Román v. Univ. of Puerto Rico

Decision Date09 August 2011
Docket NumberCivil No. 10–1363(DRD).
Citation274 Ed. Law Rep. 135,799 F.Supp.2d 120
PartiesFelipe CARDONA ROMÁN, Plaintiff, v. UNIVERSITY OF PUERTO RICO, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Manuel R. Suarez–Jimenez, Manuel R. Suarez Law Office, San Juan, PR, Miriam Gonzalez–Olivencia, Miriam Gonzalez Olivencia Law Office, Guaynabo, PR, for Plaintiff.

Luis Fernando Llach–Zuniga, Jorge A. Antongiorgi, McConnell Valdes, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.

AMENDED OMNIBUS OPINION AND ORDER

DANIEL R. DOMÍNGUEZ, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Felipe Cardona Román (“Cardona” or Plaintiff) filed a complaint on May 1, 2010 (Docket No. 1) against Defendant University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and Defendants Antonio Garcia Padilla (Garcia Padilla), Jose De La Torre (“De La Torre”), Gladys Escalona De Motta (“Escalona”), Ana R. Guadalupe (“Guadalupe”), Jose Juan Estrada (“Estrada”), Orlando Ruiz (“Ruiz”), Bienvenido Flores (“Flores”), Jazmin Ocasio (“Ocasio”), Alberto Feliciano (“Feliciano”), and Edgardo Rodriguez (“Rodriguez”) (collectively, the “Individual Defendants) alleging retaliation and discrimination on the basis of an alleged disability. Plaintiff brings this action under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and Puerto Rico Act No. 44 of July 2, 1985 (“Law 44”).

Defendants have filed three separate motions to dismiss (Docket Nos. 44, 45, and 46) each asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity.

II. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 8, 2003, the UPR hired Cardona as an Electrician Supervisor at the Office for the Conservation of the University Installations (“OCIU”). From the very beginning of his employment, Cardona alleges that he noticed certain irregularities, such as equipment disappearing and department personnel ordering unnecessary equipment. He also claims that there were improper and dangerous work conditions. Cardona argues that he reported these irregularities in a sworn statement to the administration, but that the OCIU never took any action. After filing this complaint, Cardona asserts that he was denied routine equipment and an adequate motor vehicle which was needed to transport necessary supplies for his work. Other OCIU supervisors were always provided with their own vehicles.

Cardona alleges that he was forced to work under dangerous conditions in spite of notifying his bosses about these conditions. Plaintiff avers that Ruiz, the Supervisor of the Electrical Division at OCIU, and Rodriguez, the Director of the OCIU, refused to grant him overtime, although he was willing and able to perform overtime. Additionally, Ruiz allegedly refused to perform a work evaluation on Cardona at the end of his probationary term. Cardona also claims that Ruiz screamed at him in front of his coworkers, causing Cardona great humiliation.

Plaintiff claims that as a result of these events, he suffered emotional anguish and heart and back issues requiring hospitalization. Cardona alleges that he once again notified the UPR administration of his unsafe working environment, but no action was ever taken.

Cardona asserts that, even after he submitted his complaints to the UPR administration, Ruiz continued to withhold materials 1 needed to perform his duties. He further alleges that Ruiz also held up his applications for material requests because Ruiz wanted to delay Cardona's work assignments. When Ruiz was questioned about the delay by Cardona's coworkers, Ruiz supposedly placed the blame on Cardona. Additionally, Cardona avers that when he reported unfavorable conditions about the electrical installations of the UPR, the reports were destroyed. Cardona further claims that he was mocked by his co-workers, because Ruiz constantly requested to know his whereabouts, more than any other co-workers.

Cardona states that his psychiatrist recommended that he resign his supervisory position. Following his doctor's orders, Cardona voluntarily stepped down from his supervisory position. However, Cardona still works at the UPR as an electrical assistant, which is the same position he used to supervise. Cardona claims that as a result of his resignation, his depression increased, causing his health to further deteriorate. Cardona avers that he was prescribed drugs for the depression that damaged his digestive system and increased his blood pressure.

