Cuello-Suarez v. AUTORIDAD DE ENERGIA ELECTRICIA, Civ. No. 88-0133 (PG).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Citation737 F. Supp. 1243
Docket NumberCiv. No. 88-0133 (PG).
PartiesCandelaria CUELLO-SUAREZ, et al., Plaintiffs, v. AUTORIDAD DE ENERGIA ELECTRICA DE PUERTO RICO, Defendant.
Decision Date25 April 1990


Santiago Villalonga, Santurce, P.R., for plaintiffs.

Karen M. Loyola-Peralta, San Juan, P.R., for defendant.



The matter pends before the court on defendant's August 11, 1988, motion to dismiss and plaintiffs' belated opposition thereto. Once before we have treated defendant's motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment and will do so again today. See Candelaria Cuello-Suárez v. Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica de Puerto Rico, No. 88-133, 1989 WL 5863 (D.P.R. Jan. 20, 1989) (LEXIS, Genfed library, Dist file). Rather than revisiting our previous narrative of the undisputed facts underlying this litigation, however, we refer the parties and any interested reader to our earlier opinion, noting only that for our present purposes it suffices to recall that plaintiff Candelaria Cuello-Suarez, a Dominican national residing in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, instituted this action on January 26, 1988, against the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority ("PREPA") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,1 and Law 100 of June 30, 1959,2 alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her national origin and seeking promotion, backpay, and punitive as well as compensatory damages. In what pertains to the legal issues raised by the parties to this suit, closer scrutiny has moved us to reconsider some of our earlier findings and we thus turn to frame those issues in finer detail.

Defendant's motion to dismiss rests on a number of independent grounds. First, defendant alleges that the allegations presented in the complaint are conclusory in nature and do not provide an adequate basis for a civil rights claim. Secondly, it is contended that the complaint fails to state a claim of racial discrimination under § 1981 inasmuch as it is solely based on the employee's nation or place of origin and not on her race. Moreover, PREPA argues that, there being no basis for any of plaintiffs' federal law claims, this court's exercise of pendent jurisdiction over the state law claims should be declined. As if not to leave any stone unturned, defendant further argued that plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages should be dismissed on the additional ground that punitive damages are not recoverable against a public corporation as a matter of law and, finally, that the Title VII claim was altogether barred for failure to meet jurisdictional and filing requirements.

After what appeared to be more than ample time for plaintiffs to oppose defendant's motion to dismiss and no such action having taken place, on January 20, 1989, this court filed an opinion and order granting the motion on the basis of the first three arguments which have been succinctly outlined above. It was later called to our attention that plaintiffs had previously been granted additional time in which to complete discovery and oppose defendant's motion and in view of that fact on February 16, 1989, our opinion and order of January the 20th was vacated and a new timetable was set. After some additional skirmishing, not here pertinent, on November 28, 1989 plaintiffs filed their motion in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss alleging that the complaint did state a claim under § 1981, that punitive damages were in fact recoverable against a public corporation, and that defendant's argument to the effect that there could not exist discrimination against plaintiffs based on national origin was so meritless "as to require no attention."3

Five are thus the issues we must address at this juncture. Tracing the order in which they were presented by the defendant in its motion to dismiss, we discuss them seriatim.


Plaintiffs' motion in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss has moved us to reevaluate our earlier determination with respect to the adequacy of the civil rights claim and we now hold that plaintiffs have validly stated a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 as a matter of federal pleading law. We elaborate on the point but briefly.

In the civil rights context, our First Circuit has stated that although a claim is capable of being supported by any conceivable set of facts, plaintiffs must provide at least a minimal outline as to who did what to whom and why. Dewey v. University of New Hampshire, 694 F.2d 1 (1st Cir.1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 944, 103 S.Ct. 2121, 77 L.Ed.2d 1301 (1983). See also Kadar Corp. v. Milbury, 549 F.2d 230 (1st Cir. 1977). It must also be remembered, however, that the Supreme Court has rejected the approach which would have made pleading a "game of skill in which one misstep by counsel may be decisive to the outcome," and accepted the principle "that the purpose of pleading is to facilitate a proper decision on the merits." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48, 78 S.Ct. 99, 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). In that same case, the Court added that such "simplified `notice pleading' is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pretrial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense and to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues." Id., at 47-48, 78 S.Ct. at 102-03.

