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Advocacy Center v. Louisiana Tech University

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 6, 2019





         Before the undersigned magistrate judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted [doc. # 13] filed by defendants Louisiana Tech University and President Leslie Guice. The compound motion is opposed. For reasons assigned below, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction be GRANTED, and that plaintiff's complaint, as amended, be dismissed, without prejudice.


         On July 18, 2018, the Advocacy Center[1] filed the instant suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, plus attorney's fees, against Louisiana Tech University[2] and President Leslie Guice[3] (collectively, “Louisiana Tech”) because of defendants' failure to make its public buildings, paths of travel, and places of public accommodation accessible to persons with disabilities who have mobility and vision impairments in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12131 et seq. (the “ADA”), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794 (the “Rehabilitation Act”). (Compl.).

         On October 24, 2018, the Advocacy Center amended its complaint to assert, inter alia, that it was bringing suit on its own behalf, on behalf of its employees, and “on behalf of persons with visual and mobility impairments who attend, reside on the campus of, or seek access to [Louisiana Tech].” (First Amend. Compl. (“FAC”)). The FAC also included additional allegations in an attempt to shore up the Advocacy Center's standing to bring suit. Id.

         On December 1, 2018, Louisiana Tech filed the instant motion to dismiss the FAC[4] for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).[5] Louisiana Tech contends that the case is subject to dismissal because the Advocacy Center lacks standing, both organizational and representative/associational, as required to prosecute the suit. Louisiana Tech further argues that the FAC fails to state a claim for relief because: 1) neither the Rehabilitation Act, nor ADA Title II require every building to be accessible to every person; 2) the Advocacy Center is not a qualified individual for any Louisiana Tech program; and 3) it comprises only bare allegations of violations of the 2010 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (the “ADAAG”).

         The Advocacy Center filed its opposition to the motion to dismiss on December 24, 2018. [doc. # 18]. A flurry of replies and sur-replies followed - the most recent filed on January 16, 2019. See doc. #s 17-24. In light of the current sustained lull in briefing, the court finds that the matter is ripe.


         I. Standing

         Standing, for purposes of the federal courts, comes in two varieties: “Article III standing, which enforces the Constitution's case-or-controversy requirement, and prudential standing, which embodies judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.” Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11-12, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 2308-09 (2004), abrogated in part by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 572 U.S. 118, 134 S.Ct. 1377 (2014) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         A defect in the court's Article III or constitutional standing implicates the court's subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore, is properly raised by a party via Rule 12(b)(1). See Cadle Co. v. Neubauer, 562 F.3d 369, 374 (5th Cir.2009) (citation omitted); Moore v. Bryant, 853 F.3d 245, 248 n.2 (5th Cir.2017) (“Dismissals for lack of Constitutional standing are granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)”). Further, “[w]hen a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.2001).[6]

         “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Nowak v. Ironworkers local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2nd Cir. 1996)). The party seeking to invoke jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating its existence. See Ramming, supra; Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). “[T]here is a presumption against subject matter jurisdiction that must be rebutted by the party bringing an action to federal court.” Coury v. Prot, 85 F.3d 244, 248 (5th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). Moreover, because this action is at the motion to dismiss stage, plaintiff must “clearly . . . allege facts demonstrating” each element of Article III standing. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ___ U.S.___, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citation omitted); see also NOLA Health Sols., LLC v. New Orleans Reg'l Physician Hosp. Org., Inc., No. 18-7007, 2019 WL 112031, at *5 (E.D. La. Jan. 4, 2019).

         “A court can find that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking based on (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Enable Mississippi River Transmission, L.L.C. v. Nadel & Gussman, L.L.C., 844 F.3d 495, 497 (5th Cir.2016) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The United States Constitution, via Article III, limits federal courts' jurisdiction to “cases” and “controversies.” Sample v. Morrison, 406 F.3d 310, 312 (5th Cir.2005) (citing U.S. Const. art. III, § 2). The “law of Article III standing, which is built on separation-of-powers principles, serves to prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the political branches.” Town of Chester, N.Y. v. Laroe Estates, Inc., ___ U.S.___, 137 S.Ct. 1645, 1650-51 (2017) (citation omitted). Thus, “the standing question is whether the plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to warrant [its] invocation of federal-court jurisdiction and to justify exercise of the court's remedial powers on his behalf. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498-99, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205 (1975) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Article III standing requirements apply to claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. See Seals v. McBee, 898 F.3d 587, 591 (5th Cir.2018); Lawson v. Callahan, 111 F.3d 403, 405 (5th Cir.1997).

         “[A] plaintiff must demonstrate standing for each claim he seeks to press and for each form of relief that is sought.” Town of Chester, N.Y. v. Laroe Estates, Inc., ___ U.S.___, 137 S.Ct. 1645, 1650-51 (2017) (citations omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss for want of standing, the trial court must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff. Warth, supra.

         Article III standing is comprised of three essential elements. Spokeo, supra (citation omitted). “The plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The plaintiff, as the party invoking federal jurisdiction, bears the burden of establishing these elements.” Id. (internal citations omitted).[7]

         An organization or association such as the Advocacy Center may establish injury-in-fact standing in one of two ways: (1) organizational, i.e., in its own name, or (2) associational/representational, which derives from the “standing of the association's members, requiring that they have standing and that the interests the association seeks to protect be germane to its purpose.” OCA-Greater Houston v. Texas, 867 F.3d 604, 610 (5th Cir.2017) (“OCA”) (citing inter alia, Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 341-42, 97 S.Ct. 2434, 53 L.Ed.2d 383 (1977)). The court will address each basis for standing, in turn.

         a) Organizational Standing

         To satisfy “organizational standing, ” the organization must meet the same standing test that applies to individuals. Ass'n of Cmty. Organizations for Reform Now v. Fowler, 178 F.3d 350, 356 (5th Cir.1999) (“Fowler”) (citing inter alia, Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 378-79, 102 S.Ct. 1114, 71 L.Ed.2d 214 (1982)). Therefore, the plaintiff must demonstrate that it “has suffered ‘injury in fact,' that the injury is ‘fairly traceable' to the actions of the defendant, and that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision.” Id. (quoted sources omitted).

         Relying on Havens, supra, the Fifth Circuit has recognized that “an organization may establish injury in fact by showing that it had diverted significant resources to counteract the defendant's conduct . . .” N.A.A.C.P. v. City of Kyle, Tex., 626 F.3d 233, 238 (5th Cir.2010) (“City of Kyle”) (citing Havens, 455 U.S. at 379, 102 S.Ct. 1114). In other words, “the defendant's conduct significantly and perceptibly impaired the organization's ability to provide its activities-with the consequent drain on the organization's resources . . .” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The injury in fact requirement under Article III is qualitative, not quantitative. Fowler, 178 F.3d at 357-358. Therefore, although the alleged injury must be concrete and particularized and actual or imminent, it need not measure more than an “identifiable trifle.” Id. Nonetheless, an “organization cannot obtain standing to sue in its own right as a result of self-inflicted injuries, i.e., those that are not fairly traceable to the actions of the defendant.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, “[i]t is fundamental that no plaintiff may claim as injury the expense of preparing for litigation, for then the injury-in-fact requirement would pose no barrier.” OCA, 867 F.3d at 611. Moreover, although an organization conceivably could have standing if it incurred other costs, e.g., monitoring expenses, the organization still must show that it would not have incurred these costs in the absence of defendant's ...

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