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Jenkins v. Arkansas State University

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

May 16, 2017




         Now pending before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18) and Brief in Support (Doc. 19), and Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 22), all filed by Defendant Arkansas State University ("ASU"), as well as a Motion to Dismiss Party (Doc. 21), filed by separate Defendant Lynda Nash, who is an employee of ASU. Plaintiff Kelly Jenkins, representing herself pro se, did not file a written response to any of the Motions. In addition, Ms. Jenkins failed to participate in the Joint Rule 26(f) Conference with opposing counsel, and also failed to attend the Rule 16 Case Management Hearing held on May 15, 2017. Accordingly, and for the reasons explained herein, the Court finds alternate bases for dismissing this case. First, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18) and Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 22), both filed by ASU, should be GRANTED; and the Motion to Dismiss Party (Doc. 21) should also be GRANTED. In the alternative, the case should be DISMISSED under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b)(2), due to Plaintiffs failure to prosecute this case and to comply with the rules and orders of the Court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         During all relevant time periods in this case, Ms. Jenkins was an employee of ASU, which is located in Jonesboro, Arkansas. In early 2014, Ms. Jenkins and her supervisor, Defendant Lynda Nash, whom Ms. Jenkins describes in the Complaint as Director/Program Manager of the Beck PRIDE Center, were both interviewed by a reporter for the local newspaper, the Jonesboro Sun. That interview resulted in an article that was featured in a special section of the paper called "Women Who Lead, " published on March 2, 2014. The story about Ms. Jenkins was called "Well-rounded McCoy"" Serves Student Veterans." The Complaint is very short on facts and does not say much about the article, nor does it attach the article as an exhibit. The Court is able to glean, however, that the crux of the Complaint is that Ms. Nash violated Ms. Jenkins' privacy rights when she revealed to the newspaper reporter-in what otherwise appears to be an article praising Ms. Jenkins' job performance-that Ms. Jenkins has "severe ADHD"-or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Ms. Jenkins contends that ADHD is a disability, and that fact should not have been disclosed by Ms. Nash, nor should her condition have been described as "severe." Id. In addition, Ms. Jenkins maintains-without providing many supporting facts-that sometime after the newspaper article was published, she was subjected to unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by her employer due to her alleged disability.

         She ultimately filed charges of disability discrimination, harassment, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on September 22, 2016 (Doc. 1-1). She admits that ASU had previously informed herby letter that her position would be ending effective June 30, 2016, "due to funding." Id. at 4. However, she states in her EEOC charges that the last act of alleged discrimination/retaliation she experienced on the job occurred on October 22, 2015. Id. The Complaint does not specify whether she voluntarily resigned or was terminated on or after October 22, 2015. In any event, the EEOC charging documents make clear that she filed her administrative claim approximately eleven months after the last act of discrimination/retaliation occurred.

         The EEOC denied her disability-based claims due to untimely filing. Id. at 1. She then filed this lawsuit on December 21, 2016, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. On December 22, 2016, the Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann, [2] United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, directed that service of process be effected on the sole Defendant, ASU. A summons was issued, and the United States Marshal proceeded to serve ASU; however, just before the summons and Complaint were served, Ms. Nash filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 6) on January 4, 2017. The Amended Complaint was identical to the original Complaint, except that it identified two new Defendants: Ms. Nash and Dr. Susan Hanrahan, who is described in the Amended Complaint as Dean of the College of Nursing & Health Professions.

         On January 9, 2017, ASU was served with the original Complaint. See Doc. 7. At this point, the Court had not yet ordered the Marshal to serve the Amended Complaint, as the Court had not conducted its initial screening pursuant to the in forma pauperis statute at 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). On January 30, 2017, ASU filed a Motion to Dismiss the original Complaint (Doc. 9), and on February 13, 2017, the Court issued its Order regarding service of the Amended Complaint, see Doc. 13, explaining that the only proper Defendants were ASU and Ms. Nash, and that Dr. Hanrahan would be dismissed. As for the claims against ASU and Ms. Nash, the Court read the Amended Complaint liberally and construed claims against ASU for violations of the ADA and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act ("ACRA"), [3] and state-law claims for defamation and invasion of privacy against Ms. Nash, in her individual capacity. Id. The Court directed the Marshal to serve the Amended Complaint to those two Defendants only, and found as moot ASU's Motion to Dismiss the original Complaint. See text-only Order of March 14, 2017.

         On March 14, 2017, ASU filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. 18) and Brief in Support (Doc. 19). Ms. Jenkins did not file a response. Then, on May 2, 2017, Ms. Nash filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 21), and ASU filed an Amendment (Doc. 22) to its Motion to Dismiss. Again, Ms. Jenkins did not file a response. Going back a bit, in early April of 2017, Ms. Jenkins had failed to cooperate with ASU's counsel and participate in a Joint Rule 26(f) conference and submit a Joint Rule 26(f) Report to the Court, though she had been ordered to do so. See Unilateral Report submitted by ASU (Doc. 20, p. 1); Amended Initial Scheduling Order (Doc. 15, pp. 2-3) (directing the parties to jointly conduct a Rule 26(f) Conference and prepare and file a joint report). Finally, as previously noted, Ms. Jenkins failed to appear for the Court's Case Management Hearing, which had been set since February 17, 2017.

         Turning to the substance of ASU's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 19), ASU makes two arguments regarding Ms. Jenkins' ADA claims. The first argument is that she waited too long to file her charges of disability-based discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC, and never provided any reason to the Court why the 180-day filing deadline should be tolled. ASU's second argument is that the doctrine of sovereign immunity, made pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution, bars Ms. Jenkins' ADA claims in their entirety. With respect to the ACRA claims, ASU believes it is entitled to immunity under the Arkansas Constitution, and further, that the claims are barred under the statute's one-year limitations period. Finally, ASU contends that the case against it should be dismissed because venue is more properly laid in the Eastern District of Arkansas. The ADA provides that venue is proper in the judicial district where the alleged unlawful employment practice was committed, where the employment records were maintained and administered, or where the aggrieved person would have worked, but for the alleged unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). ASU argues that the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division, where ASU is located, is the only place where Ms. Jenkins' claims may be brought.

         As for Ms. Nash's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 21), she asserts the same venue argument as appears in ASU's Motion. She also maintains that there is a one-year statute of limitations for both defamation and invasion of privacy claims, so both of these claims are time-barred. Lastly, she argues that there are insufficient facts in the Amended Complaint to state plausible claims for defamation and invasion of privacy. In particular, Ms. Nash states that she is not sure what statement she made to the press that is defamatory in nature and/or invaded Ms. Jenkins' privacy.


         To survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of this requirement Is to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim Is and the grounds upon which It rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court must accept all of a complaint's factual allegations as true, and construe them In the light most favorable to the plaintiff, drawing all reasonable Inferences In the plaintiffs favor. See Ashley Cnty., Ark. V. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).

         However, the 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 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." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. In other words, while "the pleading standard that Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' ... it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.

         III. ...

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