Salcido v. University of Southern Mississippi et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 7 & 9 Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. The Complaint filed on behalf of Maria Salcido is dismissed with prejudice as to all defendants. A separate judgment shall be entered herein. Signed by District Judge Keith Starrett on 2/28/12 (scp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
MS. MARIA SALCIDO
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:11-CV-173KS-MTP
THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI,
DR. MARTHA SAUNDERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND OFFICIALLY,
DR. REBECCA WOODRICK, INDIVIDUALLY AND OFFICIALLY,
DR. CHARLES WEST, INDIVIDUALLY AND OFFICIALLY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, for
Summary Judgment filed on behalf of The University of Southern Mississippi, Dr.
Martha Saunders, Dr. Rebecca Woodrick and Dr. Charles West [#s 7 & 9]. The Court,
having reviewed the motion, the pleadings and exhibits on file, the authorities cited and
being advised that the Plaintiff has failed to respond to the motion finds that it is well
taken and should be granted. The Court finds specifically as follows:
The Plaintiff, Maria Salcido, enrolled as a part-time student in the Marriage and
Family Therapy (MFT) program in the Department of Psychology at the University of
Southern Mississippi (USM) in the Fall semester of 2006. On July 6, 2011, Salcido filed
this suit claiming she has been discriminated against because of her race, national
origin and ethnicity and denied specific constitutional rights, among them Procedural
and Substantive Due Process rights, Equal Protection, and First Amendment and
Liberty Interest rights. She filed her federal law claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
In addition, Salcido alleges a state law breach of contract claim.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
The Defendants first assert that Salcido’s claims are insufficiently pled and
cannot overcome the individual defendants’ entitlement to qualified immunity. The Fifth
Circuit has held that “government officials performing discretionary functions are
protected from civil liability under the doctrine of qualified immunity if their conduct
violates no ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.’” Sorenson v. Ferrie, 134 F.3d 325, 327 (5th Cir. 1998)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L. Ed. 2d
396 (1982)). The shield of qualified immunity is available to government officials sued
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional torts in their individual capacity. See
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 649 (1987).
Under the two step analysis employed by the Fifth Circuit in reviewing claims
wherein qualified immunity has been asserted, the Court must first determine “whether
the plaintiff has asserted the violation of a clearly established constitutional right. If so,
the court decides whether the defendant’s conduct was objectively reasonable.”
Sorenson, 134 F.3d at 327 (quoting Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d
528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997) (applying the two-prong test of Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226,
231-32, 111 S. Ct. 1789, 1792-93, 114 L. Ed. 2d 277 (1991)). The first step “is
subdivided into three questions: (1) whether a constitutional violation is alleged; (2)
whether the law regarding the alleged violation was clearly established at the time of
the alleged violation; and (3) whether the record shows that a violation occurred.”
Dudley v. Angel, 209 F.3d 460, 462 (quoting Kerr v.Lyford, 171 F.3d 330, 339 (5th Cir.
1999) (citing Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1563 (11th Cir. 1988)).
The United States Supreme Court has set the standard for determining whether
a complaint is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss based upon qualified immunity,
calling for a “flexible plausibility standard”. Under this standard, the plaintiff is required
“to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such
amplification is needed to render the claim plausible.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed. 929 (2007). In order to survive a motion to dismiss
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face”. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1940 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
A claim has facial plausibility when the Plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the Defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1940 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). See also
Mendenhall v. Riser, 213 F.3d 226, 230 (5th Cir. 2000).
A plaintiff cannot do this by merely peppering the complaint with legal
conclusions. Instead the complaint must be supported by factual allegations that
support more than a mere possibility that some defendant is guilty of wrongful conduct.
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1940. Factual allegations are entitled to a presumption of truth,
while legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1940 (citing Twombly, 55 U.S. at
535). The pleadings must nudge plaintiff’s claims “across the line from conceivable to
Against this backdrop, the Defendants assert that Salcido’s bare bones
complaint fails to plausibly suggest the violation of any constitutional right and is
insufficient under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). They have, therefore, moved to dismiss her
claims against all the Defendants in their entirety.
Invidious Discrimination/Equal Protection
In the instant case, Salcido’s allegations center around her claim that the
defendants discriminated against her by not providing her an externship or practicum
hours because of her race, national origin and ethnicity. Comparing the allegations of
Salcido’s Complaint to Twombly and its prodigy, she is required to show facts that
plausibly demonstrate defendants adopted and implemented a policy in the MFT
program at USM of assigning practicum hours and externships based upon race,
national origin or ethnicity. More specifically, Salcido must show that each separate
defendant purposely denied externship and intentionally failed to assign practicum
hours to her for the specific purpose of thwarting her efforts at obtaining a Master’s
degree in MFT because of her race, national origin or ethnicity.
