Yul Chu v. Miss. State Univ.

Decision Date03 October 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:08–CV–00232–GHD–DAS.
Citation901 F.Supp.2d 761
PartiesDr. YUL CHU, Plaintiff v. MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY; Board of Trustees, Institutions of Higher Learning; Dr. Robert H. “DOC” Fogelsong, Individually and Officially; Dr. D.E. Magee, Jr., Individually and Officially; and Dr. Thomas C. Meredith, Commissioner, Individually and Officially, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi


Kim Turner Chaze, Durham, NH, for Plaintiff.

Joy Wolfe Graves, Perry, Winfield & Wolfe, PA, Starkville, MS, for Defendants.


GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss [44] all claims except the Title VII claim, and Plaintiff's motion to compel immunity-related discovery [58]. Upon due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that the motion to dismiss [44] should be granted and the motion to compel [58] should be denied as moot.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Dr. Yul Chu (Plaintiff) was a non-tenured professor at Mississippi State University (MSU) for several years until he was denied tenure and terminated from his position. Plaintiff, a proclaimed native of Korea, alleges that he was the victim of discrimination during his employment, and that he was terminated for discriminatory reasons. Accordingly, Plaintiff has commenced this suit against Defendants MSU; the Board of Trustees, Institutions of Higher Learning (the Board); as well as Dr. Robert H. “Doc” Fogelsong; Dr. D.E. Magee, Jr.; and Dr. Thomas C. Meredith, Commissioner, all individually and officially (collectively, Defendants).1 From 2001 until 2007, Plaintiff apparently was employed as an assistant professor at MSU. During this time period, it appears that the parties executed employment contracts for each of the six academic years that fell within that period. At some point, Plaintiff was approved for tenure-track status, and Plaintiff applied for tenure. Plaintiff's application for tenure was denied, and Plaintiff alleges he was told he would be terminated from his position at MSU. Plaintiff appealed to the Board. On August 15, 2007, the Board unanimously voted to deny Plaintiff's request for board review, thus confirming the denial of tenure. Plaintiff executed a contract on August 20, 2007. See Employment Contract [53–3] at 1. Under the terms of the contract, which covered the period of August 16, 2007 until May 15, 2008, Plaintiff worked as an “assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering (tenure track) at MSU. The contract states that it is subject to the “laws of the State of Mississippi and to termination for certain enumerated reasons at any time prior to the contract's termination date, May 15, 2008.

In this action, Plaintiff asserts several theories of recovery, including alleged violations of his constitutional rights to substantive and procedural due process and equal protection under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and breach of contract under state law. Plaintiff alleges that during his employment at MSU he suffered discrimination “because he is a native of Korea and because of his distinctive skin color and accent” and that Defendants' employment policies have discriminated against at least one other person in [Plaintiff's] Department of non-American origin” who “also had a distinctive skin color, ethnicity, and speech.” Id. ¶¶ 7, 9, 11–12. Plaintiff additionally alleges that despite knowledge of the alleged discrimination, Defendants failed to conduct a prompt, remedial investigation into Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination. Plaintiff avers that Defendants unlawfully terminated him due to his race and national origin, and failed to conduct a prompt, remedial investigation following his termination, despite awareness of Plaintiff's past allegationsof discrimination. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “discriminatorily applied their policies” and failed to follow their own policies in violation of Plaintiff's contractual relationship with [D]efendants” in violation of both federal and state law. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff seeks actual damages, injunctive relief, and any other relief to which he is entitled, including possible reinstatement with full benefits.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss [44] all claims except the Title VII claim against MSU and the Board. Plaintiff has filed a subsequent motion to compel discovery relating to immunity issues [58].2 The parties informed the Court that immunity-related discovery was complete, and the Court entered an Order [78] establishing a briefing schedule for supplemental responses and briefing to add discovery materials to the filings on the motion to dismiss. The parties then filed supplemental briefs regarding these issues.

B. Legal Standards

“The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid claim when all well-pleaded facts are assumed true and are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir.2010) (citing In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir.2007)). Of course, the complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The court must not evaluate the likelihood of the claim's success, but instead ascertain whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible. Lone Star Fund, 594 F.3d at 387 (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).

“If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Because in considering the motion to dismiss the Court has reviewed the parties' attached matters outside the pleadings which this Court shall not exclude, the motion shall be considered a motion for summary judgment brought pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir.2008). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548.Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,’ designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548;Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir.2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir.1995).

C. Discussion and Analysis

Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss all of Plaintiffs claims except the Title VII claim against MSU and the Board. Defendants present the following specific arguments in support of dismissal: (1) the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's theories of recovery under Section 1983, and Plaintiff has otherwise failed to state a claim for relief under Section 1983; (2) both the Eleventh Amendment and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (the “MTCA”) bar Plaintiff's state law breach of contract claim, the individually named Defendants are otherwise entitled to good faith immunity and/or qualified immunity, and the statute of limitations has run on the claim; and (3) Plaintiff's Title VII claim is barred to the extent it is asserted against the individually named Defendants, as such Defendants are not “employers” for purposes of Title VII.

The Court addresses the arguments for dismissal as follows: (1) whether the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's theories of recovery under Section 1983 and state law for breach of contract; (2) whether any remaining theories of recovery under Section 1983 are barred under principles of qualified immunity or failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6); (3) whether any remaining breach of contract theories are barred under principles of qualified immunity; and (4) whether the Title VII claim is barred to the extent it is asserted against the individually named Defendants.3

1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity—Section 1983 Claims and Breach of Contract Claim
a. Eleventh Amendment Background

First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's theories of recovery under Section 1983 and state law for breach of contract are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Courts should address Eleventh Amendment immunity challenges prior to reaching the merits of a case. See United States v. Tex. Tech Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 285–86 (5th Cir.1999). Sovereign immunity is a broad jurisdictional doctrine prohibiting suit against the government absent the government's consent. Sovereign immunity was assumed at common law, brought from England to the colonies, and existed prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution. Although the term “sovereign immunity” nowhere appears in the...

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