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Jackson v. Texas Southern University

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 19, 2017

FAITH J. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          HON. KEITH P. ELLISON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 20.) After considering the motion, responses thereto and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a sex/gender discrimination case. Plaintiff Faith Jackson filed this suit against: Texas Southern University (“TSU”); John Rudley, TSU President; and Dannye Holley, Dean of Thurgood Marshall School of Law (“TMSL”) at TSU (collectively, “Defendants”). Ms. Jackson alleges Defendants created a hostile and discriminatory work environment by undermining her supervisory authority, paying her less than male colleagues in similar positions, and denying her due process in her application for tenure and promotion. Although Ms. Jackson's first amended complaint asserts a number of claims, Defendants focus now on the alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, the Court will provide only the background information necessary to assess the constitutional due process claims.

         The facts are drawn from Ms. Jackson's first amended complaint. (Doc. No. 17.) Ms. Jackson began working at TSU in 1993 and eventually joined the faculty as a tenure-track Associate Professor in 2006. In 2012, she was also appointed as Associate Dean for External Affairs of TMSL. (Doc. No. 17 ¶¶ 14-15, 40.) Later in 2012, Ms. Jackson received a majority vote from the TMSL tenured faculty to be promoted to full professor. After the vote, Dean Holley applied an “external review” process, which had never been announced or applied to any prior candidate's application. As part of his review, Dean Holley submitted an article by Ms. Jackson to one of his personal friends, who is not a lawyer. Ms. Jackson argues this practice was “unique, inconsistent and outside the normal process of prior reviews.” Dean Holley also did not produce a written report from his external review, and thus Ms. Jackson could not rebut his findings. (Doc. No. 17 ¶¶ 41-52.) The Court assumes that Dean Holley then recommended not to promote Ms. Jackson, although the complaint does not explicitly so state.

         Ms. Jackson appealed Dean Holley's decision to the provost. The provost considered Ms. Jackson's appeal, but did not overturn Dean Holley's decision. President Rudley then approved Dean Holley's decision to deny promotion. Ms. Jackson appealed her application to the University Board of Regents, which charged the University Rank, Tenure and Salary Committee (“Committee”) to assess the merits of Ms. Jackson's appeal. The Committee refused to hear the appeal. The Board of Regents later discussed Ms. Jackson's appeal but took no action and did not inform her of its decisions. (Doc. No. 17 ¶¶ 54-56.)

         Ms. Jackson also notes that in March 2013, President Rudely issued a memorandum to the TSU deans and faculty regarding the university's tenure process, in which he purportedly admitted the Defendants' past failures to follow rules governing the review process. That May, TMSL adopted the external review process that Dean Holley had employed during Ms. Jackson's tenure review. The newly adopted process was non-retroactive. (Doc. No. 17 ¶¶ 54-56.)

         Ms. Jackson contends that she was denied due process, based on the never-before-applied external review and the refusals to consider her appeal. Defendants respond that Ms. Jackson has no constitutional due process claim because (1) she had no property interest in a position that she did not yet hold; and (2) Defendants are protected from suit under the sovereign and qualified immunity doctrines. (Doc. No. 20.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants seek to dismiss Ms. Jackson's § 1983 claims pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders Ass'n of Mississippi, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). “A motion under 12(b)(1) should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove a plausible set of facts that establish subject-matter jurisdiction.” Castro v. United States, 560 F.3d 381, 381 (5th Cir. 2009), rev'd en banc on other grounds, 608 F.3d 266 (5th Cir. 2010). The “court may find a plausible set of facts supporting subject matter jurisdiction by considering any of the following: ‘(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.'” Id. (quoting Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008)). “A facial attack on the complaint” challenging the court's subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) “requires the court merely to look and see if [a] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion.” Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         “To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint ‘does not need detailed factual allegations, ' but must provide the plaintiff's grounds for entitlement to relief-including factual allegations that when assumed to be true ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The court should not “‘strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiffs'” or “accept ‘conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions, or legal conclusions.'” R2 Investments LDC v. Phillips, 401 F.3d 638, 642 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Southland Sec. Corp. v. Inspire Ins. Solutions, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 362 (5th Cir. 2004)). The court should not evaluate the merits of the allegation, but must satisfy itself only that plaintiff has adequately pled a legally cognizable claim. United States ex rel. Riley v. ...


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