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Brown v. Texas State University System Board of Regents

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 11, 2013

BASIL BROWN II, Plaintiff,
v.
TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM BOARD OF REGENTS, TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY, DONNA WILLIAMS, BRIAN McCALL, DENISE TRAUTH, CHRISTOPHER MURR, LARRY TEIS, DANIEL KASPAR, ROBERT FLASKA, and JASON KARLIC, Defendants.

ORDER

SAM SPARKS, District Judge.

BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and specifically Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss [#93]; and Plaintiff's Amended Emergency Motion to Reconsider Order Denying Plaintiff Access to Plaintiff's Own Educational Records [#96], Defendants' Response [#97], and Plaintiff's Reply [#98]; and Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to File Response to Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss [#99]. Having reviewed the documents, the governing law, and the file as a whole, the Court now enters the following opinion and orders.

Background

Plaintiff Basil Brown II (Brown) was a member of the Texas State University (TSU) men's basketball team and was on scholarship. This lawsuit derives from TSU's decision to remove Brown from the basketball team and terminate his scholarship. In his Amended Complaint, Brown, proceeding pro se, alleges a number of causes of action including constitutional violations, violations of federal statutes, and common law claims. Specifically, Brown alleges: (1) violations of various National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rules; (2) violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title IV); (3) breach of contract; (4) retaliation; (5) violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); (6) violations of Brown's constitutional right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; (7) violations of Brown's constitutional right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment; (8) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (9) "discrimination of one" (10) disability discrimination; (11) collusion; and (12) gross negligence. Brown seeks various forms of relief including: (1) damages-liquidated, compensatory, and punitive; (2) an order reinstating Brown on the TSU basketball team; and (3) an order reinstating Brown's athletic scholarship.

On November 18, 2013, Defendants filed their Amended Motion to Dismiss [#93] all claims brought by Brown. On November 25, 2013, Brown filed an Amended Emergency Motion to Reconsider Order Denying Plaintiff Access to Plaintiff's Own Educational Records [#96], and Defendants filed their Response [#97] on November 26, 2013. To date, Brown has not filed a response to the Amended Motion to Dismiss, and the fourteen day period for filing a timely response has lapsed. On December 9, 2013, Brown filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File Response [#99]. The Court now considers Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss [#93] as well as Plaintiffs' Corrected Emergency Motion to Reconsider [#96] and Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time [#99].

Analysis

I. Legal Standards

A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and they may only exercise such jurisdiction as is expressly conferred by the Constitution and federal statute. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides the vehicle through which subject matter jurisdiction may be challenged. Thus, the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence rests with the party seeking to invoke it. New Orleans & Gulf Coast Ry. Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 327 (5th Cir. 2008).

In evaluating a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the Court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes so it may be satisfied jurisdiction is proper. See Montez v. Dep't of Navy, 392 F.3d 147, 149 (5th Cir. 2004). In conducting its inquiry, the Court may consider: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the Court's resolution of disputed facts. Id. The Court must take the allegations of the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Saraw P'ship v. United States, 67 F.3d 567, 569 (5th Cir. 1995); Garcia v. United States, 776 F.2d 116, 117 (5th Cir. 1985). Dismissal is warranted if the plaintiff's allegations, together with any undisputed facts, do not establish the Court has subject matter jurisdiction. See Saraw, 67 F.3d at 569; Hobbs v. Hawkins, 968 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1992).

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" FED. R. Clv. P. 8(a)(2). A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) asks a court to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), a court generally accepts as true all factual allegations contained within the complaint. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). However, a court is not bound to accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Although all reasonable inferences will be resolved in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff must plead "specific facts, not mere conclusory allegations." Tuchman v. DSC Commc'ns Corp., 14 F.3d 1061, 1067 (5th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." lqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although a plaintiff's factual allegations need not establish the defendant is probably liable, they must establish more than a "sheer possibility" that a defendant has acted unlawfully. id. Determining plausibility is a "context-specific task, " that must be performed in light of a court's "judicial experience and common sense." ld. at 679. In deciding a motion to dismiss, courts may consider the complaint, as well as other sources courts ordinarily examine when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, such as documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

