Gomes v. University of Maine System, No. CIV. 03-123-B-W.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
Writing for the CourtWoodcock
Citation304 F.Supp.2d 117
Decision Date23 February 2004
Docket NumberNo. CIV. 03-123-B-W.
PartiesStefan GOMES and Paris Minor, Plaintiffs v. UNIVERSITY OF MAINE SYSTEM, Trustees of the University of Maine System in their official Capacities on behalf of the University of Maine System, Peter S. Hoff, individually and as President of the University of Maine Elizabeth J. Allan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Committee of the University of Maine, David Fiacco, individually and as Judicial Officer of the Student Conduct Code Committee, Robert Dana, individually and as Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Maine, and Robert E. Whelan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Appeals Committee of the University of Maine, Defendants
304 F.Supp.2d 117
Stefan GOMES and Paris Minor, Plaintiffs
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MAINE SYSTEM, Trustees of the University of Maine System in their official Capacities on behalf of the University of Maine System, Peter S. Hoff, individually and as President of the University of Maine Elizabeth J. Allan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Committee of the University of Maine, David Fiacco, individually and as Judicial Officer of the Student Conduct Code Committee, Robert Dana, individually

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and as Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Maine, and Robert E. Whelan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Appeals Committee of the University of Maine, Defendants
No. CIV. 03-123-B-W.
United States District Court, D. Maine.
February 23, 2004.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Frederick F. Costlow, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Bangor, ME, Harrison L. Richardson, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Portland, ME, Mary F. Kellogg, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Bangor, ME, for Paris Minor, Stefan Gomes, Plaintiffs.

Paul W. Chaiken, Timothy A. Pease, Rudman & Winchell, Bangor, ME, for University of Maine System, Trustees of the University of Maine System, Peter S Hoff, Elizabeth J Allan, David Fiacco, Robert Dana, Robert E Whelan, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

WOODCOCK, District Judge.


I. Statement of Facts.

The Plaintiffs, Stefan Gomes and Paris Minor, formerly students at the University of Maine, have filed a cause of action against the University of Maine System, the Trustees of the University of Maine System, and five individuals, Peter S. Hoff, Elizabeth J. Allan, David Fiacco, Robert Dana, and Robert Whelan, individually and in their respective official capacities at the University of Maine. The University subjected the Plaintiffs to discipline for allegedly committing a sexual assault on June 10, 2003. The Complaint contains ten counts, alleging the Defendants committed a number of constitutional, contractual, and tort violations in disciplining the Plaintiffs. The University has moved to dismiss the Complaint.

II. Legal Standard.

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Beegan v. Assoc. Press, 43 F. Supp.2d 70, 73 (D.Me.1999). As the First Circuit noted, "in the precincts patrolled by Rule 12(b)(6), the demands on the pleader are minimal." Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 514 (1st Cir.1988). The Court is required to:

accept the well-pleaded factual averments of the ... complaint as true, and construe these facts in the light most flattering to the [plaintiff's] cause ... exempt[ing] of course, those `facts' which have since been conclusively contradicted by [plaintiff's] concessions or otherwise, and likewise eschew[ing] any reliance on bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, and `opprobrious epithets.'

Id. (quoting Chongris v. Board of Appeals, 811 F.2d 36, 37 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 483 U.S. 1021, 107 S.Ct. 3266, 97 L.Ed.2d 765 (1987)). The court grants relief only if the pleading shows "no set of facts which could entitle the plaintiff to relief." Id. Nevertheless, the minimal requirements of Rule 12(b)(6) are "not tantamount to nonexistent requirements." Id. It remains the plaintiff's obligation to take the steps necessary to "bring his case safely into the next phase of the litigation." Id.

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III. Discussion

A. Count I: Due Process.

Count I of the Complaint attempts to state a claim against all Defendants for a general denial of due process rights under the United States and Maine Constitutions. U.S. Const amend. VI; Me. Const. art. I, § 6-A. After Defendants moved to dismiss Count I, Plaintiffs responded that Count I is "an adjunct to Plaintiffs' claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for federal violations, rather than as a direct constitutional tort claim for an independent remedy." Pl.'s Reply Mem. at 2. They also withdrew their claims for separate violations of the Maine constitution or the Maine Civil Rights Act. Id. at 2. Finally, they clarified that Count I was intended to give "notice of the factual allegations that underlie the § 1983 claim" found in Count II. Id. at 2.

In light of Plaintiffs' response, this Court dismisses Count I, except to the extent it states facts not otherwise pled.1

B. Count II: 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

1. State Constitutional Claim.

Defendants seek to have Count II dismissed to the extent it alleges a violation of state constitutional law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Def.'s Mem. at 5. Plaintiffs have responded by noting Count II of the Complaint does not allege a state constitutional claim. Pl.'s Reply Mem. at 2. Defendant argues that "[b]ecause no such allegation is made, Plaintiffs' state constitutional claims in Count II must be dismissed." Def.'s Mem. at 5. To the contrary, because no allegation is made, no dismissal is necessary.

2. Claims Under The 14th Amendment.

To explain the issues as the parties have framed them, the Court will review the Complaint, the bases of the motion to dismiss, the Plaintiffs' responses, and the Defendants' counter-responses. Count II of the Complaint is directed against Defendants Allan, Fiacco, Hoff, Dana, and Whelan. It alleges each Defendant deprived the Plaintiffs of their substantive and procedural due process rights acting under color of state law and demands declaratory relief and compensatory and other damages. Defendants first move to dismiss Count II to the extent it attempts to state a claim against them in their "official capacity."

a. Official Capacity Claims.