Salcido’s claims of invidious discrimination must show more than the mere
possibility that the conduct actually occurred, but that it occurred “because of” the
defendants’ purposeful intent to effect the adverse consequences on the plaintiff, Maria
Salcido, because of her race, national origin or ethnicity. See Iqbal, supra.
The facts Salcido alleges are that she is a Latino female with a good GPA and
that she was denied the 500 practicum hours she needed to graduate and was denied
an externship because of her race. She claims these denials stemmed from a bad
evaluation she gave one of her professors, Dr. Mary Ann Adams, who is not a
defendant in this action. She goes on to allege that defendant Woodrick denied her a
hearing on her AA-EEO complaint, presumably because of her race, and that Dr.
Saunders, President of USM, being Defendant Woodrick’s supervisor, is vicariously
liable for this alleged denial. Dr. West is presumably “guilty” because he was the head
of the MFT Department at the time these events allegedly occurred.
These bare factual allegations are seasoned with healthy doses of legal
conclusions and fall far short of plausibly suggesting a discriminatory state of mind on
the part of any defendant. As set forth below, each of these defendants is entitled to
the defense of qualified immunity which shields government officials “from liability for
civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights” of which any reasonable person would have known. Mitchell v.
Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511 (1985) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818). Qualified
immunity is both a defense to liability and a limited “entitlement” not to stand trial or face
the burden of litigation. Mitchell 472 U.S. at 527. A plaintiff cannot “plead the bare
elements of [her] cause of action” and expect it to overcome defendants’ qualified
immunity. Iqbal 129 S.Ct. at 1954.
Dr. Saunders is supposedly liable because “[Defendant Woodrick] is the agent
and representative of Dr. Saunders, the President of USM.” (See Complaint, Page 4,
Paragraph 15). While it is true that Dr. Saunders is the President of USM, it is a broad
characterization to state as a fact that Defendant Woodrick is her agent and
representative and that therefore, Dr. Saunders is liable for the alleged bad conduct of
Woodrick. In actuality, this is nothing more than a conclusory legal statement without
factual context. Moreover, Dr. Saunders can only be liable for her own conduct since in
a Section 1983 suit, there is no vicarious liability. Iqbal 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Since
Salcido’s complaint states no facts that remotely tie Dr. Saunders to any purposeful
discrimination, the complaint shall be dismissed against her in her individual capacity as
being deficient under Rule 8 of the Fed. R. Civ. Proc. and for failure to state a claim
under Fed. R. Civ Proc. 12(b)(6).
Salcido’s factual allegations against Dr. Woodrick are likewise insufficient to
survive a motion to dismiss in the face of this defendant’s qualified immunity defense.
The gist of the allegations are that Dr. Woodrick is “in charge of the Office of
Administrative Action/Equal Employment Office (AA-EEO) at USM.” (See Complaint,
Page 4, Paragraph 13). Further, Salcido alleges [she] “followed the USM procedure
regarding grievances.” (See Complaint, Page 3, Paragraph 13). Salcido states she is
entitled to a hearing as a result of filing this “grievance” and that because Dr. Woodrick
did not provide a hearing, her constitutional rights have been violated, and Dr. Woodrick
is personally liable for it.
Exhibit “A” to Salcido’s Complaint is undisputedly a Statement of Complaint filed
with the Office of AA-EEO. On its face, it is not a grievance pursuant to the University
Grievance Policy available in the USM Student Handbook and referenced in the
Graduate Student Handbook of the Department of Psychology at the University of
Southern Mississippi. Therefore, Salcido’s factual allegation in Paragraph 13 that “[she]
has followed the USM procedure regarding grievances” is in error.
The pleadings reveal that several options were available to Salcido under the
Graduate Student Handbook and the USM Student Handbook to appeal various
decisions made by the MFT faculty concerning her grades or other academic related
matters. Specifically, pursuant to the Graduate Student Handbook, Page 19, as a
general proposition students may file a grievance and/or appeal for any decisions made
by the University, faculty or administrators. A procedure exists for appeal of an
academic decision, appeal of grades, a University Grievance Policy and a procedure for
sexual harassment and/or discrimination complaints through the Office of Affirmative
Action/Equal Employment Opportunity.
