August 1, 2002
This decision may be cited in whole or in any part.
Plaintiffs bring this action seeking compensatory, declaratory and injunctive relief against the State University of New York at Buffalo ("SUNYAB"), the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York ("Board of Trustees"), William R. Greiner (individually and in his capacity as President of SUNYAB) and Robert L. King (individually and in his capacity as Chancellor of the State University of New York) for alleged violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. ("Title II"), section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("section 504"), the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983"), and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The Complaint alleges, inter alia, that defendants failed to provide plaintiffs — each of whom is disabled and requires the use of a wheelchair — with access to campus programs, services, activities and facilities in violation of federal law. For the reasons stated hereinafter, defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCvP") will be denied in part and granted in part.
"The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001). When ruling on either of such motions, this Court "must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the non-moving party's favor." Ibid. Consequently, a complaint will not be dismissed "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). This Court must not consider whether the claim will ultimately be successful, but merely "assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Cooper v. Parsky, 140 F.3d 433, 440 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).
Plaintiffs' Title II claims for damages are barred by the Eleventh Amendment because the Complaint does not allege discriminatory animus. The parties agree that the relevant standard is set forth in Garcia v. S.U.N.Y. Health Sciences Ctr., 280 F.3d 98 (2d Cir. 2001). Garcia holds that, in order to bring a Title II claim for monetary damages against a state, a plaintiff must allege that the claimed "Title II violation was motivated by discriminatory animus or ill will based on the plaintiff's disability." Id. at 111-112. In discussing this standard, Garcia explained that such "[g]overnment actions based on discriminatory animus or ill will towards the disabled are generally the same actions that are proscribed by the Fourteenth Amendment — i.e., conduct that is based on irrational prejudice or wholly lacking a legitimate government interest." Ibid. In setting forth the discriminatory animus standard, Garcia implicitly incorporates its previous discussion of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 442-447 (1985), which was cited for the proposition that — where disability discrimination is at issue — the "Fourteenth Amendment only proscribes government conduct for which there is no rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose." Garcia, at 109. In Cleburne the Supreme Court held that there was no rational basis for concluding that a group home for the mentally disabled posed any special threat to the city's legitimate governmental interests and that the city's denial of a special use permit was apparently based upon "an irrational prejudice against the mentally retarded" because the city's asserted justifications for the special use permit failed to explain why the mentally disabled were being singled out for the denial of a special use permit. Cleburne, at 447-450. Accordingly, the government conduct in Cleburne is the type of conduct to which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was referring when it set forth the discriminatory animus standard. Notably, Garcia expressly held that a knowing, willful or intentional violation of Title II does not rise to the level of "discriminatory animus or ill will." Id. at 112.
Garcia relied on Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374 (2001), which held that the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages under Title I of the ADA inasmuch as Title I does not validly abrogate sovereign immunity because it exceeded Congress's authority under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment where Title I was not based on a congressional finding of a pattern of discrimination by the states against disabled persons.
Garcia held that Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity for private damages suits only where such suits involve discriminatory animus or ill will. Garcia, at 110-112. Otherwise, suits seeking private damages under Title II against states are barred by the Eleventh Amendment because Title II exceeds Congress's authority under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 108-111.
Turning to the case at hand, plaintiffs' Complaint fails to allege that any of the defendants acted or failed to act based on irrational discriminatory animus or ill will. Rather, the Complaint at most alleges (albeit repeatedly and vociferously) knowing violations of Title II — which are inadequate under Garcia. Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges, inter alia, that,
"For years, defendants have known that illegal architectural and other barriers exist at the SUNY at Buffalo campus (see Complaint at ¶¶ 3, 55, 56); that defendants have known of their legal obligation under the ADA to remove architectural and other barriers on the SUNY at Buffalo campus (see Complaint at ¶ 5); and that defendants deliberately refused (and continue to refuse) to respond to plaintiffs' repeated requests to remove architectural and other barriers that prevented (and continue to prevent) plaintiffs from obtaining access to the SUNY at Buffalo campus. (See Complaint at ¶¶ 3, 4, 6, 52-54, 55-57)." Pls.' Mem. Of Law., at 5 (emphasis added).
In attempting to distinguish Garcia, plaintiffs essentially reiterate these allegations and contend that such adequately alleges discriminatory animus. See id. at 7. This Court disagrees.
