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Holden v. Perkins

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 15, 2019


         SECTION: “J”(4)



         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 18) filed by Defendants, Alejandros Perkins, in his official capacity as Chair of the Board of Supervisors for the Louisiana System; John L. Crain, in his individual and official capacity as President of Southeastern Louisiana University; James Smoot; Jay Artigues; and Justin Bice (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiff, Chloee Holden, opposes the motion (Rec. Doc. 21). Defendants filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 24), and Plaintiff filed a sur-reply (Rec. Doc. 28). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.


         This litigation arises from Plaintiff’s removal from the Southeastern Louisiana University volleyball team and Southeastern’s decision not to renew Plaintiff’s athletic scholarship. Plaintiff received an athletic scholarship to play volleyball at Southeastern for the academic year starting August 2016 and running through May 2017. The scholarship was renewed for the August 2017 through May 2018 academic year. In Fall 2017, Plaintiff alleges that she and other teammates scheduled a meeting with Athletic Director, Jay Artigues, to discuss Coach Smoot Carter’s alleged “emotionally abusive conduct.” Shortly thereafter, Artigues notified Plaintiff that she was being removed from the team and that her volleyball scholarship was not being renewed for the following academic year. On November 1, 2017, Artigues sent an email to Plaintiff’s mother notifying her of the school’s decision and indicating that the decision was final. Plaintiff subsequently requested an appeal with Justin Bice, but her request was denied.

         On November 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants in the 21stJudicial District Court for the Parish of Tangipahoa. Defendants removed the suit to federal court. Defendants now seek dismissal of Plaintiff’s federal claims under Rule 12(b)(6).


         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint 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 complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The allegations “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1).

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561 (5th Cir. 1998)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). The court is not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor, 296 F.3d at 378.


         I. Plaintiff’s Due Process Claims

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution by failing to provide adequate notice and a hearing concerning the non-renewal of her athletic scholarship. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 6). Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s due process claim must be dismissed because her petition fails to establish the existence of a sufficient property interest necessary to trigger the right to notice and a hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Rec. Doc. 18-1 at 8). Specifically, Defendants assert that there is no recognized property interest in the renewal of an athletic scholarship. (Rec. Doc. 18-1 at 5). Defendants contend that because Plaintiff was timely notified that her scholarship would not be renewed for the following year, she had neither a reasonable expectation nor a property interest in its renewal. (Rec. Doc. 18-1 at 7). Defendants emphasize that “the Fifth Circuit has never recognized that the failure to renew a college student’s athletic scholarship is the type of property right which warrants due process notice and a hearing.” (Rec. Doc. 18-1 at 7).

         Plaintiff argues in opposition that she adequately states a claim for denial of her due process rights, asserting that Defendants’ focus on the distinction between the cancellation of an existing scholarship and the non-renewal of a scholarship is flawed. (Rec. Doc. 21 at 7). First, Plaintiff argues that because Plaintiff did not violate Southeastern’s Student-Athletic code of conduct or fail to meet the academic requirements, she had a reasonable expectation that her scholarship would be renewed for the 2018-19 academic year. (Rec. Doc. 21 at 4-5). Second, Plaintiff contends that she has an established liberty interest in her higher education, and courts outside of this circuit have found that students have a protected interest in funds provided through scholarships. (Rec. Doc. 21 at 5-6). Finally, Plaintiff argues that “irrespective of any constitutionally-provided right to procedural due process, the terms of [Plaintiff’s] scholarship itself … absolutely guaranteed the hallmarks of procedural due process – notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to any adverse action.” (Rec. Doc. 21 at 7).

         In reply, Defendants assert that Plaintiff fails to point to any jurisprudential support for her assumption that she has a liberty or property interest in a collegiate education or an athletic scholarship. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 2). Defendants first argue that Debra P. v. Turlington does not support a finding of an implied property interest in the renewal of an athletic scholarship. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 2-3). Thus, Plaintiff’s expectation that her athletic scholarship would be renewed for the August 2018-May 2019 academic year does not amount to a protected property interest. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 2-3). In response to Plaintiff’s assertion that she has an established liberty interest in her higher education, Defendants emphasize that Plaintiff was not expelled or prevented from transferring to another school to play volleyball. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 3-4). Rather, she was invited to return to Southeastern despite her removal from the team. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 4). Defendants also assert that the scholarship funds do not amount to a property interest because there was no deprivation of funds for the August 2017-May 2018 academic year. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 4-5). Finally, Defendants argue that even accepting as true Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendants failed to ...

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