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Nguyen v. Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 20, 2017

THOA T. NGUYEN, ET AL.
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF COSMETOLOGY, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 162) filed by Defendants Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology, Sherrie Stockstill, and Margaret Keller. Defendants seek summary judgment on the claims asserted by Plaintiffs Thoa Nguyen d/b/a Exotic Nails, Hien Hoang d/b/a Magic Nails, Uan Pham d/b/a Elegant Nails #2, and Mai Thi Nguyen d/b/a Nu Nails. Plaintiffs filed a joint memorandum in opposition to the Motion, (see Doc. 180), and Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition, (see Doc. 179). On January 17, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367. For the reasons explained herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 162) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         This action was initiated on February 6, 2014, by nine nail-salon owners of Vietnamese and Asian heritage. The nine Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and damages against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology ("LSBC") and individuals associated with the LSBC (collectively, "Defendants") - including Sherrie Stockstill ("StockstiH") and Margaret Keller ("Keller"), who are inspectors for the LSBC. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that they were "harassed, intimidated, falsely imprisoned, and arbitrarily discriminated against or racially profiled based on their race, ethnicity or national origin by the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology and/or its agents." (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 5).[2] Plaintiffs asserted claims of (1) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and (2) false imprisonment.

         Through the course of these proceedings, the Court dismissed the claims against nineteen Defendants and the claims of five Plaintiffs. (See Docs. 62, 63, 146, 195, 210). In the instant Motion, Defendants seek summary judgment on the claims of the four remaining Plaintiffs: Thoa Nguyen, Hien Hoang, Uan Pham, and Mai Thi Nguyen (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). The facts relevant to each Plaintiff are detailed below.

         A. Thoa Nguyen d/b/a Exotic Nails

         Thoa Nguyen ("T. Nguyen") is the owner of the manicuring salon Exotic Nails in Lafayette, Louisiana. On July 19, 2013, Stockstill, along with Debra Ashmore, inspected Exotic Nails at the direction of Stockstill's supervisor, Tywanda Spland. After the inspection, the inspectors noted four alleged violations on an Inspection Report and Notices of Violation that were issued.[3] Some of the noted violations included the provision of services by unlicensed technicians and the presence of waxing equipment and supplies.

         The inspectors forwarded the Inspection Report and Notices of Violation to Celia Cangelosi ("Cangelosi"), who serves as an attorney for the LSBC, whereafter Cangelosi would decide whether disciplinary proceedings were warranted. Cangelosi drafted Informal Hearing Letters and sent the Letters to the Executive Director of the LSBC, Steven Young ("Director Young"). Director Young signed the Letters and sent them to T. Nguyen on September 16, 2013. The Informal Hearing Letters notified T. Nguyen that she had ten days to demonstrate compliance with the Louisiana Cosmetology Act and that should she fail to do so, the matter would be scheduled for a formal hearing.

         In February 2014, Cangelosi prepared formal charges to be brought against T. Nguyen pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statutes section 37:600. The charges were not finalized, however, due to the initiation of this action on February 6, 2014.

         B. Hien Hoang d/b/a Magic Nails

         Hien Hoang ("Hoang") is the owner of the manicuring salon Magic Nails in Prairieville, Louisiana. Magic Nails was inspected by the LSBC three times within a fourteen-month period. Stockstill conducted the first inspection on March 22, 2012. On the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation, Stockstill noted that the salon operated without a license and employed individuals without nail-technician licenses.[4] The same day, the LSBC sent Hoang a Cease and Desist Order, which was signed by Director Young. Shortly thereafter, Cangelosi successfully negotiated a Consent Agreement with Hoang to resolve the alleged violations that were discovered during the first inspection.

         Four months after the first inspection, Stockstill conducted a second inspection on August 8, 2012. Stockstill noted on the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation that an unlicensed nail technician was performing manicures.[5] Upon receipt of the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation, Cangelosi drafted Informal Hearing Letters that were signed by Director Young and sent to Hoang on December 12, 2012. The Informal Hearing Letters notified Hoang that he had ten days to demonstrate compliance with the Louisiana Cosmetology Act and that should he fail to do so, the matter would be scheduled for a formal hearing. After Hoang failed to respond, Cangelosi prepared Formal Hearing Letters, setting the matter for a formal hearing on July 1, 2013.[6]

         While the proceedings related to the second inspection were pending, Stockstill - with the assistance of Keller - conducted a third inspection on May 3, 2013. On the Inspection Report and Notices of Violation, the inspectors noted the presence of waxing equipment and supplies in the salon and that "a girl performing a pedicure . . . ran out the back door."[7] The inspectors forwarded the Inspection Report and Notices of Violation to Cangelosi, and she prepared Informal Hearing Letters that were signed by Director Young and were sent to Hoang on June 11, 2013.

         On June 14, 2013, the alleged violations from the second and third inspections were consolidated into Amended Notices to Show Cause. Cangelosi and Hoang's attorney negotiated proposed Consent Agreements to resolve all of the charges against Hoang that were listed in the Amended Notices to Show Cause. The Consent Agreements, however, were rejected at the LSBC hearing on August 5, 2013.[8]

         On August 16, 2013, Hoang received Formal Hearing Letters, Second Amended Notices to Show Cause, and Second Amended Administrative Complaints. These documents were prepared by Cangelosi and signed by Director Young. At the LSBC hearing on October 7, 2013, the proposed Consent Agreements were formally accepted.

