Martinez v. Nat'l Univ. Coll.

Decision Date21 April 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. 18-1975 (DRD)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

The instant case arises of a Complaint filed by Mr. José Seda Martínez ("Mr. Seda"), Mrs. Yazmín Ramírez Rodríguez, and their conjugal partnership (jointly, "Plaintiffs"), seeking damages against National University College ("Codefendant" or "NUC"), Triple S Insurance Company1 and other unnamed codefendants. Essentially, Plaintiffs' Complaint addresses the purported humiliation, harassment and physical and mental anguish suffered by Mr. Seda during his enrollment at NUC, as a result of the institutions alleged refusal to accommodate his disability, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C.A. §12181-12189, Puerto Rico's Act 44 of July 2, 1985, as amended, 1 L.P.R.A. § 501 et seq. ("Act 44"), and Articles 1802 and 1803 of Puerto Rico's Civil Code, 31 L.P.R.A. §§ 5141-5142. See Docket No. 1.

Later, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint to clarifytheir request under Title III of the ADA. To that end, Plaintiffs further requested the Court to order NUC to allow Mr. Seda "to perform his classwork on defendant's building's first floor; providing him with a desk that will accommodate his wheelchair; and inspecting and repairing hazards at the university". See Docket No. 25 ¶ 60.

Subsequently, NUC filed a Motion for Summary Judgment where it contends that "(i) plaintiffs have no standing to file a claim under Tittle III of the ADA; (ii) Plaintiffs Requests for Injunctive Relief Under ADA are Moot; (iii) Plaintiffs may not recover monetary damages under Title III of the ADA; (iv) There is no Federal Question Jurisdiction; (v) Upon Dismissal of The Federal ADA Claim the Court Should Dismiss The Instant Case For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction since Plaintiffs only invoked federal question jurisdiction." See Docket No. 41 at 13. Plaintiffs filed their corresponding Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment and a Motion to Supplement Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. See Dockets No. 50 and 53. Thereupon, NUC filed a Reply to Plaintiffs Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. See Docket No. 58.

After carefully reviewing the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Codefendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


The following factual findings are taken from the parties' statements of undisputed facts, and supported documentation. Upon careful review of the record, the Court finds the following facts are undisputed:

1. Mr. Seda (with Student Number 1610635353) commenced his studies at NUC, Bayamón Campus, on March 15, 2017. See Docket No. 41-1 and 41-4.2. Mr. Seda enrolled at NUC in order to obtain an Associate Degree in the Electrical Engineering Technology in Renewable Energy program ("Electrical Engineering Program"). Id.
3. On June 22, 2019, Mr. Seda completed all of the courses and requirements to attain his Associate Degree in the Electrical Engineering program. Id.
4. On July 10, 2019, Mr. Seda graduated, with all the honors, rights and privileges that the Associate Degree in the Electrical Engineering Program confers. See Docket No. 41-3 and 41-4.
5. On February 18, 2020, Mr. Seda enrolled in order to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in the Network Technology and Application Development program. See Docket No. 61-1. Mr. Seda is set to commence his studies on March 16, 2020. Id.


A. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56).

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment should be entered where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-325 (1986). Pursuant to the clear language of the rule, the moving party bears a two-fold burden: it must show that there is "no genuine issue as to any material facts;" as well as that it is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Veda-Rodriguez v. Puerto Rico, 110 F.3d 174, 179 (1st Cir. 1997). "A dispute is 'genuine' if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in favor of the non-moving party." See Johnson v. Univ. of P.R., 714 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir. 2013); Prescott v. Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 40 (1stCir. 2008) (citing Thompson v. Coca-Cola Co., 522 F.3d 168, 175 (1st Cir. 2008)); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-250 (1986); Calero-Cerezo v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 355 F.3d 6, 19 (1st Cir. 2004). The analysis with respect to whether or not a "genuine" issue exists is directly related to the burden of proof that a non-movant would have in a trial. "[T]he determination of whether a given factual dispute requires submission to a jury must be guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case." Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255 (applying the summary judgment standard while taking into account a higher burden of proof for cases of defamation against a public figure). In order for a disputed fact to be considered "material" it must have the potential "to affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Sands v. Ridefilm Corp., 212 F.3d 657, 660-661 (1st Cir. 2000) (citing Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247-248); Prescott, 538 F.3d at 40 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Maymí v. P.R. Ports Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2008)).

The objective of the summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." DeNovellis v. Shalala, 124 F.3d 298, 306 (1st Cir. 1997) (citing the advisory committee note to the 1963 Amendment to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The moving party must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue as to any outcome-determinative fact on the record. See Shalala, 124 F.3d at 306. Upon a showing by the moving party of an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably find in his favor. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The non-movant may not defeat a "properly focused motion for summary judgment by relying upon mere allegations," but rather through definite and competent evidence. Maldonado-Denis v. Castillo Rodriguez, 23 F.3d 576, 581 (1st Cir. 1994). The non-movant's burden thus encompasses a showing of "at least one fact issue which is both'genuine' and 'material.'" which affects the granting of a summary judgment. Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 1990); see, also, Suarez v. Pueblo Int'l., 229 F.3d 49, 53 (1st Cir. 2000) (stating that a non-movant may shut down a summary judgment motion only upon a showing that a trial-worthy issue exists). As a result, the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not affect an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247-248. Similarly, summary judgment is appropriate where the nonmoving party rests solely upon "conclusory allegations, improbable inferences and unsupported speculation." Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 95 (1st Cir. 1996); Tropigas De P.R. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London, 637 F.3d 53, 56 (1st Cir. 2011) ("We afford no evidentiary weight to conclusory allegations, empty rhetoric, unsupported speculation, or evidence which, in the aggregate, is less than significantly probative.") (internal citations omitted); Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party while ignoring conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." Smith v. Jenkins, 732 F.3d 51, 76 (1st Cir. 2013) (reiterating Shafmaster v. United States, 707 F.3d 130, 135 (1st Cir. 2013)). However, while the Court "draw[s] all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to [the non-moving party] . . . we will not draw unreasonable inferences or credit bald assertions, empty conclusions or rank conjecture." Vera v. McHugh, 622 F.3d 17, 26 (1st Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

Furthermore, the Court must review the record as a whole and refrain from engaging in the assessment of credibility or the gauging the weight of the evidence presented. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 135 (2000); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); see, also, Pina v. Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 802 (1st Cir. 2014). "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51).

Summarizing, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." (Emphasis provided). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Hence, in order to prevail, Codefendants must demonstrate that, even admitting well-pleaded allegations in light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the applicable law compels a judgment in its favor.


A. Plaintiff's Standing Under Title III of ADA

Congress enacted the ADA "'to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities,' id. § 12101(b)(4), hoping 'to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic...

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