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Toma v. University of Hawaii

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 18, 2018

JOHN TOMA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Richard L. Puglisi, United States Magistrate Judge

         On July 18, 2018, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment came on for hearing. Brian K. Mackintosh, Esq. appeared on behalf of Plaintiff; Derek T. Mayeshiro, Esq. appeared on behalf of Defendant. After carefully considering the parties' submissions, the relevant legal authority, and the arguments of counsel at the hearing, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a former student at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa, filed this action on September 11, 2016, alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of his disability in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), as amended. See ECF No. 1.

         After the Court granted Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. See ECF Nos. 35, 36. On January 16, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 45. In that Order, the Court declined to recognize a claim for hostile education environment. Id. The Court also dismissed with prejudice all of Plaintiff's claims that were based on acts that occurred prior to September 11, 2012, because such claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Id. The Court stated that Plaintiff's claims based on acts that occurred on or after September 11, 2012, are not time barred and remain pending. Id.

         In the present Motion, Defendant asks the Court to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims as barred by the law of the case doctrine and to grant summary judgment to the extent any of Plaintiff's claims remain. See ECF No. 46.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Defendant's Request to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint As Barred Under the Law of the Case Doctrine is DENIED.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed if it fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Review under Rule 12(b)(6) is generally limited to the contents of the complaint. Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff's allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Id. Dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) if the facts alleged do not state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         In the present Motion, Defendant argues that all of Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed under the law of the case doctrine. “Under the law of the case doctrine, a court is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue previously decided by the same court if the issue in question was decided explicitly or by necessary implication in the previous disposition.” E.E.O.C. v. Glob. Horizons, Inc., 904 F.Supp.2d 1074, 1091 (D. Haw. 2012) (quoting United States v. Lummi Indian Tribe, 235 F.3d 443, 452 (9th Cir. 2000)). As noted above, the Court previously ruled that Plaintiff cannot assert a claim for hostile educational environment because such a claim is not recognized in the Ninth Circuit. ECF No. 45. Defendant argues that Plaintiff only asserts hostile environment claims in the Second Amended Complaint and therefore Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed because they are barred under the law of the case doctrine. ECF No. 46-1 at 16-17.

         Based on the Court's review of the allegations in the Second Amended Complaint and the liberal pleading standards that apply, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint articulates a claim for discrimination based on Defendant's discrete acts. The Court agrees with Defendant that the allegations contained under the headings “Count I” and “Count II” of the Second Amended Complaint only reference a hostile environment. See ECF No. 36 ¶¶ 170, 173. However, other allegations in the Second Amended Complaint specifically allege that Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff through specific acts. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant, through the actions of the Chancellor's Designee, “discriminated against [Plaintiff] because of his disability and violated his rights as a disabled person.” Id. ¶ 161. This allegation is sufficient for the Court to consider the merits of Plaintiff's claims for discrimination based on Defendant's specific acts. Accordingly, Defendant's request to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint under the law of the case doctrine is DENIED.

         II. All of Plaintiff's Claims Based on Acts That Occurred Prior to September 11, 2012, Were Dismissed with Prejudice in the Court's Prior Order.

         Before addressing Defendant's request for summary judgment, the Court must address Plaintiff's attempt to revive claims that were previously dismissed with prejudice. As expressly stated in the Court's prior Order, all claims based on acts that occurred prior to September 11, 2012, are time barred. ECF No. 45. These claims were expressly dismissed with prejudice. Id. Further, the Court held that the only claims that remained pending were claims based on acts that occurred on or after September 11, 2012. Id. The only specific act alleged in the Second Amended Complaint that occurred on or after September 11, 2012, is the September 11, 2012 denial by the Chancellor's Designee, Vassilis Syrmos, of Plaintiff's appeal of the decision finding no discrimination by Dr. Jerris Hedges and Dr. Richard Smerz. ECF No. 36 ¶¶ 152-161.

         In his Opposition to the present Motion, Plaintiff states that he “now also alleges that [Vice Chancellor Reed Dasenbrock's] active concealment of the Fact Finders Report constitutes another specific action, the injury of which came to pass on September 11, 2012.” ECF No. 55. The Court rejects Plaintiff's attempt to resurrect this time-barred claim by stating that the “injury” from this action “came to pass on September 11, 2012.” Id. In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he requested the Fact Finder's Report from Vice Chancellor Dasenbrock on July 9, 2012. ECF No. 36 ¶ 145. Further, Plaintiff alleges that he submitted additional requests for the Report on July 18, 2012, and July 19, 2012, with copies of the request sent to the Office of General Counsel and the Chancellor's office. Id. ¶¶ 146-148. Plaintiff alleges that he submitted his appeal without the benefit of the Report on July 20, 2012. Id. ¶ 149. All of the acts related to the Fact Finder Report as alleged in the Second Amended Complaint occurred before September 11, 2012. Plaintiff was “injured” when he was not provided with a copy of the Fact Finder Report as requested and when he submitted his appeal without the benefit of the Report, all of which occurred in July 2012, before the four-year statute of limitations. See De Anza Props. X, Ltd. v. Cnty. of Santa Cruz, 936 F.2d 1084, 1086 (9th Cir. 1991) (“The statute of limitations begins to run when a potential plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the asserted injury.”). This time-barred claim was dismissed with prejudice in the Court's prior order. The only claims that remain in this action are Plaintiff's claims related to the September 11, 2012 denial of Plaintiff's appeal of the decision finding no discrimination by Dr. Jerris Hedges and Dr. Richard Smerz. ECF No. 36 ¶¶ 152-161.

         III. Defendant's Request for Summary Judgment on ...


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