Seda Martinez et al v. National University College et al

2020 | Cited 0 times | D. Puerto Rico | April 21, 2020



CIVIL NO. 18-1975 (DRD)

OPINION AND ORDER The instant case arises of a Complaint filed by Yazmín Ramírez Rodríguez, and their conjugal partnership , seeking damages

against , Triple S Insurance Company 1 and other unnamed codefendants. Essentially, Plaintiffs Complaint addresses the purported humiliation, harassment and physical and mental anguish suffered by Mr. Seda during his enrollment at NUC, as a result of the institutions alleged refusal to accommodate his disability, in violation of Title III of the Americans with A. §12181-12189, et seq. , and Articles 1802 and 5141-5142. See Docket No. 1.

1 Triple S Insurance Company was joined as Amended Complaint. See Docket No. 25.

Later, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint to clarifytheir request under Title III of the ADA. To that end, Plaintiffs a desk that will

See Docket No. 25 ¶ 60.

Subsequently, NUC filed a Motion for Summary Judgment where ) plaintiffs have no standing to file a claim under Tittle III of the ADA; (ii) Plaintiffs Requests for Injunctive Relief Under ADA are Moot; (iii) Plaintiffs may not recover monetary damages under Title III of the ADA; (iv) There is no Federal Question Jurisdiction; (v) Upon Dismissal of The Federal ADA Claim the Court Should Dismiss The Instant Case For Lack Of Subject Matter See Docket No. 41 at 13. Plaintiffs filed their corresponding Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment and a Motion to Supplement Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. See Dockets No. 50 and 53. Thereupon, NUC filed a Reply to Plaintiffs Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment. See Docket No. 58. Afte, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Codefendant s Motion for Summary Judgment.


and supported documentation. Upon careful review of the record, the Court finds the following facts are undisputed:

1. Mr. Seda (with Student Number 1610635353) commenced his studies at NUC, Bayamón

Campus, on March 15, 2017. See Docket No. 41-1 and 41-4.

2. Mr. Seda enrolled at NUC in order to obtain an Associate Degree in the Electrical

Engineering Technology in Renewable Energy . Id. 3. On June 22, 2019, Mr. Seda completed all of the courses and requirements to attain his

Associate Degree in the Electrical Engineering program. Id. 4. On July 10, 2019, Mr. Seda graduated, with all the honors, rights and privileges that the

Associate Degree in the Electrical Engineering Program confers. See Docket No. 41-3 and 41-4. 5. On February 18, 2020, Mr. Seda enrolled in the

Network Technology and Application Development program. See Docket No. 61-1. Mr. Seda is set to commence his studies on March 16, 2020. Id.

III. LEGAL STANDARD A. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56). Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment should together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-325 (1986). Pursuant to the clear language of the rule, the moving party bears a two-fol Veda-Rodriguez v.

Puerto Rico, 110 F.3d 174, 179 (1st Cir. 1997). ut the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in favor of the non- See Johnson v. Univ. of P.R., 714 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir. 2013); Prescott v. Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 40 (1st

Cir. 2008) (citing Thompson v. Coca Cola Co., 522 F.3d 168, 175 (1st Cir. 2008)); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-250 (1986); Calero Cerezo v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 355 directly related to the burden of proof that a non-movant would have in a trial. determination of whether a given factual dispute requires submission to a jury must be guided by

the substantive evidentiary stan Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255 (applying the summary judgment standard while taking into account a higher burden of proof for cases of defamation against a public figure). Sands v. Ridefilm

Corp., 212 F.3d 657, 660 661 (1st Cir. 2000) (citing Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247 248); Prescott, 538 F.3d at 40 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Maymí v. P.R. Ports Auth., 515 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2008)). DeNovellis v. Shalala, 124 F.3d 298, 306

(1st Cir. 1997) (citing the advisory committee note to the 1963 Amendment to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The moving party must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue as to any outcome- determinative fact on the record. See Shalala, 124 F.3d at 306. Upon a showing by the moving party of an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably find in his favor. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The non- sed motion finite and competent evidence. Maldonado Denis v. Castillo Rodriguez, 23 F.3d 576, 581 (1st Cir. 1994). The non- one fact issue which is both

which affects the granting of a summary judgment. Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 1990); see, also, Suarez v. Pueblo Int'l., 229 F.3d 49, 53 (1st Cir. 2000) (stating that a non-movant may shut down a summary judgment motion only upon a showing that a trial-worthy issue exists). dispute between the parties will not affect an otherwise properly supported motion for summary

Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 247 248. Similarly, summary judgment is appropriate and Ayala Gerena v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 95 (1st Cir. 1996); , 637 F.3d 53, 56 (1st Cir. 2011) ( speculation, or evidence which, in the aggregate, is less (internal

citations omitted); Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990).

inferences in favor of the non-moving party while ignoring conclusory allegations, improbable

inferences Smith v. Jenkins, 732 F.3d 51, 76 (1st Cir. 2013) (reiterating Shafmaster v. United States, 707 F.3d 130, 135 (1st Cir. 2013)). However, while the -moving party] . . . we will not draw unreasonable inferences or credit bald assertions, empty conclusions or rank conjecture Vera v. McHugh, 622 F.3d 17, 26 (1st Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

Furthermore, the Court must review the record as a whole and refrain from engaging in the assessment of credibility or the gauging the weight of the evidence presented. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 135 (2000); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,

477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); see, also, Pina v. Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 802 (1st Cir. 2014). Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (quoting Anderson,

477 U.S. at 250 51).

grant summary judgment 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 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Hence, in order to prevail, Codefendants must demonstrate that, even admitting well-pleaded allegations in light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the applicable law compels a judgment in its favor.


Congress enacted the ADA to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day id. to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-su id. § 12101(a)(8). Dudley v. Hannaford Bros. Co., 333 F.3d 299, 303 (1st Cir. 2003); see, also, Parker v. Universidad de Puerto Rico, 225 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2000). Title III of the ADA, the provision at issue here, prohibits discrimination by a public accommodation on the basis of disability. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12182. It sends a bluntly worded message to those establishments that fall within its purview: you may not discriminate against an individual in the full and equal access to goods and services on the basis of a disability. Dudley, 333 F.3d at 303. To that end, Title III o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public

accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12182 (a). To enforce said prohibition, Title III contemplates particular remedies that may be executed disability in violation 42 U.S.C.A. § 12188 (a)(1). Specifically, Title III grants the person subject to discrimination injunction relief. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12188 (a)(2). In order for a plaintiff to succeed in his Title III claim and obtain the referenced injunctive relieve, he must make a six-part showing:

comes within the protections of the AD ; Title III as a plac ry policy requested a reasonable modification in that policy or practice which, if granted, would have afforded (5 that the requested modification or a modification like it was necessary to policy or practice.

Dudley, 333 F.3d at 307 (citations omitted). However, before attempting to prove the merits of the case, as in any case, Steir v. Girl Scouts of the USA, 383 F.3d 7, 14 (1st Cir. 2004); see, also, Bennett v.

Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 167 168 (1997). This is equally applicable under Title III claims. See McInnis-Misenor v. Maine Med. Ctr. Standing is thus a threshold -court

ions omitted)); see, also, Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975); N.H. Right to Life Political Action Comm. v. Gardner, 99 F.3d 8, 12 (1st Cir.1996). lacks standing to bring a matter before the court, the court lacks jurisdiction to decide the merits

U.S. v. AVX Corp., 962 F.2d 108, 113 (1st Cir.1992).

Therefore must establish three elements for constitutional standing: actual or threatened injury, causal connection between the injury and the challenged conduct, and that a McInnis Misenor v. Me. Med. Ctr., supra, at 67; see, also, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992).

To this end, Codefendant argues that Plaintiffs have no standing since Mr. Seda does t defects as required by ADA to have standing to file for Injunctive relief, because Mr. Seda

satisfactorily completed, on June 22, 2019, all the courses an requirements of the Degree of Associate in Electrical Engineering Technology in Renewable Energy in which he was enrolled at -7. To support their argument, Codefendants rely on two, non-binding cases.

