Rodgers v. Univ. of Missouri Bd. of Curators

Decision Date04 September 2012
Docket NumberCase No. 4:11CV0515 JAR
PartiesCHERI RODGERS, Plaintiff, v. UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI BOARD OF CURATORS, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted ("Motion"; ECF No. 71). This matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.1

STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must view the allegations in the Complaint liberally in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Luney v. SGS Auto Servs., 432 F.3d 866, 867 (8th Cir. 2005)). Additionally, the Court "must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Coons v. Mineta, 410 F.3d 1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (abrogating the "no set of facts" standard for Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlementto relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Huang v. Gateway Hotel Holdings, 520 F. Supp. 2d 1137, 1140 (E.D. Mo. 2007).

To determine whether an action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must engage in a two-step inquiry. First, the Court must identify the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). These include "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. Second, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The plaintiff is required to plead facts that show more than the "mere possibility of misconduct." Id. The Court must review the factual allegations in the complaint "to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. When faced with alternative explanations for the alleged misconduct, the Court may exercise its judgment in determining whether the plaintiff's proffered conclusion is the most plausible or whether it is more likely that no misconduct occurred. Id. at 680-82.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Cheri Rodgers ("Plaintiff") asserts that this lawsuit "addresses Plaintiff's 'unconstitutional' impeachment as president [of the Student Electronic Media Association Organization ('SEMPA')], two months following the election, by Faculty (Defendants Granger and Bechtholdt) and SEMPA members' [sic] (Axton, Ordway, C. Robinson, K. Robinson, S. Engelmeyer, and J. Edwards) who opposed her appointment to office for no other reason than her race. It also addresses her simultaneous explusion as a long-time SEMPA member in retaliation for her complaints of racial discrimination to the campus administration against her white offenders."(Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint ("Opposition"), ECF No. 76, p. 1).

On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff, an African American graduate student at the University of Missouri St. Louis ("UMSL"), was elected president of SEMPA. (Second Amended Original Civil Complaint ("Compl."), ECF No. 44, ¶¶5, 26, 27). As President of SEMPA, Plaintiff had "full power and authority over the SEMPA organization, campus radio station, and UMSL's newly launched TV station." (Id., ¶27).

During Plaintiff's first few weeks as President of SEMPA, she was subjected to a "hostile work environment, racially discriminatory treatment, and later an assault by a faculty advisor." (Id., ¶28). Plaintiff sought intervention from Defendants, but her claims were not investigated. (Id.). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that, as part of this"hostile environment," student SEMPA members Ryan Ordway, John Edwards and Keith Robinson on October 3, 2009, Defendant Marcel Bechtholdt, IT Services Administrator and SEMPA Chief Technical Advisor, recommended that Plaintiff secure a Sergeant at Arms "for her protection" at future meetings. (Id., ¶50). Plaintiff alleges that Charles Granger, Student Advisor at UMSL Department of Biology, Bechtholdt, and Ordway "threatened Rodgers with premeditated retaliation and informed her that if she continued with her complaint against any SEMPA offender that she would be met with adverse action before they would as there had already been talks to remove her as president from the SEMPA organization." (Id., ¶55).2

Plaintiff sought to enforce the UM-System's anti-discrimination policy and requested that Office of Student Life Director and the University's Chief Diversity Officer, Miriam Huffman, intervene. (Id., ¶52). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Huffman presided over the October 7, 2009mediation involving Plaintiff, Craig Robinson, Ryan Ordway, and Bechtholdt. (Id., ¶53). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Huffman provided UM-System grievance materials to all parties to allow them to file a formal grievance with a higher campus department after the mediation "failed." (Id., ¶57).3

After the mediation, Plaintiff alleges that her access to the SEMPA office and radio station was removed by Granger and Bechtholdt. (Id., ¶58). Plaintiff asserts that Granger and Bechtholdt, along with several SEMPA members, conspired to remove her as president of SEMPA and discourage her from pursuing her discrimination complaint. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that the "discriminatory animus" and "hostile environment" culminated in Plaintiff "being openly accosted by Granger on the UMSL campus as she exited the SEMPA office." (Id.).4

Between October 2009 and January 2010, Rodgers filed over thirty verbal and written complaints to Defendants in nine UMSL departments. (Id., ¶31). Plaintiff notified the Office of Student Affairs, Student Life, and Student Court of the alleged racial discrimination, harassment, retaliation, hostile environment, assault by a faculty member, and denial of due process and equal protection she had suffered. (Id., ¶32). Plaintiff alleges that in the Office of Student Affairs, her complaints were "met with reckless indifference, willful blindness, and deliberately hindered in the furtherance of her racial discrimination grievance against white SEMPA members." (Compl., ¶60). Plaintiff asserts that her grievances were "rejected five (5) times" by Defendant Curtis Coonrod, Vice Provost of Student Affairs, Defendant Orinthia Montague, Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Designated Primary Officer, and Defendant Helen Ward, the Administrative Assistantat UMSL's Office of Student Affairs, "within two-weeks for arbitrary and capricious reasons unrelated to the merits of her allegations." (Id.).5 Because her grievances were rejected, Plaintiff asserts that she was "refused an investigation and unjustly denied due process." (Id.).

In November 2009, Plaintiff was impeached from office and expelled as a SEMPA member, without notice. (Id., ¶29). In December 2009, Plaintiff reported the "unlawful conduct" and deprivation of her rights" to Defendants Deborah Nobel-Triplett, Ph.D., UM-System Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Defendant Glen Cope, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, who immediately transferred the matter to Defendant Tanisha Stevens, Student Advocate UMSL's Office of Academic Affairs. (Id., ¶67). Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Triplett, Cope and Stevens failed "to take any proactive measures in her case and inappropriately referred] to her [to] Student Court." (Id., ¶67).6 In January 2010, Plaintiff reported the same unlawfulconduct to Defendant Deborah Burris, Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and the University's Chief Diversity Officer, to seek some "intervention, protections, and/or remedies." (Id., ¶68). Plaintiff asserts that her claims, however, were "unduly delayed, never investigated, systemically dismissed, and denied due process." (Id., ¶68). Plaintiff alleges that defendants Nobel-Triplett, Cope, Stevens, and Burris caused Plaintiff's complaints and grievances to be dismissed "without proper review or formal written notice to Plaintiff" in violation of Title VI, Amendment XIV, and Sections 1981, 1983, 1985, and 2004. (Id., ¶69).

Plaintiff claims that she reported the purported unlawful conduct to the UMSL campus police, but that Defendant Frank Schmidt and Defendant Brandon Burton, UMSL Campus Police Officers,"threatened to retaliate against Rodgers with an arrest for false reporting to prevent her from filing a formal complaint against an offending white faculty member." (Id., ¶¶147, 151). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Schmidt and Burton "refused to investigate Rodgers' allegations of a racially motivated assault" by Granger on Plaintiff. (Id., ¶61). Plaintiff claims that both Schmidt and Burton abused their power "by threatening to have [Plaintiff] arrested for false reporting if she continued with the complaint." (Id.).7

In March 2010, after a hearing, the UMSL Student Court determined that the impeachment of Plaintiff as SEMPA President was improper. (Id., ¶30). The Student Court, however, refused to reinstate Plaintiff as SEMPA President. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that, after a hearing, the UMSLStudent Court "rendered a verdict of 'guilty' against Faculty and SEMPA Defendants for Rodgers' 'unconsti...

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