After undergoing two hospitalizations, Flores, a Supervisor in OCIU's Electrical Division, allegedly informed Cardona that he was not allowed to work overtime since he had too many absences.” Flores alleged that he acted under Ruiz and Rodriguez's orders. However, Cardona claims that he always had a positive balance of both sick and vacation days. Additionally, Ruiz allegedly referred to Cardona as “worthless” 2 and openly discussed Cardona's medical conditions with Cardona's coworkers.

Cardona was evaluated by Dr. Fernando Ortiz Franco, a UPR physician. Dr. Franco, in two different letters and in a telephone conversation, allegedly explained to Ruiz and Rodriguez that Cardona required accommodations in order to be able to perform his professional duties. Ruiz and Rodriguez also allegedly informed Flores of Dr. Franco's assessment, but failed to provide accommodations to Cardona.

Cardona made a formal verbal complaint at the Office of the Affirmative Action Officer, directed by Jazmin Ocasio, on January of 2008, followed by a written complaint in February of 2009. No investigation ensued. On September 30, 2009, Cardona filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was granted a right to sue letter on February 2, 2010.

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Cardona filed a complaint on May 1, 2010 (Docket No. 1). Cardona claims that, as a result of Defendants actions, his emotional condition deteriorated, causing him mental anguish, as well as physical problems, including increased blood pressure and damages to his digestive system. Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants have not provided him with the reasonable accommodations as his disability requires.

On May 5, 2011, UPR filed a motion to dismiss (Docket No. 44) alleging that the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution shields the University from liability. UPR states that, as a public university that receives the majority of its funding from the government of Puerto Rico, it is an instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; thus qualifying as an “arm” of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes.

On May 16, 2011, Defendants De La Torre and Guadalupe filed a motion to dismiss (Docket No. 45) and on May 20, 2011, Defendants Estrada, Ruiz, Flores, Ocasio, and Feliciano filed a motion to dismiss (Docket No. 46). Both motions to dismiss assert Eleventh Amendment immunity. Individual Defendants claim that the Eleventh Amendment extends not only to the states, but also to instrumentalities of the state and state's employees acting in their official capacity. Individual Defendants further argue that no personal liability exists under Title VII, the ADA, or Act 44.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR MOTIONS TO DISMISS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires plaintiffs to provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” FED. R.CIV.P. 8(a)(2). Under Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), a plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement [with] more than labels and conclusions.” Thus, a plaintiff must now present allegations that “nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible” in order to comply with the requirements of Rule 8(a). Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955; see e.g. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court's inquiry occurs in a two-step process under the current context-based “plausibility” standard established by Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, and Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937. “Context based” means that plaintiff must allege facts that comply with the basic elements of the cause of action. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949–1950 (explaining the basic elements of a Bivens claim and thereafter concluding that facts were not sufficiently provided, leaving only conclusory statements). First, the Court must “accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint[,] discarding legal conclusions, conclusory statements and factually threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action. Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 268 (1st Cir.2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937) (internal quotation omitted).

Under the second step of the inquiry, the Court must determine whether, based upon all assertions that were not discarded under the first step of the inquiry, the complaint “states a plausible claim for relief.” Id. This second step is “context-specific” and requires that the Court draw from its own “judicial experience and common sense” to decide whether a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted, or, conversely, whether dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate. Id. Thus, [i]n order to survive a motion to dismiss, [a] plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show that he has a plausible entitlement to relief.” Sanchez v. Pereira–Castillo, 590 F.3d 31, 41 (1st Cir.2009).

A complaint that rests on “bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, periphrastic circumlocutions, and the like” will likely not survive a motion to dismiss. Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir.1996). Similarly, unadorned factual assertions are inadequate as well. Penalbert–Rosa v. Fortuno–Burset, 631 F.3d 592 (1st Cir.2011). “Specific information, even if not in the form of admissible evidence, would likely be enough at [the motion to dismiss] stage; pure speculation is not.” Id. at...

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