Peterson v. North Dakota ex rel. N.D. University, Case No. Al-02-82.

CourtU.S. District Court — District of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtHovland
Citation240 F.Supp.2d 1055
PartiesSandra PETERSON, Plaintiff, v. State of NORTH DAKOTA, By and Through the NORTH DAKOTA UNIVERSITY SYSTEM, and by and through Bismarck State College, Donna Thigpen, in her official capacity and in her personal capacity, and David Sitte in his official capacity and in his personal capacity, Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. Al-02-82.
Decision Date03 January 2003
240 F.Supp.2d 1055
Sandra PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
State of NORTH DAKOTA, By and Through the NORTH DAKOTA UNIVERSITY SYSTEM, and by and through Bismarck State College, Donna Thigpen, in her official capacity and in her personal capacity, and David Sitte in his official capacity and in his personal capacity, Defendants.
Case No. Al-02-82.
United States District Court, D. North Dakota, Southwestern Division.
January 3, 2003.

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Charles L. Chapman, Chapman & Chapman, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff.

Tag C. Anderson, Attorney General's Office, Bismarck, ND, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HOVLAND, Chief Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

This is a civil rights action arising out of the termination of the plaintiff, Sandra Peterson, from her employment as an instructor at Bismarck State College on March 31, 2000. Before the Court is the defendants' motion for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have cited to materials outside of the pleadings and, therefore, the Court will treat the defendants' motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. Country Club Estates, L.L.C. v. Town of Loma Linda, 213 F.3d 1001, 1005 (8th Cir.2000).

II. BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The plaintiff, Sandra Peterson, [hereinafter referred to as Peterson] was an instructor at Bismarck State College (BSC) who allegedly disclosed confidential student information to a classroom of students in January 1999. At the direction of BSC, Peterson apologized to the student publicly in February 1999. Peterson received a letter of reprimand from BSC in March 1999. She subsequently received a Notice of Intent to Dismiss from BSC on April 16, 1999. Peterson challenged the validity of the notice which she believed prompted defendants David Sitte, BSC's Interim Dean of Instruction, and Donna Thigpen, BSC's president, to solicit derogatory information and statements from others in order to bolster the case against her.

In May of 1999, Peterson received an Amended Notice of Intent to Dismiss from BSC that contained several new allegations. Thereafter, she received a letter of dismissal from President Thigpen on July 21, 1999. Peterson filed a request for reconsideration which the BSC Special Faculty Review Committee took under consideration. The Special Faculty Review Committee issued a report on September 24, 1999, and recommended that BSC not dismiss Peterson as an employee. However, President Thigpen remained steadfast in her belief that BSC had cause to terminate Peterson and Thigpen rejected the recommendation.

Peterson then filed a notice of appeal and a request for reinstatement pursuant to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education Policy Manual. A formal evidentiary hearing before the BSC Standing Committee on Faculty Rights was convened on February 7, 2000. The Committee issued its findings on March 21, 2000, and concluded that BSC had not established by clear and convincing evidence that there was adequate cause to dismiss Peterson. The Committee recommended that Peterson not be dismissed. President Thigpen reviewed the Committee's findings, concluded that they were not supported by the record, and reiterated that

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Peterson's dismissal was proper. After her dismissal, Peterson was provided a post-termination hearing through an appeal to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. An independent administrative law judge from the Office of Administrative Hearings conducted posttermination proceedings on behalf of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. The ALJ recommended that the Board uphold the actions of BSC in terminating Peterson's employment. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education agreed and upheld Peterson's dismissal from BSC.

Peterson initiated this civil rights action on July 18, 2002. Peterson alleges in her complaint that she was dismissed by BSC despite a lack of clear and convincing evidence of any wrongdoing on her part and in violation of her constitutional rights. She also alleges that she was dismissed in retaliation for her criticisms of BSC's administration. In early March 1999, in a letter and later during a faculty meeting, Peterson had criticized the administration's removal of a department chair. Peterson maintains that she was singled out for termination because of this criticism and because of her prominence in campus politics. She seeks $2,500,000 in damages plus costs, disbursements and reasonable attorney's fees.

III. LEGAL DISCUSSION A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court will grant a motion for summary judgment if the record shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (explaining that the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor). If the defendant can show that there is no issue as to any material fact, then the plaintiff must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A mere trace of evidence supporting the plaintiffs position is insufficientthe facts must generate evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Anderson, v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

B. CLAIMS AGAINST THE STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA AND DEFENDANTS SITTE AND THIGPEN IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES

A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 requires that the persons inflicting the alleged injury act under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only authorizes damage suits against "persons" for deprivation of federal rights under color of state law. Section 1983 provides in relevant part: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.... 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Eleventh Amendment bars private parties from suing a state in federal court. See Murphy v. State of Arkansas, 127 F.3d 750, 754 (8th Cir.1997) (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979) and Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978)); Dover Elevator Co. v. Arkansas State University,

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64 F.3d 442, 446 (8th Cir.1995) (concluding that a state agency was immune from suit in federal court). Section 1983 damage claims against state officials acting in their official capacities are likewise barred, either by the Eleventh Amendment or, because in their official capacities, state officials are not "persons" for § 1983 purposes. Murphy v. State of Arkansas, 127 F.3d 750, 754. See also Dover Elevator Co. v. Arkansas State University, 64 F.3d 442, 447.

