Harris v. Mills, Docket No. 07-2283-cv.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Citation572 F.3d 66
Docket NumberDocket No. 07-2283-cv.
PartiesMonroe S. HARRIS, B.S., D.O., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Richard P. MILLS, Commissioner of Education, Merryl H. Tisch, Regent Chancellor, David A. Paterson, Governor, Defendants-Appellees, New York State Education Department, Defendant.<SMALL><SUP>*</SUP></SMALL>
Decision Date09 July 2009
572 F.3d 66
Monroe S. HARRIS, B.S., D.O., Plaintiff-Appellant,
Richard P. MILLS, Commissioner of Education, Merryl H. Tisch, Regent Chancellor, David A. Paterson, Governor, Defendants-Appellees,
New York State Education Department, Defendant.*
Docket No. 07-2283-cv.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Argued: February 2, 2009.
Decided: July 9, 2009.

[572 F.3d 68]

Douglas G. Wadler (Kenneth Joel Haber, of counsel), Law Office of Kenneth Joel Haber, P.C., Rockville, MD, for Appellant.

Marion R. Buchbinder, Assistant Solicitor General (Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Michael S. Belohlavek, Senior Counsel, Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General of the State of New York, of counsel), New York, NY, for Appellees.

Before: SACK and PARKER, Circuit Judges, and COTE, District Judge.**

SACK, Circuit Judge:

Monroe S. Harris appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Victor Marrero, Judge). Harris was formerly licensed by the state of New York as a doctor of osteopathic medicine; his medical license was revoked because he was found to have committed fraud and engaged in improper medical practices. At issue is the New York State Education Department's denial of Harris's petition to reinstate his license. Harris brought this action pro se pursuant to, inter alia, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He claims to have been illegally denied a reasonable accommodation for his cognitive disabilities and unconstitutionally deprived of due process of law.

The district court granted the individual defendants' motion to dismiss the ADA and Rehabilitation Act accommodation claims because the court concluded that those statutes do not provide for individual liability. The district court also dismissed the Rehabilitation Act claim and the remaining claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Although we disagree with some of the district court's reasoning, we agree with it that the plaintiff's claims are legally insufficient, even when read with the lenity that must attend the review of pro se pleadings.

We therefore affirm the judgment.

572 F.3d 69

This appeal is but the latest chapter in a litigation arising out of the 1999 revocation of Harris's license to practice medicine by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct (the "Board").

The Revocation of the License

The Board revoked Harris's license to practice osteopathic medicine in part because it found, after an investigation and a hearing, that Harris had committed "fraudulent practice" and had made false statements when he submitted applications for reappointment to three different hospitals. See Harris v. N.Y. State Dep't of Health, 202 F.Supp.2d 143, 148-49 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ("Harris I"). Harris had asserted in the applications that he was not at the time a subject of disciplinary action, even though he was in fact then under investigation by the Bureau of Controlled Substances of the New York State Department of Health for allegations of illegally storing and dispensing controlled substances. See id. at 148.1 He also failed to disclose his previous misconduct in two other reappointment applications and failed to disclose, in an application to the New York State Education Department for renewal of his medical license, that his practice privileges at a hospital had been terminated. See id.

The Board also found that Harris had provided negligent and incompetent medical care. He had, for example, inappropriately prescribed diet pills to one patient and had prescribed to another patient a drug contraindicated for that patient's heart condition. See id. at 149. The Board also found that Harris had failed to maintain records adequately. See id.

The Board's revocation was affirmed by the State Administrative Review Board. See id. at 150. Harris then initiated a proceeding pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 7801 et seq., in the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division. The Appellate Division confirmed the Administrative Review Board's decision and dismissed the petition. Harris v. Novello, 276 A.D.2d 848, 714 N.Y.S.2d 365 (3d Dep't 2000).