Salcido availed herself of but one, the AA-EEO avenue. This is undisputed.
Nevertheless, Salcido, with no factual context whatsoever, makes the quantum leap
that the AA-EEO complaint she did file (1) entitles her to an automatic, constitutionally
mandated due process hearing, and (2) failure to give her a hearing on that complaint
rises to the level of a violation of her Fourteenth Amendment procedural and
substantive due process rights. What Salcido does not plead is that almost
simultaneous with her filing the AA-EEO complaint, she filed a virtually identical
complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and that with the full cooperation of
USM, this complaint was fully investigated and ruled upon by OCR and found to lack
merit. During this OCR process, Salcido was informed by letter from Dr. Woodrick’s
office that investigation of her AA-EEO complaint was being suspended, pending the
outcome of the OCR investigation.
Therefore, even assuming all the ‘facts’ Salcido has pled concerning Dr.
Woodrick to be true, the pleadings are insufficient to show purposeful discrimination on
the part of Defendant Woodrick. Stated differently, Salcido has failed to allege any
facts to indicate Dr. Woodrick refused to investigate her complaint and provide her a
hearing for the specific purpose of effecting adverse consequences on Maria Salcido,
i.e. to block her ability and opportunity to receive a master’s degree. Therefore,
Salcido’s claim against Dr. Woodrick for discrimination and violation of her equal
protection rights and various other constitutional rights is not plausible on its face.
Salcido has failed to state any fact that would “nudge” her claim of invidious
discrimination/equal protection and other constitutional violations across the line from
conceivable to plausible. See Iqbal, supra.
While it is remotely possible that Dr. Woodrick and the other individual
defendants are biased toward persons of Latino descent, it is not plausible on the face
of the complaint that such is true, and there is no fact that points to intentional and
purposeful denial of a hearing because of bias toward the Latino race and Salcido
particularly. See El-Marazku v. Univ. of Wis. Bd. of Regents, 134 F.3d 374; 1998 WL
23690 (7th Circuit 1998) (to sustain an equal protection claim, a plaintiff must show both
disparate treatment and an intent to discriminate based on the plaintiff’s membership in
a particular class of citizens).
What is clear from the pleadings is that Dr. Woodrick suspended the
investigation and hearing (assuming plaintiff had a property interest at stake that
entitled her to constitutional due process) because of the OCR complaint. It is equally
plausible that the deficiency in practicum hours and externship decisions as the same
relate to Salcido were based upon a reasoned academic decision making process
rather than upon any purposeful, intentional racial animus a particular defendant had
toward Maria Salcido because she is of Latino descent.
Indeed, it is important to note that Salcido was not dismissed from the MFT
program, she voluntarily withdrew. Since Salcido was never dismissed from the MFT
program, the acts of discrimination and retaliation about which she complains are best
characterized as pure academic decisions made by MFT faculty. It has long been the
law that no formal hearing is required for academic decisions “because such academic
decisions require an expert evaluation of cumulative information and [are] not readily
adopted to the procedural tools of judicial or administrative decision making”. Ku v.
Tennessee, 322 F.3d 431, 436 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Bd. of Curators of Univ. of Mo. v.
Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 91; 98 S.Ct. 948; 55 L.Ed.2d 124). The assignment of
practicum hours and externship appointments fall into the realm of academic matters.
As in Ku, Salcido relies on the student handbook as the basis for her
constitutionally protected property interest. The MFT Student Handbook makes clear
that the assessment of a student’s ability to complete the clinical requirements is an
ongoing process. It is clear that Salcido, in the reasoned academic judgment of the
faculty, was struggling in this area. The gist of Salcido’s complaint is, apparently, that
she disagrees with that academic judgment. Salcido’s complaint attempts to overturn
these academic decisions through the OCR and AAEEO processes by claiming
discrimination on the basis of race. Not one fact does she offer, however, that plausibly
demonstrates any discriminatory act on the part of any defendant, including Dr.
Woodrick. The complaint against Dr. Woodrick is insufficiently pled to overcome
defendant’s qualified immunity defense and shall be dismissed as to Dr. Woodrick in
her individual capacity.