In Garcia, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment of dismissal where the student's allegations — that SUNY denied the student's requested accommodations — failed to allege that SUNY was "motivated by irrational discriminatory animus or ill will based upon his alleged learning disability." Garcia, at 112. Likewise, stripped of its rhetoric, plaintiffs' Complaint merely alleges that SUNY denied plaintiffs' requested accommodations. Similarly, in Hamilton v. City College of City University, 173 F. Supp.2d 181, 185 (S.D.N.Y. 2001), the court granted summary judgment of dismissal because the Eleventh Amendment barred a student's claims for alleged disability discrimination where he merely alleged knowing discrimination — which is insufficient under Garcia. See also Harris v. New York State Dep't of Health, 202 F. Supp.2d 143, 174-175 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (finding claims barred by Eleventh Amendment under Garcia where doctor's complaint alleged only that the Department of Health had revoked his license and denied him reasonable accommodation that would have enabled him to continue practicing medicine). Consequently, plaintiffs' Title II claims for damages will be dismissed because they are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
Inasmuch as plaintiffs fail to allege the requisite "discriminatory animus," this Court need not address either the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis or the Price Waterhouse motivating factor analysis discussed in Garcia. Garcia, at 112.
Plaintiffs concede that they may not maintain their Title II claims against Greiner and King in their individual capacities. Pls.' Memo. Of Law, at 10. Moreover, plaintiffs' Title II claims against Greiner and King in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment as discussed further below. Garcia, at 107.
Moreover, to the extent that plaintiffs' section 504 claims are based on violations alleged to have occurred before September 25, 2001 they are barred by the Eleventh Amendment because the State of New York did not knowingly waive sovereign immunity when it accepted federal funds prior to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals's decision in Garcia. Garcia, at 113-115; Crosby v. New York State Dep't of Labor, No. 97CV0894LEKRFT, 2001 WL 1247888, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 17, 2001).
Plaintiffs' claims for alleged post-Garcia violations are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because New York waived its sovereign immunity by continuing to accept federal funds after Garcia. Garcia held that states did not waive sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds — despite section 504's conditioning the receipt of federal funds upon waiver of sovereign immunity — because the states had no reason to believe that they had anything to waive where sovereign immunity was already abrogated by Title II, which offers essentially the same protections as section 504. Garcia, at 113. Consequently, Garcia's invalidation of Title II's purported abrogation of sovereign immunity "restores" the states' sovereign immunity — which New York knowingly waived by thereafter accepting federal funds conditioned upon a section 504 waiver of sovereign immunity. Id. at 114.
Footnote 4 in Garcia discusses a potential argument that could be made "if there is a colorable basis for the state to suspect that an express congressional abrogation is invalid." Defendants contend that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals did not accept this argument. Regardless, after Garcia, New York has more than a colorable basis for suspecting that Title II's abrogation of sovereign immunity is invalid; they have a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to that effect.
As the Supreme Court has held, the "test for determining whether a State has waived its immunity from federal-court jurisdiction is a stringent one." Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241, reh'g denied, 473 U.S. 926 (1985). Consequently, a state must either invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts or make a "`clear declaration' that it intends to submit itself to [federal] jurisdiction." College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 675-676 (1999) (quoting Great N. Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 54 (1944)). By accepting conditioned federal funds in light of Garcia, New York made a clear declaration that it had waived sovereign immunity for claims arising after Garcia. Moreover, such acceptance implicitly or constructively waives New York's sovereign immunity. McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 95 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing College Savings Bank, at 686); cf. South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 210-212 (1987) (holding that Congress may condition the receipt of federal funds upon a State's agreement to act (or refrain from acting) in a specified manner). Because Garcia restored New York's sovereign immunity, New York knowingly intended to waive its sovereign immunity by thereafter continuing to accept federal funds. Cf. Garcia, at 115 fn. 5; College Savings Bank, at 680-682 (quoting Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464 (1938), for the proposition that the effective waiver of a constitutional right requires the "intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege"). Accordingly, plaintiffs' section 504 claims against SUNYAB and the Board of Trustees will be dismissed to the extent that they are based on alleged violations that occurred before September 25, 2001.