II. Application

A. Sovereign Immunity and Qualified Immunity

As an initial matter, Brown is suing a number of different defendants, which maybe protected from suit in federal court by the doctrines of sovereign and qualified immunity. Brown sued (1) the Texas State University System Board of Regents (TSUS), and (2) TSU. Brown also sued individual employees of TSU in their individual and official capacities including: (3) Donna Williams-the chairperson of TSUS; (4) Brian McCall-the chancellor of TSUS; (5) Fernando Gomez-the vice chancellor and general counsel of TSUS; (6) Denise Trauth-the president of TSU; (7) Christopher Murr-the director of financial aid and scholarships at TSU; (8) Larry Teis-the athletic director at TSU; (9) Daniel Kaspar-the head men's basketball coach at TSU; (10) Robert Flaska-an assistant men's basketball coach at TSU; (11) Jason Karlic-an assistant trainer and the trainer for men's basketball at TSU; (12) Herman Horn-the Chief Diversity Officer at TSU; and (13) Ismael Amaya-an Assistant Dean of Students and the student justice coordinator at TSU.

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars suits brought in federal court against a state. U.S. CONST. amend. XI. Absent waiver, the immunity afforded by the Eleventh Amendment applies regardless of the relief sought, and this immunity extends to state agencies Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). There is no dispute TSU and its board of regents-TSUS-qualifies as a state agency. See TEX. EDUC. CODE ANN. § 61.003(3); Lewis v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 665 F.3d 625, 630 (5th Cir. 2011). And there is no contention TSU or TSUS has consented to suit. Accordingly, Defendants TSU and TSUS are immune from Brown's suit, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, as it relates to claims against TSU and TSUS, is GRANTED.

With respect to the individual defendants sued, the Eleventh Amendment does not preclude suits against state officers for prospective injunctive relief. See Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Furthermore, the Eleventh Amendment does not prevent suits against state officers for money damages to be paid out of the individual's own pockets, even when the damages are retrospective compensation for past harms. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). This type of suit is referred to as suing the individuals in their "individual capacity." In addition, the Eleventh Amendment does not prohibit a federal court from giving injunctive relief against a state officer even though compliance with the injunction will cost the state money in the future. See Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365 (1971). The Eleventh Amendment does, though, prevent a federal court from awarding retroactive relief-damages to compensate past injuries-when those damages will be paid by the state treasury. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332 (1979). If the recovery will be from the state treasury, the suit can be said to be against the officer in an "official capacity." Accordingly, to the extent Brown sues the individual Defendants in their official capacity, those claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and the Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss, with respect to these claims, is GRANTED.

Even if the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the suit, however, the doctrine of qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from liability as well as from suit. Babb v. Dorman, 33 F.3d 472, 477 (5th Cir. 1994). "Qualified immunity protects public officials from suit unless their conduct violates a clearly established constitutional right." Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). A plaintiff bears the burden of negating a properly raised qualified immunity defense. Id. The qualified immunity analysis itself involves two considerations: (1) whether the public official's conduct violated an actual constitutional right, and (2) whether the public official's actions were "objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the conduct in question." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The standard "gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In response to a qualified immunity defense, "plaintiffs suing governmental officials in their individual capacities must allege specific conduct giving rise to the constitutional violation." Anderson v. Pasadena Indep. Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 439, 443 (5th Cir. 1999).

The individual defendants-as employees of TSU and therefore government officials-invoke qualified immunity in their motion to dismiss, and this analysis provides a backdrop for all of Brown's claims against the individual defendants.

B. Violations of NCAA Rules

Brown alleges all of the Defendants violated NCAA Rules when they:

(1) failed to provide the Plaintiff with a grant-in-aid agreement that contained language consistent with a full grant-in-aid agreement as defined by NCAA bylaw 15.02.5, (2) provided the Plaintiff with a grant-in-aid agreement that reduces the Plaintiffs grant-in-aid from the previous academic year after the deadline for reducing the Plaintiff's grant-in-aid for the following academic year has passed, (3) actually reduced the Plaintiff's aid for Summer I prior to a hearing being held on Plaintiff's appeal of Defendant's decision to cancel his athletic scholarship, (4) failed to provide the Plaintiff with a grant-in-aid agreement that conforms to the renewal notice submitted to the Plaintiff on June 17, 2013. The aforementioned acts are willful violations of various NCAA Bylaws including bylaws 15.02.5 and 15.3.5.

Am. Compl. [#51], at 40.

First, to the extent Brown brings this claim against TSU and TSUS, these Defendants are shielded from suit by sovereign immunity, and to the extent he sues the individual defendants in their official capacity, these claims are also barred by Eleventh Amendment.