Salcido likewise has failed to state a set of facts in her complaint to show that
Defendant, Dr. Charles West, as head of the MFT Department adopted, implemented
or carried out any policy to purposely discriminate against her. Salcido’s complaint
lumps the defendants together as if they are one individual. She sometimes refers to
the defendants as “the Department” (See Complaint, Exhibit “A”, Pages 4 and 5,
Paragraphs 14 and 16) or “Department Members” (See Complaint, Exhibit “A”, Page 5,
Paragraph 17). She refers to individuals in the department, for example, Dr. Mary West
and Dr. Jeff Hinton, who are not defendants, as if actions they allegedly took against
her can be imputed to Dr. Charles West and the other named defendants. However,
again vicarious liability is inapplicable to Section 1983 claims, and Salcido is required to
plead what each defendant has done individually to allegedly violate her constitutional
rights. She has not done so.
Instead, Salcido refers to Dr. Charles West by name only three times in her
complaint. (See Complaint, Pages 4 and 5, Paragraphs 14 and 16). In summary, she
pleads that “the Department” harbors a cultural bias toward her and the “subordinates
of Dr. West have made this clear.” Further that “Dr. West has not rectified the bias
situation...” (See Complaint, Pages 4 and 5, Paragraph 14). Slacido goes on in
Paragraph 16, Page 5 of the Complaint to state as a fact that “The Department headed
by Dr. West, [did or did not do certain things]” and that “her race, national origin and/or
ethnicity were clearly discriminating motivating factors in this regard.” (See Complaint,
Page 5, Paragraph 16). The complaint is devoid of any factual enhancement to support
these conclusory statements.
The complaint contains a substantial number of other examples of “shotgun
allegations” against groups of unnamed persons. Implicit in the complaint is that Dr.
West and the other named defendants are responsible for whatever these unnamed
individuals did or failed to do to allegedly violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Salcido
states “she has been deprived of her equal protection rights because of her race [and
that] [o]thers similarly situated have not been[ ].” She has not shown in her pleadings
how the decision makers in the MFT program assigned clients differently to one race
(Latinos) as opposed to other races. Likewise, she has not shown how the Latino race
has been given less externships or no externships as opposed to those of other races.
In other words, Salcido has not pled one fact that would show the defendants veered
away from the normal procedure of providing students with clients for practicum hours
or assigning externships. Salcido has not shown she was purposely denied an
externship at all. She simply states she did not receive one. The factual allegations
against Dr. Charles West fall far short of stating any plausible claims for relief against
him, and he shall be dismissed in his individual capacity from this cause based upon
Procedural and Substantive Due Process
Salcido claims her procedural due process rights have been violated because
“...she has sought a Due Process hearing she is entitled but has not been provided
such a hearing.” (See Complaint, Page 3, paragraph 13). Salcido claims her due
process rights arise from “...the Faculty Handbook, the Marriage & Family (MFT)
Student Handbook, her Departmental Handbook, and the Graduate Bulletins.”
Salcido claims that Dr. Woodrick, as head of the AA-EEO Office at USM, is guilty
of violating her due process rights for failing to give her a hearing on her AA-EEO
complaint and that because Woodrick is the agent and representative of Dr. Saunders,
the President of USM, Dr. Saunders is liable as well. Presumably both Dr. Woodrick
and Dr. Saunders failed to give her a hearing because of their dislike of the Latino race
and to retaliate against the plaintiff for giving Dr. Mary Ann Adams, one of Salcido’s
professors, a negative evaluation. She further claims Dr. Charles West , as head of the
MFT department, “has [failed] to rectify the bias situation as summarized herein.” (See
Complaint, Page 4, Paragraph 14). Finally, she pleads that “the same applies to the
other individual defendants and USM.” (Complaint, Page 4, Paragraph 14).
Taking every fact pled as true, Salcido does not indicate what any particular
defendant did to violate her due process rights, assuming she had a property interest in
some benefit under the AA-EEO procedure which entitled her to a hearing. She simply
is not clear in her pleadings as to what property interest is at stake. It cannot be
disputed that Salcido exercised but one avenue of complaint pursuant to USM policy or
procedure, the AA-EEO procedure. In addition, she filed an OCR complaint which also
cannot be disputed, and such was investigated with the full cooperation of USM. OCR
found the complaint to be without merit.
