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Zimmerman v. University of Utah

United States District Court, D. Utah

November 21, 2016

JUDITH PINBOROUGH ZIMMERMAN, an individual Plaintiff,
v.
The UNIVERSITY OF UTAH and WILLIAM McMAHON, in his official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND THE PARTIES' STIPULATED MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

          Jill N. Parrish District Judge.

         Before the court is Defendants University of Utah and D r. William McMahon's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, filed July 15, 2016 and a related motion to amend the complaint. (Docket Nos. 80, 84). Defendants have stipulated to the motion to amend the complaint. (Docket No. 87). In the motion for partial judgment, Defendants argue for dismissal of Plaintiff Dr. Judith Pinborough Zimmerman's Second, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action based on governmental immunity. Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Defendants' motion on August 15, 2016, (Docket No. 85), and Defendants replied on August 29, 2016, (Docket No. 91). The stipulated motion deals with the Ninth Cause of Action. (Docket No. 87). After review of the submitted materials, the court concludes that oral argument would not materially advance the resolution of this motion. See DUCivR 7-1(f).

         As explained below, the court grants each of the motions. The court concludes that Dr. Zimmerman's Second, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action should be dismissed, but grants her leave to amend her complaint as stipulated by the parties.

         BACKGROUND

         This motion arises in the context of a lawsuit by Plaintiff against her former employer, the University of Utah, and her former supervisor, Dr. McMahon. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in December of 2013 after she was terminated from her position as a Research Assistant Professor. The particulars of the dispute are not relevant to resolution of this motion, and a full explanation of the factual background may be found in the court's recent decision regarding Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket No. 75).

         Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint on January 22, 2015, which asserts multiple causes of action against the Defendants. (Docket No. 32). At issue in this motion are Plaintiff's Second, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action, which are asserted against the University of Utah alone. The Second Cause of Action asserts that the University breached its employment contract with Plaintiff when it terminated her in contravention of the terms of that contract and University policy. (Docket No. 32 at 18-19). The Ninth Cause of Action asserts that the University terminated Plaintiff in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), codified as 42 U.S.C. § 12112. (Docket No. 32 at 26-27). The Tenth Cause of Action asserts that the University terminated Plaintiff in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), codified as 29 U.S.C. § 623. (Docket No. 32 at 27-29). Defendants argue that each of these causes of action are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and should be dismissed. The court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay the trial-a party may move for judgement on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Such a motion “is treated as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Atl. Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank, 226 F.3d 1138, 1160 (10th Cir. 2000). Dismissal is appropriate if the plaintiff's “allegations fail to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” See Myers v. Koopman, 738 F.3d 1190, 1193 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)).

         DISCUSSION

         As discussed above, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Second, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action against the University of Utah are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Docket No. 80 at 1). Under the Eleventh Amendment, “an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State." Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63, 94 S.Ct. 1347 (1974). This immunity extends to both the state itself and “those governmental entities that are ‘arms of the state.'” Ambus v. Granite Bd. of Educ., 995 F.2d 992, 994 (10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Meade v. Grubbs, 841 F.2d 1512, 1525 (10th Cir. 1988)). The University of Utah is an “arm of the state” and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Watson v. Univ. of Utah Med. Ctr., 75 F.3d 569, 574-75 (10th Cir. 1996) (finding that the University of Utah is an “arm of the state” and entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity); Lu v. Univ. of Utah, ___F. App'x___, 2016 WL 4373337 at *2 (10th Cir. August 16, 2016) (unpublished) (same). Nevertheless, “such immunity is not absolute, ” and may be waived by the state or abrogated by Congress in certain instances. Arbogast v. Kan. Dep't of Labor, 789 F.3d 1174, 1181 (10th Cir. 2015). With these principles in mind, the court will now evaluate the viability of Plaintiff's Second, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action.

         I. Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action Is Barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action, a breach of contract claim against the University, is barred by the Eleventh Amendment because the University is an “arm of the state” and therefore immune from suit in federal court. (Docket No. 80 at 6-7). In response, Plaintiff asserts that “the State has specifically waived immunity for contract claims” under Utah's Governmental Immunity Act. (Docket No. 85 at 2) (citing Utah Code § 63G-7-301 (“Immunity from suit of each governmental entity is waived as to any contractual obligation.”)). The court concludes that Plaintiff's reliance on the Governmental Immunity Act is misplaced.

         Although the Governmental Immunity Act undoubtedly waives the State's immunity from suit in its own courts, it does not waive the State's immunity from suit in federal courts. Sutton v. Utah State Sch. For Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1235 (10th Cir. 1999) (quoting Richins v. Industrial Constr., 502 F.2d 1051 (10th Cir. 1974)). It is well-settled that a State's waiver of immunity from suit in its own courts does not waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Petty v. Tenn.-Mo. Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275, 276, 79 S.Ct. 785 (1959). As the Supreme Court explained,

Although a State's general waiver of sovereign immunity may subject it to suit in state court, it is not enough to waive the immunity guaranteed by the Eleventh Amendment. . . . [A] State's constitutional interest in immunity encompasses not merely whether it may be sued, but where it may be sued. Thus, in order for a state statute or constitutional provision to constitute a waiver of Eleventh ...

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