         C. Uan Pham d/b/a Elegant Nails #2

         Uan Pham ("Pham") is the owner of the manicuring salon Elegant Nails #2 in Lafayette, Louisiana. On August 28, 2013, Stocks till inspected the salon. On the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation, Stockstill noted the presence of waxing equipment and supplies in the salon. Stockstill forwarded the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation to Cangelosi, whereafter Cangelosi would decide whether disciplinary proceedings were warranted. Cangelosi drafted Informal Hearing Letters that were signed by Director Young and were sent to Pham on September 30, 2013.

         The Informal Hearing Letters notified Pham that he had ten days to show compliance with the Louisiana Cosmetology Act and that should he fail to do so, the matter would be scheduled for a formal hearing. On October 3, 2013, Cangelosi and Pham negotiated proposed Consent Agreements. Pham received the proposed Consent Agreements from Cangelosi, but he did not return them to Cangelosi by the October 24, 2013, deadline.

         On December 23, 2013, Pham called Cangelosi to negotiate new proposed Consent Agreements that would contain lesser fines. The negotiations were unsuccessful.

         Thereafter, Cangelosi prepared Formal Hearing Letters, Notices to Show Cause, and Administrative Complaints, which were signed by Director Young and were sent to Pham on or about January 8, 2014. On January 30, 2014, Pham signed the Consent Agreements, which were accepted at the LSBC hearing on February 3, 2014.

         D. Mai Thi Nguyen d/b/a Nu Nails

         Mai Thi Nguyen ("M. Nguyen") is the owner of the manicuring salon Nu Nails in Gonzales, Louisiana. M. Nguyen purchased the salon from Thu Nguyen on August 14, 2013. According to Plaintiffs, the previous owner, Thu Nguyen, operated the salon in violation of LSBC regulations.[9] On September 5, 2013, Stockstill inspected the salon. On the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation, Stockstill noted that the salon was operating without the benefit of a license. The next day, the LSBC sent M. Nguyen a Cease and Desist Order signed by Director Young. Thereafter, Cangelosi received the Inspection Report and Notice of Violation from Stockstill and was made aware of the Cease and Desist Order.

         On September 11, 2013, M. Nguyen applied for a manicuring-salon license. M. Nguyen's application was immediately forwarded to Cangelosi.

         On September 25, 2013, the LSBC sent M. Nguyen a Rule to Show Cause Why Application Should Not Be Denied ("Rule to Show Cause"), which was prepared by Cangelosi and signed by Director Young. The Rule to Show Cause directed M. Nguyen to demonstrate why her application should not be denied on grounds of (1) attempting to obtain a salon license by means of fraud, misrepresentation, or the concealment of facts and (2) operating a salon without a license.[10] The LSBC hearing on the Rule to Show Cause was scheduled for December 2, 2013.

         While the Rule to Show Cause was pending, Stockstill conducted a second inspection of the salon on October 1, 2013. On the Inspection Report, Stockstill noted that the inspection was a follow-up visit, conducted at the direction of Director Young and Cangelosi.[11] Stockstill also noted that the salon was a fully equipped nail salon operating without a license.[12] That same day, Cangelosi sent M. Nguyen a personally signed letter notifying her that she was in violation of the Cease and Desist Order.

         The LSBC hearing on the Rule to Show Cause, which was scheduled for December 2, 2013, was rescheduled to December 9, 2013. The LSBC issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and an Order granting M. Nguyen's application for a salon license, subject to a one-year probationary period.[13]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record [-] including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, [and] interrogatory answers" - or by averring that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the presence of a genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         "[W]hen a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and footnote omitted). "This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court "view[s] facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in her favor." Coleman v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist, 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997).

         In sum, summary judgment is appropriate if, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, [the non-movant] fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants assert that (1) they are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' race discrimination claims because Plaintiffs have not established an equal protection violation; (2) there are no remaining claims against Keller, and she therefore should be dismissed as a Defendant in this matter; (3) Stockstill and Keller are entitled to qualified immunity; (4) the LSBC is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; (5) the LSBC is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' race discrimination claims because vicarious liability is not recognized under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs have failed to produce evidence of direct action by the LSBC, and the LSBC is not liable for the nets of Cangelosi because under Louisiana law, Cangelosi is an independent contractor. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court finds that summary judgment is not appropriate on any of Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants.

         A. Race Discrimination

         The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no State shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const, amend. XIV, § 1. The central purpose of the Equal Protection Clause "is to prevent the States from purposely discriminating between individuals on the basis of race." Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 642 (1993). Indeed, "[distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people, and therefore are contrary to our traditions and hence constitutionally suspect." Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin, ___U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2411, 2418 (2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The United States Supreme Court has held, however, that a law "neutral on its face and serving ends otherwise within the power of government to pursue ... is [not] invalid under the Equal Protection Clause simply because it may affect a greater proportion of one race than of another." Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242 (1976). "Disproportionate impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination forbidden by the Constitution." Id. "Proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause." Vill. of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265 (1977).

         Although "such cases are rare, " the Supreme Court has held that "sometimes a clear pattern, unexplainable on grounds other than race, emerges from the effect of the state action even when the governing legislation appears neutral on its face." Id. at 266 (citing Yick Wo v. Hopkins,118 U.S. 356 (1886); Guinn v. United States,238 U.S. 347 (1939); Gomillion v. Lightfoot,364 U.S. 339 (I960)). "Absent a pattern as stark as that in Gomillion [v. Lightfoot] or Yick ...


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