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Moore v. Northeastern University

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 21, 2019

ARNOLD MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY and THOMAS NEDELL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is currently before the court on the consolidated motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Northeastern University (“Northeastern”) and Thomas Nedell (“Nedell”). (Doc. 9.) Defendants move to dismiss pro se Plaintiff Arnold Moore's Complaint for failure to state a claim. (Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 2).)

         Plaintiff, a military veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and migraine headaches, took online classes through Northeastern from September 2015 to June 2017. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Resp. Br.”) (Doc. 12) at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that Northeastern and Nedell, the University's Senior Vice President and Treasurer, violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by failing to properly assess plaintiff's disabilities and failing to offer sufficient accommodation for Plaintiff's medical issues. (Compl. (Doc. 2) at 4-5, 7.) Plaintiff alleges $500, 000.00 in damages. (Id. at 6, 7.)

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In other words, the plaintiff must plead facts that “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable” and must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, this court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Further, “the complaint, including all reasonable inferences therefrom, [is] liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor.” Estate of Williams-Moore v. All. One Receivables Mgmt., Inc., 335 F.Supp.2d 636, 646 (M.D. N.C. 2004) (citation omitted). Despite this deferential standard, a court will not accept mere legal conclusions as true, and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, [will] not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Pro se plaintiffs are subject to a relaxed pleading standard. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (stating that pro se complaints must be “liberally construed”); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). However, these plaintiffs must still plead facts that fairly put the defendant on notice of the nature of the claims and “contain more than labels and conclusions.” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 304 & n.5 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         II. NORTHEASTERN

         Plaintiff states, under “Basis for Jurisdiction, ” that he is suing state or local officials pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. (Doc. 2) at 3.) Northeastern, however, is a private university. (See Doc. 10 at 4.) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a private right of action only against a defendant who acts “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory.” To sue a private entity under § 1983, the plaintiff must show “a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action of the regulated entity so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.” Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974). Almost universally, courts have found that the mere receipt of state funds is not sufficient to treat an educational institution as a state actor. See Modaber v. Culpeper Mem'l Hosp., Inc., 674 F.2d 1023, 1025-26 (4th Cir. 1982) (dismissing a § 1983 action against a private hospital and finding that the receipt of funds and state regulation were insufficient to give rise to state action); Allen v. Tulane Univ., Civ. A. No. 92-4070, 1993 WL 459949, at *1, *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 2, 1993) (collecting cases, finding that “varying degrees of governmental involvement in universities ranging from federal and state grants, student loan guarantees, tax exemptions, licensing of university owned television and radio stations, etc.” are not sufficient to create state action).

         Applying this general rule, court have consistently held that private universities cannot be sued under § 1983. See, e.g., Slovinec v. DePaul Univ., 332 F.3d 1068, 1068 (7th Cir. 2003); Blouin v. Loyola Univ., 506 F.2d 20, 21 (5th Cir. 1975); Grafton v. Brooklyn Law Sch., 478 F.2d 1137, 1143 (2d Cir. 1973). Here, Plaintiff neither explains how Northeastern acted under the color of state law nor describes how Northeastern's alleged failure to accommodate his medical needs was in any way related to any state (as opposed to federal[1]) funding. Instead, Plaintiff vaguely references “millions of dollars” in government funding. (Pl.'s Resp. Br. (Doc. 12) at 3.) Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to establish that Northeastern acted under the color of state law. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Northeastern and Defendants' motion to dismiss this claim will be granted.

         III. NEDELL

         Plaintiff also names Nedell, a Senior Vice President and Treasurer at Northeastern, as a defendant in his individual capacity. To state a claim under § 1983, Plaintiff must allege that Nedell personally deprived Plaintiff of “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, however, identifies only the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (See Compl. (Doc. 2) at 5, 7-8.) It is well-established that the ADA provides a right of action exclusively against covered entities and not against individuals. See, e.g., Baird ex rel. Baird v. Rose, 192 F.3d 462, 471-72 (4th Cir. 1999).

         Further, Plaintiff's allegations entirely fail to suggest the nature of Nedell's role in denying Plaintiff's requested accommodations; rather, Plaintiff provides only the conclusory assertion that “I'm sure Thomas Nedell and others were aware of the shortcomings . . . but did nothing to address them” (Doc. 12 at 2.) The ADA cannot support ...


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