Thiele v. Bd. of Trs. of Ill. State Univ., 1:20-cv-01197-SLD-TSH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Central District of Illinois
Writing for the CourtSARA DARROW CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesBAILEY THIELE and JACK MOYLAN, Plaintiffs, v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY, LARRY DIETZ in his individual and official capacities, and JULIE ANNETTE JONES in her individual and official capacities, Defendants.
Docket Number1:20-cv-01197-SLD-TSH
Decision Date30 September 2021

BAILEY THIELE and JACK MOYLAN, Plaintiffs,
v.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY, LARRY DIETZ in his individual and official capacities, and JULIE ANNETTE JONES in her individual and official capacities, Defendants.

No. 1:20-cv-01197-SLD-TSH

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

September 30, 2021


ORDER

SARA DARROW CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Board of Trustees of Illinois State University (“Board of Trustees” or “Board”), Larry Dietz in his official and individual capacities, and Julie Annette Jones in her official and individual capacities, ECF No. 11. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND[1]

The Board, an entity established by Illinois state law, 110 ILCS § 675, acts as the governing board of Illinois State University (“ISU”). It has final authority in all matters affecting ISU and exercises jurisdiction over ISU's financial, educational, and other policies. Pursuant to 110 ILCS § 675/20-45(5), the Board has the authority to assess and collect student tuition and fees. Dietz, who holds the position of President of ISU, is ISU's Chief Executive

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Officer and oversees the university's operations. Jones is Chairperson of the Board and acts as the presiding officer of the Board.

ISU's Spring 2020 semester began on approximately January 13, 2020 and ended on May 8, 2020; the Summer 2020 semester lasted from approximately May 18, 2020 to August 7, 2020. On or about March 11, 2020, ISU announced that it would be taking a series of actions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular transitioning from in-person teaching to online instruction until at least April 12, 2020 and closing University-operated housing, instructing all students to return to and remain at their permanent home addresses until further notice. ISU announced further actions on or about March 17, 2020, including instructing all students to remain at their permanent addresses for the remainder of the semester, during which time they would attend class via alternative means, and closing certain facilities, such as the Student Fitness Center. On or about March 20, 2020, ISU announced that access to all campus facilities was restricted to essential personnel only. And on or about April 9, 2020, ISU informed students that classes offered the Summer 2020 semester would also be taught online.

Plaintiffs Bailey Thiele and Jack Moylan were enrolled as full-time undergraduate students at ISU during all times relevant to this case. They, along with other students, left campus on or about March 7, 2020 for spring break and were not permitted to return to campus afterwards.

In addition to paying tuition, ISU students pay a mandatory semesterly fee for general activities, service, athletic and recreational facilities, instructional support, and campus enhancement. This fee is charged to each student at a per-credit-hour rate. For the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters, the rate was $92.28 per credit hour. Thiele paid approximately $1, 384.20 in mandatory fees for the Spring 2020 semester and $369.12 for the Summer 2020

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semester; Moylan paid approximately $1, 107.36 for the Spring 2020 semester and $267.84 for the Summer 2020 semester. On or about April 24, 2020, ISU announced a partial refund of the Spring 2020 fees to all students at a rate of $12 per credit hour. It did not, however, reduce or refund fees for Summer 2020.

Plaintiffs initiated this suit, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, on May 21, 2020, bringing claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and conversion and alleging that federal jurisdiction existed under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Compl. 3, 11-14, ECF No. 1. They filed an amended complaint on July 7, 2020, which brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the Takings and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution, for breach of contract, for unjust enrichment, and for conversion. Am. Compl. 18-22, ECF No. 4.[2] Plaintiffs seek the certification of this case as a class action; a declaration that Plaintiffs and Class Members have a common law property interest in the portion of the fees paid for which they received no benefit; a declaration that Defendants seized and retained this property interest without notice and due process in violation of the Illinois Constitution and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; a declaration that Defendants are financially responsible for notifying Class Members of this suit; an order requiring Defendants to refund the portions of the fees paid for which Plaintiffs and Class Members received no benefit; a permanent injunction restraining Defendants from unlawfully seizing students' money in the future; statutory relief; reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses; and pre- and post-judgment interest. Id. at 23-24. Defendants now move to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety for lack of subject matter