Although the Second Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted College Savings Bank as holding that "Congress may, pursuant to its spending power, extract a constructive waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity by placing conditions on the grant of funds to states" — citing College Savings Bank at 686 —, it is arguable that this interpretation is too expansive a reading of College Savings Bank. Indeed, the discussion on page 686 refers to the arguments raised by the United States. Although the Court discussed its prior holding in South Dakota v. Dole, the Court does not appear to go so far as to hold that Congress may extract a constructive waiver of sovereign immunity by placing such a restriction on conditioned federal funds. College Savings Bank, at 686; see also College Savings Bank, at 678 (noting that "in Welch v. Texas Dep't of Highways Public Transp., 483 U.S. 468 (1987), we expressly avoided addressing the constitutionality of Congress's conditioning a State's engaging in Commerce Clause activity upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity"); id. at 687 (noting the possibility that Congress's pressure to comply with its requests in exchange for federal funding may be coercive at some point — and thus involuntary). It would stand to reason that the Supreme Court would have expressly so held in the event that it were addressing an issue it expressly declined to address in Welch.
The State University of New York and its Trustees are constituent parts of the State of New York for purposes of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Dube v. State Univ. of New York, 900 F.2d 587, 594 (2d Cir. 1990), cert. denied sub nom. Wharton v. Dube, 501 U.S. 1211 (1991).
Plaintiffs concede that neither their Title II nor their section 504 claims may be maintained against President Greiner or Chancellor King in his individual capacity. Pls.' Memo. Of Law, at 10 (citing Garcia). Moreover and insofar as plaintiffs are "suing the individual defendants in their official capacities, [they are] seeking damages from New York, and the Eleventh Amendment therefore shields them to the same extent that it shields SUNY." Garcia, at 107 (citing Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989)). Accordingly, plaintiffs' Title II and section 504 claims for money damages against Greiner and King in their individual and official capacities will be dismissed. Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief against Greiner and King in their official capacities will be allowed to go forward. See Dube, at 595.
Plaintiffs' argument to the contrary — which flies in the face of unambiguous Supreme Court precedent — is unavailing. See Pls.' Memo. Of Law, at 10.
See footnote 8 supra.
As correctly noted in the defendants' reply brief, plaintiffs' section 1983 claims against SUNYAB and the Board of Trustees must be dismissed, but plaintiffs' section 1983 claims against Greiner and King in their official capacities seeking prospective injunctive relief may go forward. Defs.' Reply Memo. Of Law, at 6; Will, at 71 fn. 10; Bd. Educ. Pawling Central School Dist. v. Schutz, 290 F.3d 476, 480 (2d Cir. 2002). Plaintiffs' section 1983 claims against Greiner and King in their individual capacities, however, will not be dismissed at this time because it is not clear that, as a matter of law, Greiner and King were not personally involved in the alleged violations. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1998); Conley, at 45-46.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that "[t]he personal involvement of a supervisory defendant may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring. Id. (quoting Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir. 1986))." Colon, at 873.
This Court declines defendants' invitation to rule as a matter of law that plaintiffs' claims are mooted by their graduation. Under the circumstances of this case — where disabled college students claim that their campus is inaccessible — plaintiffs' claims are not mooted by their graduation because thereafter they are alumni in the same position that they were in as students — i.e., allegedly unable to access the buildings and events on campus. As noted in plaintiffs' brief, the cases cited by the defendants for the proposition that graduation moots students' claims are distinguishable. See Pls.' Memo. Of Law, at 18 fn. 2. Unlike the amenities at issue in Fox (sales demonstrations in student dorms) or Cook (discrimination suffered as members of the women's hockey team), the inaccessibility of the campus gives the plaintiffs — as students or alumni — a personal stake in this action.
Cook v. Colgate Univ., 992 F.2d 17 (2d Cir. 1994).
Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages against SUNYAB, the Board of Trustees — and Greiner and King in their official capacities — will be dismissed. Barnes v. Gorman, U.S., 122 S.Ct. 2097, 2103 (2002) (punitive damage awards not allowed in suits brought under Title II or section 504); cf. City of Newport v. Fact Concepts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981) (finding, inter alia, that the public policy considerations underlying punitive damages did not support an award of punitive damages against a municipality "for the bad-faith actions of its officials" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages against Greiner and King in their individual capacities will not be dismissed at this time. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 35 (1983).
Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that plaintiffs' Title II claims are dismissed, that plaintiffs' section 504 claims based on alleged violations that occurred before September 25, 2001 are dismissed, that plaintiffs' section 1983 claims against SUNYAB and the Board of Trustees are dismissed, that plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages against SUNYAB, the Board of Trustees and Greiner and King in their official capacities are dismissed and that defendants' motion is otherwise denied.