Salcido was involved with this OCR process and investigation and was informed
by USM of the status of her AA-EEO complaint while the OCR investigation was
ongoing and after OCR’s ruling. Salcido’s complaint does not plausibly state a claim for
a procedural or substantive due process violation. It is simply a series of conclusory
statements both legal and factual, devoid of any context or basis. As such, it shall be
dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Salcido’s complaint fails to state a claim against any individual defendant for a
Liberty Interest violation. Indeed, it is a stretch to say Salcido even attempted to plead
a Liberty Interest violation. She mentions the words “Liberty Interest” in Paragraph 31
of the complaint. That is the sum total of any “facts” that remotely state a claim for a
Liberty Interest violation. The complaint is devoid of any factual fabric that would
indicate what any individual defendant did to knowingly and purposefully violate any
Liberty Interest rights she might have. Salcido has failed to state a claim for a Liberty
Interest violation under the Iqbal standards, and each individual defendant is entitled to
be dismissed from this claim based upon qualified immunity.
First Amendment Retaliation
The precise speech Salcido claims is protected is not readily apparent on the
face of her complaint. Nevertheless, she asserts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that her First
Amendment rights were violated. According to Salcido, “[she] complained about the
conduct of these faculty members and was retaliated against for doing so. She spoke
out about this public concern and was retaliated against for doing so.” (See Complaint,
Page 5, Paragraph 17). Salcido goes on to say “[she] criticized professors in the
department for not having sufficient experience with foreign students... and the
retaliation was unremitting.” (See Complaint, Page 5, Paragraph 18). Finally, she
claims that her “life and academic pursuits were made particularly difficult after she
complained about Dr. Mary Ann Adam’s (sic) lack of experience with foreign students.”
(See Complaint, Page 6, Paragraph 20). The foregoing is the only speech Salcido
mentions in her complaint. Once again, Salcido’s complaint is inexact as to what she
said to whom that ignites her First Amendment rights.
The First Amendment provides protection against retaliatory conduct when a
person engages in protected speech. While Salcido is not an employee, her claims of
a First Amendment violation can be analyzed under the employer/employee framework.
To establish a First Amendment violation, she must show she suffered (1) an adverse
action, (2) she spoke on a matter of public concern, (3) her interest in speaking
outweighed USM’s interest in the provision of a public service in educating students, (4)
her speech precipitated the adverse action. Alexander v. Eeds, 392 F.3d 138 (5th Cir.
2004); Garcetta v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 126 S.Ct. 1951, 164 L.Ed.2d 689 (2006);
Pickering v. Bd. of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968).
Salcido has failed to plausibly state any of the above elements on the face of her
pleadings. As an example, the speech she references on the face of her pleadings is
not protected speech. Whether a person’s speech is protected speech and is a matter
of public concern turns on whether the affected individual speaks “primarily as a citizen
rather than [simply a student.]” Dorsett v. Bd. of Trustees State Colleges & Universities,
940 F.2d 121 (5th Cir. 1998). Under the Connick test, (“the content-form-context-test”)
the speech Salcido identifies in her complaint is not constitutionally protected speech.
Connick v. Meyers, 461 U.S. 138, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 756 L.Ed. 708 (1983).
Salcido’s criticism of professors and her complaint about Mary Ann Adams
viewed in context was done in her capacity as a student, within the Department at the
University and through University avenues, such as her faculty evaluation of Dr. Adams.
The faculty evaluation by Salcido is clearly not protected speech made by a citizen as
opposed to a student in the program. Likewise, Salcido pleads no facts to show she
was speaking on a matter of public concern when she criticized professors in the MFT
department. Therefore, her complaint fails under Iqbal and fails as a matter of law.
Stated differently, Salcido has totally failed to show any individual defendant violated a
clearly established First Amendment right and therefore, each individual defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity.
Claims Against USM and the Individual Defendants in Their Official
Capacities Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
In her Complaint Salcido “seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its
jurisdictional counterparts” for purported violations of Procedural and Substantive Due
Process, Equal Protection Rights and First Amendment Rights. (See Complaint, Page
1, Paragraph 4). She alleges a violation of her Liberty Interest in Paragraph
31 on Page 8 of the Complaint, also citing § 1983 as her statutory vehicle for recovery.
However, in Will v. Michigan State Dept. Of Police, the United States Supreme
Court held that neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are
“persons” under § 1983. Will, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). The Fifth Circuit has also
recognized that “...arms of the State are not ‘persons’ under § 1983.” Stotter v.