Second, to the extent Brown brings these claims against the individual defendants in their individual capacities, Brown fails to show how violations of NCAA Rules amount to conduct violating a clearly established constitutional right. In other words, qualified immunity protects the individual defendants from these claims of NCAA Rules violations. Because sovereign immunity and qualified immunity operate to shield the Defendants from the claims based on NCAA Rules violations, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss with respect to these claims.

In the alternative, Brown cites no authority-and the Court is unfamiliar with any authority-indicating violations of NCAA Rules may provide the basis for a cause of action in federal court. On these grounds, Brown's claims also fail.

C. Violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Brown alleges all of the Defendants violated Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

(1) Daniel Kaspar denied the Plaintiff the opportunity to beat out Reid Koenen for the retention of the Plaintiffs athletic scholarship for the following academic year because Daniel Kaspar believes that the only reason that the Plaintiff is able to beat Reid Koenen in basketball is because Reid Koenen happens to be white and the Plaintiff is black and white players are slower than black players because of race, (2) Daniel Kaspar rendered Reid Koenen immune to a competition with the Plaintiff for an athletic scholarship retention for the following academic year because Reid Koenen is white and the Plaintiff is black, (3) Daniel Kaspar used race as a deciding factor in determining whether Reid Koenen would retain his athletic scholarship, as opposed to the Plaintiff, for the following academic year (4) Daniel Kaspar scolded the Plaintiff in front of other players in practices for taking advantage of Reid Koenen in practice by out-performing him in basketball because Reid Koenen is white and the Plaintiff is black, and (5) made racially disparaging remarks to other black players in practice by stating that the black players would be faster if they ran as if they were running from the police back at home.

Am. Compl. [#51], at 41-42.

First, to the extent Brown brings this claim against TSU and TSUS, these Defendants are shielded from suit by sovereign immunity, and to the extent he sues the individual defendants in their official capacity, these claims are also barred by Eleventh Amendment.

Second, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act is designed to encourage the desegregation ofpublic schools and authorizes the Secretary of Education to render "technical assistance" in the "preparation, adoption, and implementation of plans for the desegregation of public schools." 42 U.S.C. § 2000c-2. Title IV further creates a cause of action, but this action may only be initiated by the Attorney General after receipt of a complaint and other procedural standards are satisfied. See id. § 2000c-6. Title IV does not, however, create a private cause of action or, at least, there is no indication in the statute there is authorization for private causes of action. Brown does not cite to any authority indicating such a private cause of action exists. Therefore, Brown fails to state a claim against Defendants based on Title IV, and Defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss, with respect to claims based on Title IV, is GRANTED.

D. Breach of Contract

Brown alleges all of the Defendants breached a contract with Brown when they:

(1) refused to pay the Plaintiff medical bills for surgeries due to injuries sustained while participating in men's basketball at TSU according to policy, (2) denied the Plaintiff access to Summer I or Summer II under his men's basketball scholarship even though summer school is an extension of his athletic scholarship from the previous academic year as the Plaintiff had already notified TSU of his intention to attend summer school in March 2013, (3) failed to provide the Plaintiff with a grant-in-aid agreement that contained language conforming to the renewal letter submitted, and agreed, to by the Plaintiff on July 3, 2013 after the deadline for a scholarship reduction had already expired on July 1, 2013.

Am. Compl. [#51], at 42-43.

Under Texas law, the elements of a breach of contract claim are: (1) there is a valid, enforceable contract; (2) the plaintiff performed, tendered performance of, or was excused from performing its contractual obligations; (3) the defendant breached the contract; and (4) the defendant's breach caused the plaintiff injury. Winchek v. Am. Express Travel Related Servs., 232 S.W.3d 197, 202 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.).

First, to the extent Brown brings this claim against TSU and TSUS, these defendants are shielded from suit by sovereign immunity. See Fed. Sign v. Tex. S. Univ., 951 S.W.2d 401, 408 (Tex. 1997) (finding sovereign immunity applies to breach of contract suits). To the extent he sues the individual defendants in their official capacity, these claims are also barred by Eleventh Amendment.

Second, to the extent Brown brings these breach of contract claims against the individual defendants in their individual capacities, Brown fails to show how violations of the terms of an athletic scholarship-assuming for the moment the scholarship constitutes a contract between the parties-amounts to conduct violating a clearly established constitutional right. In other words, qualified immunity protects the individual defendants from these claims ofbreach of the scholarship. Because sovereign immunity and qualified immunity operate to shield the ...


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