First, Codefendant cites Rodriguez v. Investco, L.L.C., 305 F. Supp. 2d 1278, 1284-84 (M.D. Fla. 2004) for the proposition that a plaintiff he lacked a continuing connection to the de Docket No. 41 at 6. Although

Codefendant failed to explain that: (1) Rodriguez v. Investco had a very particular set of facts and

background, whic , it was one of the multiple factors consider, after a trial, to dismiss the case. 2

Consequently, Rodríguez v. Investco is unpersuasive to resolve this matter.

2 Also, without delving too much into the instant non- t trial, Plaintiff was evasive and willfully ignorant, totally lacking credibility. His explanation for his initial visit to the Facility was disingenuous, and he did not convey any honest desire to return there. Plaintiff's testimony left the distinct impression that he is merely a professional pawn in an ongoing scheme to bilk a Rodriguez v. Investco, L.L.C., 305 F. Supp. 2d 1278, 1285 (M.D. Fla. 2004). The Court s determination was made

Second, Codefendant references DMP v. Fay Sch. ex rel. Bd. of Trustees, 933 F. Supp. 2d 214, 221 22 (D. Mass. 2013). Codefendant argues that in DMP v. Fay the Court determined that grade in another school in August 2011 and would not be able to return to Fay (Fay only goes

. 41 at 8. Again, Codefendant failed to illustrate to the Court the proper context of the cited case determination. Although we recognize that in DMP v. Fay the Court did reference the fact that plaintiff had changed school, this was not the determining factor for the denial of his Title III claim. find that he failed to request a reasonable accommodation and was not otherwise qualified to

matriculate at Fay, he has failed to establish a claim for violation of the ADA DMP v. Fay Sch. ex rel. Bd. of Trustees, supra, at 222. Ergo, DMP v. Fay is unpersuasive to resolve this matter. Conversely, in their Opposition and Motion to Supplement Opposition Plaintiff contests fails for reasons of fact and law. First, as a matter of fact, Plaintiffs informed that Mr. Seda re- Technology and Application Development program. See Docket No. 51-1 and Docket No. 53-1.

To that end, Plaintiffs essentially argue that Mr. Seda could potentially be subject to the same alleged discriminatory behavior and, thus, that it has a real and immediate threat of repeated injury. 3

the discovery stage has yet to be concluded. 3 In its ed by Plaintiffs to support their Pursuant to a party may not use a later affidavit to contradict facts previously provided to survive summary judgment, unless the party provides a satisfactory explanation for providing post summary judgment affidavit. Morales v. AC Orssleff's EFTF, 246 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir.2001). Reyes v. Prof'l HEPA Certificate Corp., 74 F. Supp. 3d 489, 491 Escribano-Reyes v. Prof'l Hepa Certificate Corp., 817 F.3d 380 (1st Cir. 2016). whether the testimony constitutes an attempt to manufacture an issue of fact so as to defeat summary judgment, the court may consider the timing of the affidavit, as well as the party's explanation for the discrepancies. See Orta Castro

In their Reply, Codefendant does not contend the fact that Mr. Seda re-enrolled at NUC, instead it questions the motives behind M -enrollment. However, the Court believes that his intentions are beyond the scope of this petition for summary judgement and, more importantly, are nor relevant at this time. The Court finds that by re-enrolling at NUC, Mr. Seda could potentially be subject to the alleged misconduct that gave rise to the Amended Complaint and, therefore, could be entitled to the injunctive relief sought under Title III of the ADA. Therefore, Plaintiffs under Title III is denied at this time. Nevertheless, this ruling does not entirely resolve the concerns

As previously referenced, Disabled Americans For Equal Access, Inc. v. Ferries Del Caribe, Inc., 405 F.3d 60, 64 (1st Cir.

2005) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiffs further contend that injunctive relief available under Title III of the repetition, yet evading revie 4

Docket No. 50 at 2. Reply reveals Amended Complaint has already been resolved.

v. Merck, Sharp & Dohme Química PR., Inc., 447 F.3d 105, 110 (1st Cir. 2006). The Court finds that the affidavit in doctrine. Essentially, our reasoning follows the fact that the discovery period for this case has yet to be concluded and the parties still have a responsibility to inform and discover relevant new facts. Furthermore, the fact that Plaintiffs included additional evidence as to his re-enrollment in the NUC -which was not contested by Codefendant- makes his statements in the affidavit a relevant fact that must be considered by the Court attempt to manufacture an issue of fact 4 Motion for Summary Judgement, the Court alerts Plaintiffs that capable of dispelling mootness by mere Oakville Development Corp. v. F.D.I.C., 986 F.2d 611, 615 (1st Cir. 1993); see, also, City of Los Angeles v. Lyons).