University of Texas at San Antonio, 508 F.3d 812, 821 (5th Cir. 2007). Therefore, all of
Salcido’s constitutional torts alleged against the University of Southern Mississippi and
the individual defendants in their official capacities fail as a matter of law and shall be
Salcido claims in Count II of her complaint that “her contractual rights have been
violated.” She makes vague references to “written contractual entitlements, rights and
promises, made..., prepared by...and written by USM [ ].” The “contractual” rights
Salcido presumably claims are for “practicum & externship opportunities she is entitled
to” but was not given by the defendants. (See Complaint, Page 9, Paragraph 33). Her
target in Count II appears to be USM. Yet, she points to not one sentence in any
handbook that guarantees a part-time student or any student for that matter, an
externship or practicum hours. In fact, the MFT Student Handbook disavows that very
The Mississippi Supreme Court has recently reiterated that “a basic principle of
the law of contracts is that a contract is not formed between the parties absent the
essential elements of offer, acceptance, and consideration.” Whiting v. University of
Southern Miss., 62 So.3d 907 (2011) (citing Gatlin v. Methodist Med. Ctr, Inc., 772
So.2d 1023, 1029 (Miss. 2000) (citing Putt v. City of Corinth, 579 So.2d 534, 538 (Miss.
1991). Since Salcido has pointed to no “contract provisions” that obligates or
guarantees USM to provide an externship and/or guarantees USM to give plaintiff 500
practicum hours (an offer), she fails to state a claim for a contract violation.
Salcido has not properly pled a viable contract claim against any defendant
named in her complaint for other reasons as well. It is true that the Mississippi
Supreme Court has held in Univ. of So. Miss. v. Williams, 891 So.2d 160 (2004) that
the relationship between a student and a university is contractual in nature and that
provisions in a handbook may implicate certain contract principles such as the duty of
good faith and fair dealing. However, Salcido has totally failed to point to any handbook
provision wherein she was guaranteed rights that USM failed to honor or facts that
show USM acted arbitrarily or capriciously when making decisions that impacted her
matriculation through the MFT program. Therefore, Salcido has failed to state a claim
against USM or any of the individual defendants for any contract violation.
Moreover, as in Whiting, no individual defendant is a party to any contract with
Salcido. Salcido’s alleged contract claims are in reality for tortious breach of contract
and tortious interference with contract which are governed by the Miss. Torts Claim Act.
(MTCA). Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-3(1). Whiting v. USM, supra. Salcido has not
complied with the MTCA in that she did not file a Notice of Claim as required by §
11-46-11 prior to filing her suit. Therefore, her “contract claim” against any individual
defendant fails as a matter of law.
This same principle applies to her “contract” claim against the University. It is
obvious Salcido has no written contract with the University. At best, she has a
contractual type relationship with USM wherein the term of good faith and fair dealing is
implied from whatever handbook provisions she is referencing in her complaint, if any.
The University, which is an arm of the State, is “immune from suit at law or equity on
account of any wrongful or tortious act or omission or breach of any implied term or
condition of any warranty or contract.” Miss Code Ann. § 11-46-3(1).
The Mississippi Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “any wrongful or
tortious act or omission or breach of implied term of condition of any warranty or
contract” to mean that the MTCA covers both tortious breach of “contract and breach of
implied terms and warranties of a contract.” Whiting, 62 So.3d at 916 (citing City of
Jackson v. Estate of Stewart, ex rel., Womack, 908 So.2d 703, 710 (Miss. 2005).
Therefore, the MTCA applies to Salcido’s contract claims and the Court finds that she
has failed to comply with the MTCA by filing a notice of claim prior to filing this suit
against USM. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11. Therefore, as a matter of law, her claim
against both the University and the individual defendants for contractual violations fail
as a matter of law and shall be dismissed.
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that all claims against the individual
defendants shall be dismissed based upon their qualified immunity defense and that all
§ 1983 claims against USM, as an arm of the State, or persons in their official
capacities, shall be dismissed pursuant to Will v. Michigan State Dept. Of Police, supra.
All state law claims shall be dismissed since no contract claim has been stated against
any defendant as a matter of law. Further, all “contract” claims shall be dismissed
pursuant to the MTCA since Salcido failed to comply with the Notice requirement of the
Act. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11. Further, the Court finds that all acts done by any of
the individual defendants were of a discretionary nature (Miss. Code Ann. §
11-46-9-(1)(d)) and were academic decisions not suited for judicial review.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Motion to Dismiss or
in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of The University of Southern
Mississippi, Dr. Martha Saunders, Dr. Rebecca Woodrick and Dr. Charles West [#s 7 &
9] is granted and the Complaint filed on behalf of Maria Salcido is dismissed with
prejudice as to all defendants. A separate judgment shall be entered herein in
accordance with Rule 58, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 28th day of February, 2012.
s/ Keith Starrett
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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