Huang v. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Citation346 F.Supp.3d 961
Decision Date11 October 2018
Docket NumberNo. 7:18-CV-11-REW,7:18-CV-11-REW
Parties Jeff HUANG, Plaintiff, v. PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), a Corporation, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Kentucky

346 F.Supp.3d 961

Jeff HUANG, Plaintiff,
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), a Corporation, et al., Defendants.

No. 7:18-CV-11-REW

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, SOUTHERN DIVISION. PIKEVILLE.

Signed October 11, 2018

346 F.Supp.3d 968

Frank Yates, Jr., Louisville, KY, for Plaintiff.

Jeremy Stuart Rogers, Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, Louisville, KY, Joshua Michael Salsburey, Meredith Berge Reeves, Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney PLLC, Lexington, KY, for Defendants.


Robert E. Wier, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Jeff Huang, a former student at the University of Pikeville's Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine (KYCOM), brings a host of claims, under numerous theories, against a corporate arm of the Presbyterian Church,1 his former school (the University of Pikeville), and various past and present University personnel.2 DE 6 (Amended Complaint).3 The suit stems from Plaintiff's ill-fated tenure as a med-student, his eventual withdrawal from the school, and the aftermath. As to the Complaint's4 thirteen pleaded Counts, most are time-barred, several rely on statutes that are not enforceable through a private cause of action, and another is inadequately pleaded. Further, Plaintiff states no claim, of any kind, against the Church Defendant. Accordingly, and for the reasons fully explained below, the Court wholly dismisses eleven Counts and all claims against the Church Defendant.


Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 & 1985 (Counts I, II, & XII), federal mail and wire fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 & 1343 (Counts III & IV), RICO's conspiracy prohibition, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count V), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g (Count VII), and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (Count X). Huang also asserts multiple Kentucky-law claims, including: common-law privacy invasion (Count VI), a KRS 164.283 violation (Count IX), breach of contract (Count XI), violations of Article II & III of the Commonwealth's constitution (Count XII), and an untethered Count for punitive damages (Count XIII).

A. Facts

Huang bases his claims on the following allegations:5

-- In September 2011, Defendant Dunatov (then-Dean of the med school) told another student that Huang was struggling academically, had inadequate grades,

346 F.Supp.3d 969

and failed to attend a learning skills workshop.

-- Sometime in 2012, Defendant Laurich (then-faculty at the med-school) falsely claimed Plaintiff was asleep in class. When Plaintiff denied the claim, Laurich replied, "Well, your eyes were significantly shut." Plaintiff and, in Huang's view, other students perceived Laurich's response as intending an aspersion on Plaintiff's East Asian ethnicity.

-- In (approximately) 2013, the University established a "Student Ethics Council" (the SEC) to which it conferred authority over functions previously reserved to University personnel. On October 22, 2013, the SEC president wrote Plaintiff a warning that directed him to enter the classroom using the back entrance if he arrived late for class. The SEC purportedly allowed four Caucasian class members late entry through the front entrance with no adverse consequences.

-- On November 21, 2013, Plaintiff posted a warning about potential campus gang activity on Facebook and stated: "You can guess at their demographic." On November 25, 2013, the SEC—misquoting Plaintiff as stating "I bet you can guess their demographics"—charged Huang with making a racially-centered, derogatory, and unprofessional comment unbecoming a future doctor. Defendant Dunatov denied Plaintiff's appeal and equated the violation to a prior student's posting of a female patient's genitalia on Facebook.

-- In May 2014, Plaintiff (without reasonable notice or opportunity to prepare) failed a mandatory remedial Internal Medicine exam, purportedly based on eighty PowerPoint packets and a 6,400-page textbook. Approximately 20% of the exam addressed electrocardiograms—a topic covered in only one PowerPoint packet. The remedial exam did not coincide with the regular semester's instruction content. Based on Plaintiff's failed examination, Defendant Soletz (then-Dean of Promotions and Matriculation) recommended Huang's dismissal from the med school. Defendant Buser (then-Dean of the med school) upheld Soletz's decision on appeal and advised Huang that KYCOM would dismiss him unless he voluntarily withdrew. See DE 6-5 (Pl's Ex. E – Buser's July 25, 2014, letter to Huang). Dean Buser also explained that he would not give Plaintiff a favorable recommendation to any other med school.

-- On a July 25, 2014, phone call, Defendant Buser advised Plaintiff that he had previously assisted a Caucasian student, who failed courses for three straight years at the University's med school, to enroll at another school. Buser claimed that he would not offer Huang similar aid.

-- On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff took the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) level-one exam. See DE 6-7 (Pl's Ex. G). However, COMLEX invalidated Plaintiff's minimal passing score after the Defendant University notified the administering board of Plaintiff's withdrawal. The University permitted one of Huang's Caucasian, but otherwise similarly situated, classmates to take the COMLEX exam four times. The classmate has since graduated from the University's med school.

-- When Plaintiff completed his second year of med school, KYCOM considered Huang and seven of his classmates marginal academically. The University allowed the six Caucasian students in this cadre immediately to repeat their second-year classes; the University notified the other two academically marginal students, Plaintiff and another Taiwanese student, that they would not receive the same opportunity.

-- Beginning in 2012, Plaintiff retained counsel and attempted to resolve his dispute with the University. On July 19, 2012, the University's then-counsel invited

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Plaintiff's counsel to discuss the issues. A September 14, 2016, letter from the University Defendants' current counsel to Kentucky's Council on Post-Secondary Education (CPE)—responding to Plaintiff's complaint, see DE 16-2—stated the University's denial of forcible withdrawal and discrimination.6

B. Posture

The Church and University Defendants, separately, pursue dismissal. DE 8 & 10 (Motions). The motions stand fully briefed and ripe for review. DE 12 & 13 (Responses); DE 14 & 16 (Replies); see also DE 11 (University Defendants approving Church Defendant's DE 8 effort). The Church Defendant principally pursues dismissal on the following basis: "Huang's Amended Complaint simply contains no substantive factual allegation concerning the A Corporation that even remotely suggests [it] is liable to Huang for the harms he alleges." DE 8-1 at 3. The University Defendants argue for dismissal under a variety of theories including statutes of limitations, absence of a private cause of action, and simple inadequate pleading. See generally DE 10. Ultimately, the Court finds the motions well-founded, Plaintiff's responses unavailing, and dismissal of the targeted claims warranted.

C. Dismissal Standard

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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). "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. However, "a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do[.]" Twombly , 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Courts "must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all allegations as true." Keys v. Humana, Inc. , 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir. 2012). Yet, courts need not accept "legal conclusion[s] couched as [ ] factual allegation[s]." Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 2944, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).

Hinging on Rule 8's minimal standards, Twombly and Iqbal7 require a plaintiff to

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"plead facts sufficient to show that her claim has substantive plausibility." Johnson v. City of Shelby , ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347, 190 L.Ed.2d 309 (2014). Where plaintiffs state "simply, concisely, and directly events that ... entitle[ ] them to damages," the rules require "no more to stave off threshold dismissal for want of an adequate statement[.]" Id. ; El-Hallani v. Huntington Nat. Bank , 623 F. App'x 730, 739 (6th Cir. 2015) ("Although Twombly and Iqbal have raised the bar for pleading, it is still low.").

Generally, "matters outside of the pleadings are not to be considered by a court in ruling on a ... motion to dismiss." Weiner , 108 F.3d at 88. However, the Court may "consider other materials that are...

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