Plaintiff should be aware that, a federal court may not grant injunctive relief when, as in this case, intervening events have eliminated any reasonable anticipation that the aggrieved party will, in the future, be faced with a recurrence of the alleged harm. County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631, 99 S.Ct. 1379, 59 L.Ed.2d 642 (1979); Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Inc. v. 007 Safety Prods., Inc., 183 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir.1999). Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 49 (1st Cir. 2006). To that end, a plaintiff must maintain a personal interest in the outcome throughout the litigation or the controversy becomes moot and unjusticiable despite the court's retention of subject matter jurisdiction. See Matos v. Clinton School District, 367 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir.2004); see, also, Steir v. Girl Scouts of the USA, 383 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2004) (affirming a dismissal of a Title III of ADA claim for mootness).

Since the referenced arguments, and corresponding evidence, were presented in Reply and did not constitute part of the proposed uncontested facts that were subject to opposition by Plaintiffs, the Court finds that is not the time to rule on the mootness issue. However, because the potential mootness of Plaintiffs requests concerns the Court greatly, an Order will be entered promptly to schedule a conference to discuss this and other issue before moving on with the proceedings.

A. Plaintiffs Act 44 and Articles

On the other hand, as previously stated, Plaintiffs seek monetary damages under ADA, Act See Docket No. 25 at 7-9. In the Motion for Summary Judgment, Codefendant contends that Plaintiffs are not entitled to receive monetary relief under any of the aforementioned statutes. See Docket No. 41 at 10-13; see, also Docket No. 58 at 8-9. The Court agrees.

i. Request under Title III of ADA regarding the unavailability of money damages in suits brought by private parties. Several other courts of appeals have reached

at 10. Codefendant is correct; the Courts have consistently damages are not an option for private parties suing under Title III of the Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 50 (1st Cir. 2006). 5

Although Title III is expansive in its application, the remedies available under the title are narrow. Section 12188(a)(1) provides the remedial scheme for that title by incorporating the remedies available under Title II of the Civil Rights Act, see 42 for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary 3(a). We have ... damages for past harms are Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 51 (1st Cir. 2006). The only See id. G. v. Fay Sch., 931 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2019); 6

see, also, Santiago Ortiz v. Caparra Ctr. Assocs., LLC, 261 F. Supp. 3d 240, 250 (D.P.R. 2016).

Consequently, the Court hereby denies any monetary claims -including those for punitive damages- 7

Accordingly, the district court correctly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the plaintiff's claims for either compensatory or

5 See Sanchez v. ACAA Pursuant to Title III, the Court may award monetary damages (internal citations omitted). 6 Several other courts of appeals have reached the same conclusion. See, e.g., Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 86 (2d Cir.2004); Bowers v. NCAA, 346 F.3d 402, 433 (3d Cir.2003); Am. Bus Ass'n v. Slater, 231 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C.Cir.2000); Smith v. Wal Mart Stores, Inc., 167 F.3d 286, 293 (6th Cir.1999); Jairath v. Dyer, Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 50 (1st Cir. 2006). 7 On another hand party in an action under Title III. See 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a) and 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a-3. Furthermore, the Court notes y Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., supra, at 51; see, also, Lewis v. Cont'l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 480 (1990)

punitive damages. See Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., supra at 50 ( oney damages are not an option for private parties suing under Title III of the ADA. Accordingly, the district court correctly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the plaintiff's claims for either compensatory or punitive damages

ii. Request under Puerto Rico Act 44 The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico has had ample opportunity to pass judgements on claims under Title III of the ADA that also include requests for relief under Act 44. 8

