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Jones v. Texas A&M University

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

April 19, 2019

FAYEOLA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          Nancy K. Johnson, United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the court[1] is Defendant Texas A&M University's ("TAMU") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 57). The court has considered the motion, the response, all. other relevant filings, and the applicable law. For the reasons set forth below, the court RECOMMENDS that TAMU's motion be GRANTED.

         I. Case Background

         Plaintiff filed this civil rights action on May 4, 2018, against TAMU, Easterwood Airport Management, LLC, and four related rental-car companies (collectively, "Avis") based on the alleged discriminatory treatment and refusal to fulfill a reservation for the rental of a vehicle.[2] Plaintiff has since amended the complaint three times.[3] By the third amendment, filed on November 5, 2018, Plaintiff had named two individuals to the original list of defendants.[4]

         Avis maintains a rental counter inside Easterwood Airport, which is owned by TAMU.[5] Regarding TAMU's ownership and relationship to the other defendants, Plaintiff alleged:

Upon information and belief, [Easterwood] Airport is managed under the direct supervision and control of TAMU by Easterwood [Airport Management], LLC. Upon information and belief, Avis leases retail space at the Airport from TAMU and/or Easterwood [Airport Management], LLC. Upon information and belief, Avis[, ] Easterwood [Airport Management], LLC[, ] and TAMU all maintain control over the actions of the security guards that work at [Easterwood] Airport. Upon information and belief, Avis[, ] Easterwood [Airport Management], LLC[, ] and TAMU control access to [Easterwood] Airport.[6]

         In May 2016, Plaintiff, an African-American amputee, contracted with Avis to rent a vehicle.[7] When Plaintiff approached the Avis counter to pick up the rented vehicle, an Avis employee "immediately met [Plaintiff] with derision and ridicule-especially making fun of [Plaintiff's] physical handicap (i.e.[, ] her amputation)."[8] The employee refused to fulfill Plaintiff's reservation and ordered Plaintiff to leave the premises.[9]

         Plaintiff "quietly and pleasantly persisted in requesting that Avis provide her the vehicle."[10] However, the employee responded with wholly unacceptable and highly offensive comments directed at Plaintiff based on her race.[11] The employee ultimately summoned a security guard, who escorted Plaintiff from the premises.[12]

         Against TAMU, Plaintiff brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") for discriminatory conduct based solely on her race that impaired her right to contract and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") for depriving Plaintiff of her rights under Section 1981 and the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.[13] Plaintiff sought actual, consequential, economic, and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees, costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest.[14]

         On November 9, 2018, TAMU filed the pending motion to dismiss the third amended complaint, arguing that Plaintiff's claims against it should be dismissed for: (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction because TAMU is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; and (2) failure to state; a claim.[15] The court begins and ends with consideration of the former argument.[16]

         II. Dismissal Standard

         Dismissal of an action is appropriate if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(h)(3). The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of overcoming the presumption that the action falls outside the court's limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) .

         State sovereign immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment[17]"operates like a jurisdictional tar, depriving federal courts of the power to adjudicate suits against a state." Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. La. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 662 F.3d 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing cases) . However, Eleventh Amendment immunity is waivable, and, thus, "enacts a sovereign immunity from suit, rather than a nonwaivable limit on [federal] subject-matter jurisdiction." Id. (quoting Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 267 (1997)).

         III. Analysis

         State sovereign immunity bars suits for money damages brought in federal court against a state by private citizens unless the state specifically waives its immunity through unequivocal consent to suit or Congress, in enacting a particular statute, "clearly and validly abrogated the state's sovereign immunity." U.S. Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Grp. v. R.R. Comm'n of Tex, [hereinafter, U.S. Oil Recovery Site PRPG1, 898 F.3d 497, 501 (5th Cir. 2018)(quoting Perez v. Region 20 Educ. Serv. Ctr., 307 F.3d 318, 326 (5th Cir. 2002)); see also Will v. Mich. Deo't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989). "State sovereign immunity protects not only states from suit in federal court, but also 'arms of the state.'" U.S. Oil Recovery Site PRPG, 898 F.3d at 501 ...


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