Thereafter, Harris brought a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health ("DOH") in the district court. In it, he challenged the Board's revocation of his license, "alleg[ing] that DOH refused to acknowledge evidence of his learning disabilities and revoked his medical license without considering or offering him reasonable means to accommodate those disabilities," in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Title II of the ADA. Harris I, 202 F.Supp.2d at 164. He also alleged "deficiencies in DOH's procedures" in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id.

The district court granted DOH's motion to dismiss in light of the prior state proceedings, concluding that "Harris's efforts to relitigate ... the revocation of his medical license are barred by application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine." Id. at 165; see D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923). The court also concluded that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims against the state agency were barred by operation of the Eleventh Amendment, Harris I, 202

572 F.3d 70

F.Supp.2d at 173-74, and that the due process claim against the DOH was barred because that agency is not a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and because the Eleventh Amendment precluded the due process claim insofar as it sought money damages, id. at 178.

The Petition for Restoration

In February 2002, Harris applied to the New York Board of Regents, seeking to restore his license to practice medicine.2 After meeting with Harris, a "Peer Committee" issued a report recommending that the Education Department deny his application. On June 7, 2004, the Education Department's Committee on the Professions met with Harris. It subsequently issued a report following the Peer Committee's recommendation. The Board of Regents affirmed. Harris does not assert that he made any further attempt to obtain review from New York state courts.

Harris brought this action pro se against the Education Department pursuant to the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed the action sua sponte. Harris v. N.Y. State Educ. Dep't, 419 F.Supp.2d 530, 535-36 (S.D.N.Y.2006) ("Harris II"). The court observed that Harris's complaint was, in large part, an attempt to relitigate matters the court had already resolved in Harris I. Id. at 532. Insofar as the complaint "related to [Harris's] petition to restore his medical license," id., the court dismissed the ADA and Section 1983 claims against the state agency on sovereign immunity grounds, id. at 532-34. The court concluded that the state's sovereign immunity had been waived for the purposes of Harris's Rehabilitation Act claim. Id. at 534. But the court observed that the complaint failed to make clear what sort of "accommodation" Harris was denied, and the court therefore dismissed the Rehabilitation Act claim "with leave to amend to more fully articulate what reasonable accommodation [Harris] requested and how the alleged failure to accommodate resulted in the State's discriminatory refusal to restore his medical license." Id. at 535.

The Amended Complaint

Harris, continuing to act pro se, filed an amended complaint—the complaint at issue on this appeal—against the Commissioner of Education, the Regent Chancellor, and the Governor of the State of New York.3 Harris requests injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief under the ADA; the Rehabilitation Act; Section 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1988; the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and also pursuant to his assertion that the decision to deny the reinstatement petition was "[a]rbitrary and capricious" inasmuch as the defendants failed to follow their own procedural rules. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 184-95. In the amended complaint, Harris seeks, inter alia, an order granting Harris's application for reinstatement of his license, together with such "accommodation[]s ... as might be necessary," and additional injunctive relief. Id. ¶¶ a-b.

The amended complaint alleges that in 1998, on the advice of counsel and while his investigation by the Board was ongoing, see id. ¶ 34, Harris was diagnosed with "learning disabilities ... i.e. disorder of written expression and `rule out' reading disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," id. ¶ 7. Harris alleges that as

572 F.3d 71

a result of those conditions, he has "difficulty with comprehending the written word" and "a related problem with written expression." Id. ¶ 11. Harris further alleges that it is possible for him to "compensate" for these disabilities and, in theory, to "practice medicine or law, or any other discipline." Id. ¶ 14. Harris asserts that that is just what he has done, obtaining degrees from college and a school of osteopathic medicine "after initially failing out of both" as a result of "various self taught techniques and determination of will." Id. ¶¶ 15-16.

Though it's not entirely clear from the pro se pleadings, Harris appears also to allege that he made two requests for accommodation from the Department of Education, both of which were denied.

First, Harris apparently applied for "understanding of the impact of [his] disabilities." Id. ¶ 22. Harris says, in this regard, that "he could not have a fair medical license restoration hearing ... without reasonable accommodation of understanding of LD & ADHD and it[]s past behavioral impact," i...

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