It is well-established that neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are "persons" under Section 1983. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989). In contrast, Section 1983 damage claims against state officials acting in their individual capacities are not necessarily barred. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991).

As a result, Peterson's official capacity actions must be treated as actions against the state and are clearly barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The plaintiff failed to submit any legal argument or legal basis to rebut the defendants' motion to dismiss this particular claim. There is simply no legal basis for a claim against the State of North Dakota or against defendants David Sitte and Donna Thigpen in their official capacities. Therefore, the only issue that remains before the Court is whether Peterson can sustain her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against defendants Thigpen and Sitte in their personal capacities.

C. CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS SITTE AND THIGPEN IN THEIR PERSONAL CAPACITIES

The defendants maintain that David Sitte and Donna Thigpen are immune from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based upon the doctrine of qualified immunity. Peterson argues that dismissal is inappropriate at this stage because there are questions of fact integral to the resolution of the qualified immunity issue.

Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity shields state officials from civil liability when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Holloway v. Reeves, 277 F.3d 1035, 1037 (8th Cir.2002) citing Doe v. Gooden, 214 F.3d 952, 954 (8th Cir.2000). Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense for which the defendant carries the burden of proof. See Sparr v. Ward, 306 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir.2002) (explaining that it is still incumbent on the plaintiff to show that the law the defendant allegedly violated is clearly established). The purpose of qualified immunity is to allow public officials to perform their duties in a manner they believe to be correct without fear for their own financial well being. Id. "Toward this end, the rule has evolved that an official performing discretionary functions will generally be immune from liability unless a reasonable person in his position would have known his actions violated clearly established law." Id. (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). "An official loses immunity if the law he violated was clearly established at the time of the violation, and the applicability of the law to his particular action was evident." Id. In other words, the...

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  • Salau v. Denton, Case No. 2:14–cv–04326–SRB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • October 8, 2015
    ...fundamental right, i.e., marriage, family, procreation, right to bodily integrity." Peterson v. N. Dakota ex rel. N. Dakota Univ. Sys., 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1062 (D.N.D.2003) ; see also Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994). Here, Plaintiff's claim fails to ......
  • Stevenson v. Blytheville Sch. Dist. No. 5, Case No. 3:13CV00127 KGB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas
    • July 1, 2013
    ...employment or contract rights are generally not entitled to the protections of substantive due process.” Peterson v. North Dakota, 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D.2003). In this case, on the record before it and given the current state of controlling law, this Court determines that plaintif......
  • Martin v. City of Glasgow, Case No. 1:11–CV–00064–R.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • July 26, 2012
    ...plaintiff] must be accorded is judged by federal law rather than state law.” Peterson v. North Dakota ex rel. North Dakota Univ. Sys., 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D.2003). Therefore, even where a state statute diagrams a procedure for depriving a citizen of a property right, a deviation f......
  • Adkisson v. Blytheville Sch. Dist. No. 5, Case No. 3:13-cv-00127-KGB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
    • December 2, 2014
    ...employment or contract rights are generally not entitled to the protections of substantive due process," Peterson v. North Dakota, 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D. 2003). Even if the 2013 Act could create the fundamental right or liberty that plaintiffs claim, it does not because it gives t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Salau v. Denton, Case No. 2:14–cv–04326–SRB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • October 8, 2015
    ...fundamental right, i.e., marriage, family, procreation, right to bodily integrity." Peterson v. N. Dakota ex rel. N. Dakota Univ. Sys., 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1062 (D.N.D.2003) ; see also Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994). Here, Plaintiff's claim fails to ......
  • Stevenson v. Blytheville Sch. Dist. No. 5, Case No. 3:13CV00127 KGB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas
    • July 1, 2013
    ...employment or contract rights are generally not entitled to the protections of substantive due process.” Peterson v. North Dakota, 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D.2003). In this case, on the record before it and given the current state of controlling law, this Court determines that plaintif......
  • Martin v. City of Glasgow, Case No. 1:11–CV–00064–R.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • July 26, 2012
    ...plaintiff] must be accorded is judged by federal law rather than state law.” Peterson v. North Dakota ex rel. North Dakota Univ. Sys., 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D.2003). Therefore, even where a state statute diagrams a procedure for depriving a citizen of a property right, a deviation f......
  • Adkisson v. Blytheville Sch. Dist. No. 5, Case No. 3:13-cv-00127-KGB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
    • December 2, 2014
    ...employment or contract rights are generally not entitled to the protections of substantive due process," Peterson v. North Dakota, 240 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1063 (D.N.D. 2003). Even if the 2013 Act could create the fundamental right or liberty that plaintiffs claim, it does not because it gives t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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