Lillard v. University of Louisville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Judge John G. Heyburn, II on 7/17/12 granting in part and denying in part 7 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Defendants Motion to Dismiss is SUSTAINED IN PART and Counts II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, X, XI, and XII are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Defendants Motion to Dismiss is DENIED IN PART and Count XIII remains. cc:counsel (DAK)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:11-CV-00554-H
DR. JAMES W. LILLARD, JR.
UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff commenced this action after he was terminated from an associate professorship
at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center (the “Brown Cancer Center”) by the University of
Louisville School of Medicine (the “University”). Plaintiff’s Complaint asserts 13 counts
against the University, primarily alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and several breaches
of contract and common law duties. The University has moved to dismiss 10 of these counts,
arguing that they are barred by sovereign immunity. The Court has considered both parties’
arguments and for the reasons explained below, Defendant’s motion will be sustained in part as
to Counts II-VII and X-XII.
In reviewing a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in a
light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all factual allegations as true. Logsdon v. Hains,
492 F.3d 334, 340 (6th Cir. 2007). The plaintiff must plead “only enough facts to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face” in order to escape dismissal. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Lillard, an African-American male who was employed as Associate Professor at the
Brown Cancer Center between March of 2006 and November of 2009, alleges racial
discrimination and retaliation against the University. The facts underlying his claims date back
to his initial employment offer from the University, which promised “equal employment
opportunity, non-discriminatory policies, enhanced benefits and salaries, endowments, [and] a
working laboratory and office.” Based upon those representations, Lillard accepted the
University’s offer but contends that they were empty promises. During his three years of
employment, Lillard alleges that he was denied these benefits because of his race. In response to
these working conditions and harassment by colleagues, Lillard filed a Charge of Discrimination
with the EEOC, which issued a Notice of Right to Sue on July 5, 2011. Lillard subsequently
commenced this action.
Defendant invokes the privilege of sovereign immunity as its primary basis for dismissal
of Counts II-VII and X-XIII. The protective cloak of sovereign immunity “precludes the
maintaining of any suit against the state unless the state has given its consent or otherwise
waived its immunity.” Meograssi v. Aubrey, No. 3:09-CV-00301-JDM, 2011 WL 1235063, at
*18 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 31, 2011) (quoting Yanero v. Davis, 65 S.W.3d 510, 517-18 (Ky. 2001)).
Even when a claim is permitted to proceed against the state, federal courts may only award
plaintiffs with prospective injunctive relief. Graham v. Nat’l Athletic Ass’n, 804 F.2d 953, 959
(6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). Absent a waiver or statutory exception to sovereign
immunity, the Court is powerless to adjudicate state-law claims brought against defendants
shielded in sovereign immunity. Campbell v. Univ. of Louisville, No. 3:10-CV-00321, 2012 WL
692603, at *5-6 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 2, 2012).
For purposes of the sovereign immunity privilege, it is well established that the
University constitutes the “state.” Graham, 804 F.2d at 960 (citing Martin v. Univ. of Louisville,
541 F.2d 1171, 1174 (6th Cir. 1976)). Therefore, any state claims brought against the University
are barred unless they fall within an exception to or waiver of sovereign immunity and request
only prospective injunctive relief. Id. Counts II-VII, X, and XII allege, respectively: fraud,
deceit, misrepresentation, and fraudulent inducement; breach of contract; breach of implied
covenant of good faith and fair dealing; violation of the University’s policies and procedures;
intentional infliction and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct;
interference with contractual relations; defamation; and wrongful use of civil proceedings. All
of these claims are state-law tort or contract causes of action and are therefore barred by
sovereign immunity. For this simple reason, they should be dismissed.
In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that the University violated his procedural due process rights
and seeks to recover actual and compensatory damages, in addition to attorneys’ fees.
Presumably, although not stated in his Complaint, Plaintiff intends to assert these claims
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the vehicle for claims of constitutional violations by state actors.
Campbell, 2012 WL 692603, at *2 (quoting Thomas v. Shipka, 818 F.2d 496, 499 (6th Cir.
1987), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 488 U.S. 1036 (1989)). “States, state agencies,
and state officials sued in their official capacities for money damages,” however, “are not
‘persons’ subject to suit under § 1983.” Id. (citing Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S.
58 (1989)). Since the University is a state institution and Plaintiff seeks to recover only
monetary damages, his § 1983 claim is barred.
Defendants lastly move to dismiss Count XIII of the Complaint because it fails to state a
cause of action under Kentucky state law. In Count XIII, Plaintiff alleges “public policy
retaliation,” which the Court interprets to be a public policy wrongful discharge claim under
Kentucky state law. Although employers may discharge at-will employees “for good cause, for
no cause, or for a cause that some might view as morally indefensible,” public policy wrongful
discharge is an exception to the general rule. Dauley v. Hops of Bowling Green, Ltd., 2003 WL
12340013 (Ky. Ct. App. 2003). This very narrow exception only applies when an employee’s
termination is “contrary to fundamental and well-defined public policy evidenced by a
constitutional or statutory provision.” Mendez v. Univ. of Ky. Bd. of Trustees, 357 S.W.3d 534,
544 (Ky. Ct. App. 2011). Although it is unclear at the moment which specific statutory or
constitutional public-policy provisions Plaintiff’s claim arises under, he identifies several
possibilities in his Complaint. For this reason, Defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) challenge for failure to
state a claim is premature at this juncture and should be denied.
The Court being otherwise sufficiently advised,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is SUSTAINED IN
PART and Counts II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, X, XI, and XII are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED IN PART
and Count XIII remains.
July 17, 2012
Counsel of Record
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