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jurisdiction and, in the alternative, for failure to adequately plead any of the claims. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 2-4.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to 12(b)(1)

a. Legal Standard

“A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) tests the jurisdictional sufficiency of the complaint.” Bultasa Buddhist Temple of Chi. v. Nielson, 878 F.3d 570, 573 (7th Cir. 2017). When resolving such a motion, the Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw[s] reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs.” Id. The Court may look beyond the complaint's jurisdictional allegations and view other evidence submitted by the parties to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. Evers v. Astrue, 536 F.3d 651, 656-57 (7th Cir. 2008). “[A] plaintiff faced with a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss bears the burden of establishing that the jurisdictional requirements have been met.” Center for Dermatology & Skin Cancer, Ltd. v. Burwell, 770 F.3d 586, 588-89 (7th Cir. 2014).

b. Analysis

Plaintiffs allege that, because they bring claims under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Court has federal question jurisdiction over the suit and supplemental jurisdiction over the related state law claims. Am. Compl. 4-5. Defendants do not dispute the existence of the federal constitutional claims but argue that the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiffs from bringing this case in federal court. Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 4-5, ECF No. 12. Plaintiffs counter that their claims are either not covered by the Eleventh Amendment or fall into exceptions to the sovereign immunity doctrine. Pl.'s Resp. 4-9, ECF No. 16.

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The Eleventh Amendment provides that “[t]he judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. Courts have interpreted this to mean that private individuals cannot sue the state itself, state agencies, or state officials acting in their official capacities in federal court, a doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Council 31 of the Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emps., AFL-CIO v. Quinn, 680 F.3d 875, 881-82 (7th Cir. 2012). Three exceptions to sovereign immunity have been recognized: 1) Congressional abrogation, 2) waiver, and 3) the Ex parte Young exception. Id. at 882. The Ex parte Young exception “allows private parties to sue individual state officials for prospective relief to enjoin ongoing violations of federal law.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). Because the exceptions to sovereign immunity are dependent upon the type and capacity of the defendant being sued, the Court will address each group of Defendants individually.

i. Board of Trustees

The Seventh Circuit considers public universities' boards of trustees to be state agencies shielded by sovereign immunity. See Kroll v Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 934 F.2d 904, 908-09 (7th Cir. 1991) (“The Board . . . must be accorded the respect due a state under the eleventh amendment.”); see also Lugg v. Sutton, 368 F.Supp.3d 1257, 1263-64 (C.D. Ill. 2019) (noting that the Board of Trustees of ISU was “an [a]gency of the State of Illinois” but had waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity by removing a state action to federal court). The Board of Trustees of ISU is an entity established by an Illinois statute to govern ISU, a public university, see Am. Compl. 4; the Board is thus considered to be an agency of the state of Illinois. As such,

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the claims against the Board may only proceed before this Court if an exception to sovereign immunity applies.[3]

Because the Board is an agency and not a state official, the Ex parte Young exception is inapplicable; waiver and abrogation are the only paths by which Plaintiffs might keep these claims in federal court. For a state to waive its sovereign immunity defense, its consent to suit must be “unequivocally expressed, ” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99 (1984); mere failure to raise a defense of sovereign immunity does not constitute waiver, nor can a state constructively consent to a suit, Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673, 677-78 (1974). Nothing before the Court shows that the state has consented to suit; indeed, Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss compels the opposite conclusion, see Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 2. And Plaintiffs bring their constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Am. Compl. 18- 19, a statute which the Supreme Court has specifically found does not abrogate state sovereign immunity, see Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340-41 (1979). As no exceptions to sovereign immunity apply, the Court finds that the Eleventh Amendment bars this suit from being brought against the Board.[4] All claims against the...

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