Upon analyzing the interaction between both statutes, this District Court has agreed that Act 44 is Puerto Rico's counterpart to the ADA. See Salgado-Candelario v. Ericsson Caribbean, Inc., 614 F. Supp. 2d 151, 175 (D.P.R. 2008); Arce v. ARAMARK Corp., 239 F.Supp.2d 153, 169 (D.P.R. 2003); see, also, Echevarria v. AstraZeneca Pharm. LP, 856 F.3d 119, Law 44 and the ADA Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharms., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 87 (1st Cir. 2008). Hence, a plaintiff must prove the same elements of proof for a claim under Act 44 as for a claim under the ADA. See Torres v. House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of P.R., 858 F. Supp. 2d 172, 194 (D.P.R. 2012); Salgado-Candelario v. Ericsson Caribbean, Inc., 614 F. Supp. 2d 151, 175 (D.P.R. 2008); Román Martínez v. Delta Maint. Serv., Inc., 229 F.Supp.2d 79, 85 (D.P.R. 2002).

Now, as previously discussed, money damages are not available under Title III of ADA. Consequently, in cases where a plaintiff filed claims under Title III and Act 44, this District Court has determined that provided that Act 44 requires no separate analysis to that of ADA and mirrors

8 Furthermore, the Court notes that the First Circuit has not addressed this matter. We recognize that in Marcano- Rivera v. Pueblo International, Inc., 232 F.3d 245 (2000) the First Circuit affirmed a verdict from a jury which awarded damages, under ADA and Act 44. However, Marcano-Rivera was brought under an employment context, where Title I of ADA controls and recognizes awards of damages. Consequently, Marcano-Rivera is distinguishable and inapplicable to this analysis.

its provisions for relief Act 44 in these instances. Rodríguez-Negrón v. San Juan Children's Choir, No. CV 15-1608 (GAG), 2017 WL 1131889, at *10 (D.P.R. Mar. 24, 2017).

9 determinations; to that end, request for monetary relief under Act 44 is hereby denied.

iii. Request under Articles 1802 and 1803 Finally, the procedures of any Federal law or law of any State or political subdivision of any State of jurisdiction that provides greater or equal protection for the rights of individuals with disabilities [w]hen a plaintiff brings claims covered by a specific courts in this district bar plaintiffs from bringing claims pursuant to Articles 1802 and 1803 based Arroyo-Ruiz v. Triple-S Mgmt. Grp., 206 F. Supp. 3d 701, 720 (D.P.R. 2016); see, also, Franceschi-Vázquez v. CVS Pharmacy, 183 F. Supp. 3d 333, 344 (D.P.R. 2016).

Consequently, Article 1802 claim is not cognizable [when] it arises from the same facts as plaintiff's claims under the ADA Aguirre v. Mayaguez Resort & Casino, Inc., 59 F. Supp. 3d 340, 357 (D.P.R. 2014). As in the referenced case law, in this case, the Amended Complaint - alleges for the Article 1802 [and Article 1803] claim[s] the same facts which formed the basis of Santiago Ortiz v. Caparra Ctr. Assocs., LLC, 261 F. Supp. 3d 240, 250 (D.P.R. 2016); see, also, Aguirre v. Mayaguez Resort & Casino, Inc., 59 F. Supp. 3d 340, 357 (D.P.R. 2014). therefore denied.

9 By the same token, and pursuant to the referenced case law, the Court warns Plaintiffs that if their statutory claim for injunctive relief under ADA fails, they will have no alternative or additional relief under Act 44.

V. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES, at this time, Motion for Summary Judgment for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA. However, because the Court believes there may be serious concerns as to the possible mootness of Reply to , 10

an Order will be entered forthwith to schedule a Status/Settlement Conference to discuss this issue, the status of discovery and any pending matters before moving forward with the proceedings. Finally, the Court GRANTS Motion for Summary Judgment as request for monetary relief under Title III of the ADA

; consequently, said requests for monetary relief are hereby denied. IT IS SO ORDERED. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 21, 2020. S/Daniel R. Domínguez Daniel R. Domínguez United States District Judge

10 Church of Scientology of California v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12, 113 S.Ct. 447, 121 L.Ed.2d 313 (1992) (quoting Mills v. Green, Horizon Bank & Tr. Co. v. Massachusetts, 391 F.3d 48, 53 (1st Cir. 2004).

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