To sustain a claim against an official in an official capacity, there must be an allegation "that the entity followed a policy or custom" that was unconstitutional. Burrell v. Hampshire County, 307 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir.2002) ("A damages suit against an official in an official capacity is tantamount to a suit against the entity of which the official is an agent ... and there is no claim here that the entity followed a

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policy or custom or deliberate indifference"); see Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). An official-capacity claim under § 1983 requires a showing that the government itself was a "moving force" behind the deprivation. Graham, 473 U.S. at 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099; Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326, 102 S.Ct. 445, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981); Monell v. New York City Dep't Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). To this end, an essential element of an official-capacity lawsuit is that the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the violation of federal law. Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25, 112 S.Ct. 358; Graham, 473 U.S. at 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099; Monell, 436 U.S. at 690, 98 S.Ct. 2018; Burrell, 307 F.3d at 7. Defendants point to the absence of any such allegation in Count II as fatal to the Plaintiff's claim.

Plaintiffs respond by noting Count II demands injunctive relief against Defendants Hoff, Dana, and Whelan, and monetary relief against all individual Defendants. Because the § 1983 claim is directed against neither the University of Maine as a state entity nor the individual Defendants in their official capacities, Burrell, they argue, is inapplicable. Pl.'s Reply Mem. at 4. To the extent the Plaintiffs seek monetary damages, it is against the individual Defendants in their individual capacities, not against the State.

In Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, the Supreme Court held:

Of course a state official in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under section 1983 because `official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.' 491 U.S. 58, 71 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989); see Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n. 14, 105 S.Ct. 3099; Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159-60, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). In O'Neill v. Baker, 210 F.3d 41, 47 (1st Cir.2000), the First Circuit stated, "[a] plaintiff may, subject to a number of caveats, obtain injunctive relief against state officials and also, if she sues the officials in their individual capacities, recover monetary relief from them." Focusing on the limitation that a demand for injunctive relief against an individual in his official capacity must be "for prospective relief," Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 2304, the Defendants respond that even though a plaintiff may seek to enjoin government action through a § 1983 claim, the remedy the Plaintiffs seek is "prospective in nature" and "not available to remedy past violations." Def.'s Mem. at 2. In the Court's view, taking the Plaintiffs' allegations as true, the request for injunctive relief to expunge the adverse actions from their academic records would meet applicable standards for the granting of injunctive relief, since the University's record of discipline, though recorded in the past, has an ongoing and prospective effect.

At oral argument, the University cited Rivera v. P.R. Aqueduct & Sewers Authority, 331 F.3d 183, 192 (1st Cir.2003), for the proposition that unless the Plaintiffs allege governmental policy or custom, the § 1983 Count fails to state a claim, even if the sole remedy sought is prospective injunctive relief. But the University takes too much from Rivera. In Rivera, the First Circuit responded to a demand the plaintiff had made against the governmental entities themselves for declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking an order mandating a job reinstatement and/or transfer. Affirming the district court, the First Circuit held that the claims against the governmental entities must fail because there

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was no evidence of any policy or custom that would warrant municipal liability. Rivera, 331 F.3d at 192.

Here, the Plaintiffs are requesting injunctive relief, not from the University itself, but from...

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    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
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    ...under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the "legal sufficiency" of a complaint. Gomes v. Univ. of Me. Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117, 120 (D.Me.2004). The general rules of pleading require "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to......
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    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • April 8, 2005
    ...On February 23, 2004, this Court granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts I, IV and V. Gomes v. Univ. of Maine Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117 (D.Me.2004). This Court also granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count II to the extent it claimed violations of substantive or procedural due......
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    ...By and Through James v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 512, Johnson County, Kan., 899 F.Supp. 530 (D.Kan.1995); Gomes v. Univ. of Maine System, 304 F.Supp.2d 117 b. Tun's Substantive Due Process Rights Were Violated8 After clearing away most of the underbrush from Tun's case, the true basis for Pag......
  • Fortin v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • May 3, 2005
    ...Court has implied it will rule on whether the tort exists if the proper set of facts comes before it." Gomes v. Univ. of Me. Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117, 133 2. Whether Swanson Should Be Overruled [¶ 21] Fortin asserts that we should overrule Swanson because, as evidenced by the trial cour......
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44 cases
  • Glenwood Farms, Inc. v. O'Connor, No. 09-cv-205-P-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • October 14, 2009
    ...under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the "legal sufficiency" of a complaint. Gomes v. Univ. of Me. Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117, 120 (D.Me.2004). The general rules of pleading require "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to......
  • Gomes v. University of Maine System, No. CIV.03-123-B-W.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • April 8, 2005
    ...On February 23, 2004, this Court granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts I, IV and V. Gomes v. Univ. of Maine Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117 (D.Me.2004). This Court also granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count II to the extent it claimed violations of substantive or procedural due......
  • Tun ex rel. Tun v. Fort Wayne Community Schools, No. 1:03CV217.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • July 22, 2004
    ...By and Through James v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 512, Johnson County, Kan., 899 F.Supp. 530 (D.Kan.1995); Gomes v. Univ. of Maine System, 304 F.Supp.2d 117 b. Tun's Substantive Due Process Rights Were Violated8 After clearing away most of the underbrush from Tun's case, the true basis for Pag......
  • Fortin v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • May 3, 2005
    ...Court has implied it will rule on whether the tort exists if the proper set of facts comes before it." Gomes v. Univ. of Me. Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117, 133 2. Whether Swanson Should Be Overruled [¶ 21] Fortin asserts that we should overrule Swanson because, as evidenced by the trial cour......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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