

          Arthur J. Tarnow, Senior United States District Judge.

         Charles Rudolph, a United States Army veteran, worked in Custodial Operations at Wayne State University for approximately 14 years, until he was fired on February 24, 2015. Almost immediately after being discharged, Rudolph requested a hearing pursuant to the Michigan Veterans Preference Act (“MVPA”), which limits the circumstances in which veterans may be dismissed from public employment jobs. Defendants - Custodial Operations supervisors, members of the Wayne State Board of Governors, and the President of Wayne State University - refused to hold the hearing.

         Rudolph argues that Defendants violated the MVPA and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment by depriving him of his constitutionally protected property interest in employment. He seeks reinstatement to his employment; declaratory relief indicating that he cannot be terminated absent a hearing and that the failure to provide such a hearing constitutes a continued due process violation; and damages from the former Director and Associate Director of Custodial Operations, Defendants Sheryl Lloyd and Donald Wrench, who are sued in their individual capacities.

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. 17] is DENIED. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Declaratory Relief, and Reinstatement [24] is GRANTED IN PART. All claims pertaining to Defendant Diane Sevigny-Lefebvre are DISMISSED.[1]

         Factual Background

         Rudolph began having problems at work in May 2010, when he was issued a written reprimand for poor performance and failure to follow instructions. See Dkt. 1-2, Pg. ID 21-22. Two years later, in May 2012, Rudolph was suspended for one day. Additional, longer suspensions followed in April and May 2013. Id.

         An incident that occurred on January 26, 2015 seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. On that day, Anthony McKinnon, Rudolph's supervisor, noticed that Rudolph was not at his work area at the designated start time. An investigative interview was held on February 13, 2015. Rudolph explained that he'd left his work area without permission because he needed to get his work equipment from his car. Id. The Associate Director of Custodial Operations, Defendant Sheryl Lloyd, rejected Rudolph's explanation because he was absent from his work area for an extended period of time. Id. She terminated Rudolph effective February 24, 2015.

         Three days later, Rudolph wrote to Governor Snyder, requesting “a meaningful termination hearing.” Dkt. 1-3. On March 25, 2015, Rudolph, through counsel, wrote to Governor Snyder a second time, again asking for a Veterans Preference hearing. That same day, the Governor's Office contacted Rudolph and informed him that the Governor was not responsible for facilitating the hearing. Rudolph's lawyer then delivered to Defendants a written request for a Veterans Preference Hearing and a copy of Rudolph's correspondence with the Governor. Counsel for Wayne State responded to Rudolph on March 30, 2015. She directed Rudolph to pursue his remedies through union representatives and through the grievance process outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between Rudolph's union and Wayne State.

         According to a document signed by A.L. Rainey, Jr., the Wayne State University Director of Labor Relations, on May 21, 2015, Rudolph was not eligible for appeal to arbitration because any appeal efforts would be untimely. See Pl.'s Ex. K. Rudolph filed his Complaint [1] approximately two years later, on March 27, 2017.

         I. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Legal Standard

         Defendants move for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which requires the Court to “assume the veracity of [the plaintiff's] well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief as a matter of law.” McCormick v. Miami Univ., 693 F.3d 654, 658 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, [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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         Analysis

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to establish the existence of a constitutionally protected property interest. They also contend that Wayne State is not subject to the MVPA and that the MVPA provides no cause of action against individuals. Finally, Defendants claim that Plaintiff's due process rights were protected under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) that governed his employment with Wayne State.

         A. Wayne State University is subject to the MVPA.

         Defendants note that Plaintiff has not named Wayne State as a defendant in this matter. Even if he had, however, Defendants argue that Wayne State is not subject to the MVPA.

         Michigan case law - in which courts have held that public universities are public employers for the purposes of other labor laws - suggests otherwise. For example, in Peters v. Michigan State College, 320 Mich. 243, 250-51 (1948), the Michigan Supreme Court held that Michigan State College was subject to the provisions of the Michigan Workmen's Compensation Act because the Act did “not undertake to change or disturb the educational activities of” the College. Id. at 250. Rather, it was “enacted to promote the general welfare of the people of this State.” Id. at 250-51. The College, the court explained, did not have the authority to “disturb[ ] the general relationship in this State of employer and employee.” Id. at 250. Similarly, in Regents of University of Michigan v. Michigan Employment Relations Commission, 389 Mich. 96, 104 (1973), the Michigan Supreme Court determined that the University of Michigan was a public employer within the meaning of the Public Employees Relations Act (“PERA”). The court defined the university as

a public body corporate deriving its being from the people, and is supported by the people, and the regents, who are State ...

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