Although the call is close, we opine that in the case at bar plaintiffs have met the "minimal outline" requirements established by the First Circuit: through both the pleadings and, particularly, the discovery, it has been established that plaintiff Candelaria Cuello-Suarez, a Dominican national, has applied for a great number of management positions within the PREPA (seventy-seven through her last count) which she had presumably been qualified for and which have allegedly been filled with less qualified applicants. Although it is true that many other reasons could exist that would account for such a pattern of exclusion, it is no less reasonable to infer that the fact that she is from the Dominican Republic could very well be the motivating factor behind the rejections. And although we do recognize that additional facts which would have supported the conclusion that the plaintiff's nationality was in fact the dominant motive behind the exclusions should have been specifically pleaded and must be subsequently proven,4 the inordinate number of instances in which plaintiff has applied for the positions and been rejected and the interests of justice5 move us to allow this case to proceed for a decision on its merits.


It is next contended that plaintiffs' complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim of racial discrimination from the substantive point of view given the fact that it is solely based on the employee's nation of origin and not on her race. As defendant elaborated on this argument, however, two somewhat distinct lines of reasoning emerged. On the one hand, the most natural construction of the argument first asserted that § 1981 encompasses only claims of racial discrimination, not protecting against discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, age, national origin, or place of birth, see Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 613, 107 S.Ct. 2022, 2028, 95 L.Ed.2d 582 (1986), and then submitted that plaintiff's allegations to the effect that she had been discriminated against because of the fact that she was a "Dominican national" and "on the basis of her place of birth"6 therefore did not state a claim under § 1981. On the other hand, it was argued that discrimination against a citizen of the Dominican Republic by or in favor of a citizen of Puerto Rico was not redressable under the federal civil rights laws due to the fact that they both belonged to the larger class of individuals commonly referred to as Hispanics. To allege that she was discriminated against because she was a Dominican national, the thesis runs, would constitute an allegation on the basis of her place of birth (the Dominican Republic), not on her race (the Hispanic race), and therefore not actionable under § 1981. In our previous opinion we had occasion to address the first of these two arguments. Today we review briefly that earlier determination and present our position as to the second one.

We echo, of course, the Supreme Court's conclusion to the effect that in drafting § 1981 "Congress intended to protect from discrimination identifiable classes of persons who are subjected to intentional discrimination solely because of their ancestry or ethnic characteristics." Saint Francis, 481 U.S. at 613, 107 S.Ct. at 2028. In order to prove racial discrimination within the meaning of § 1981, then, a plaintiff must prove that she was discriminated against on the basis of her ancestry or ethnic characteristics and not solely on the place or nation of her origin. Id. In drawing fine lines like these, however, it is evident that special care must be exercised. As the concurring opinion of the Honorable Justice Brennan in Saint Francis makes clear:

... the line between discrimination based on "ancestry or ethnic characteristics" ... and discrimination based on "place or nation of ... origin," ... is not a bright one. It is true that one's ancestry—the ethnic group from which an individual and his or her ancestors are descended—is not necessarily the same as one's national origin—the country "where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came." ... Often, however, the two are identical as a factual matter: one was born in the nation whose primary stock is one's own ethnic group.... I therefore read the Court's opinion to state only that discrimination based on birthplace alone is insufficient to state a claim under § 1981.

Saint Francis, 481 U.S. at 614, 107 S.Ct. at 2028 (citations omitted and emphasis on the original). Therefore, where, as here, the plain...

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    ...are often made with regard to the person's ethnic background, see Cuello-Suárez v. Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica de Puerto Rico, 737 F.Supp. 1243, 1247-48 (1990); see also Von Zuckerstein v. Argonne National Laboratory, 760 F.Supp. 1310, 1312 (1991), evidence of discrimination on the basis......
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1 books & journal articles
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    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 99 No. 4, April 2022
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