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Edionwe v. Bailey

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 19, 2017

ALEXANDER EDIONWE, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
GUY BAILEY; HAVIDAN RODRIGUEZ; THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS -PAN AMERICAN; THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYSTEM; THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Defendants-Appellees

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before DAVIS, JONES, and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.

          EDITH BROWN CLEMENT, Circuit Judge.

         This is one of at least seven wrongful termination cases arising out of the legislative abolition of the University of Texas-Pan American ("UTPA") and the University of Texas at Brownsville ("UTB"). For the reasons explained below, we AFFIRM in part and DISMISS in part.

         I.

         In 1994, Alexander Edionwe was hired as an Associate Professor at UTPA. From 1994 to 1997, he served as the Program Coordinator of the school's Dietetics Program, and was awarded tenure from UTPA and the University of Texas System Board of Regents on or about September 1, 2000. As a tenured faculty member, he was entitled to continuing employment at UTPA "until retirement or resignation unless terminated because of abandonment of academic programs or positions, financial exigency, or good cause."

         In December 2013, the Texas Legislature passed legislation to "abolish[]" UTPA and UTB-effective August 31, 2015-and create a consolidated university in southern Texas later named the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley ("UTRGV"). 2013 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 1849-1854 (West). "In recognition of the abolition of" UTPA and UTB, the legislature ordered the board of regents to "facilitate the employment at [UTRGV] of as many faculty and staff of the abolished universities as is prudent and practical, " but left the exact procedures for carrying out this mandate up to the board's discretion. Id. at 1853. As such, the board developed a bifurcated application process for employment at UTRGV. Details about the application process were published on July 18, 2014, in a document titled "Hiring of Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty Members to The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Frequently Asked Questions."

         Phase I hiring was open only to tenured and tenure-track faculty members from UTPA and UTB-whose "faculty appointments and tenure" were all scheduled to "terminate" on the day those universities were abolished. The board instructed the President of UTRGV to "recommend that the Board of Regents grant tenure to" all applicants who, in addition to satisfying six other requirements, held a "full-time, tenured faculty appointment" at UTPA or UTB and "timely complete[d] and submit[ted] all forms required by UTRGV to express the individual's interest in and qualifications for a tenured faculty appointment at UTRGV." UTRGV accepted Phase I applications from August 11, 2014 to September 8, 2014, a period of four weeks. On November 4, 2014, UTRGV began accepting applications for Phase II, which was open to the general public and UTPA and UTB faculty not hired during Phase I.

         One week before UTRGV published its Frequently Asked Questions about Phase I hiring, Edionwe left the country to visit Nigeria. At oral argument, Edionwe's attorney admitted that Edionwe was only gone "for a four week period"-meaning he returned on or about August 8, 2014, approximately three days before the Phase I application period even began. Edionwe failed to submit a timely application prior to the September 8, 2014 deadline. In October 2014, he contacted UTRGV and was instructed to wait and apply during Phase II.

         On or about April 15, 2015, Edionwe submitted his Phase II application for an associate professorship in the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. He was interviewed on June 4, 2015 and again a week later. However, on August 5, 2015, he was informed that the position would not be filled. His employment and tenure at UTPA terminated on August 31, 2015.

         Edionwe sued UTPA, UTRGV, the UT System, UTRGV President, Guy Bailey, and UTPA President, Hadian Rodriguez, in the 139th Judicial District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, alleging violations of procedural and substantive due process. He also sought declaratory judgment pursuant to Chapter 37 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. In his original complaint, he did not allege any specifics concerning the hiring process. The Defendants removed the case to federal court and filed a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. Edionwe filed a response, or in the alternative, motion for leave to amend pleadings. The district court granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Edionwe: (1) failed to establish a procedural due process claim because the legislative process afforded Edionwe all the due process he was entitled to receive; (2) failed to establish a substantive due process claim because he failed to allege that the legislative action in question was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest; and (3) that his Declaratory Judgment Act claim must be dismissed because all of the Defendants were entitled to immunity. It failed to address Edionwe's alternative motion for leave to amend and issued a final judgment.

         Edionwe then filed a motion to alter or amend judgment, which among other things renewed his request to amend his pleadings, attaching a proposed first amended complaint. The amended complaint included the above-mentioned details about the bifurcated hiring process. The district court denied his motion. Edionwe timely appealed.

         II.

         A district court's grant of a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is reviewed de novo. See Bosarge v. Miss. Bureau of Narcotics, 796 F.3d 435, 439 (5th Cir. 2015). "The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529 (5th Cir. 2004). "To 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "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. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)). We "accept all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Gines v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 699 F.3d 812, 816 (5th Cir. 2012) (alteration omitted).

         A district court's denial of a motion to amend the pleadings is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Moore v. Manns, 732 F.3d 454, 456 (5th Cir. 2013). "[A] court should freely give leave" to amend pleadings "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Likewise, "[a] district court's denial of a motion to alter or amend judgment 'is reviewed for abuse of discretion and need only be reasonable.'" Farquhar v. Steen, 611 F.App'x 796, ...


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