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Nagarajan v. Hargrove

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 30, 2017


          Honorable Kevin S. Sharp, Chief District Judge.


          BARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge.

         By Order entered Mach 20, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 4), this pro se action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Presently pending is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 15), to which Plaintiff has responded in opposition. See Docket Entry Nos. 15 and 21. For the reasons set out below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge respectfully recommends that Defendants' motion be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Govindaswamy Nagarajan (“Plaintiff”) was born in India and became an American citizen in 1977 after immigrating to the United States. He is a college professor with multiple advanced degrees in the study of physics and taught at several colleges and universities before accepting a tenure-track teaching position at Tennessee State University (“TSU”) in 1980. After being denied promotion and tenure and after being terminated from employment at TSU, Plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit in 1990 alleging employment discrimination by TSU. See Nagarajan v. Floyd, et al., 3:90- 0055. Plaintiff succeeded at trial, and he was awarded damages and reinstated at TSU as a full non-tenured professor.[1] Plaintiff states that he was subsequently granted tenure.

         On March 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed this pro se lawsuit against TSU and seven TSU professors and administrators: Samuel Hargrove (“Hargrove”), Lonnie Sharpe (“Sharpe”), Sandra Scheick (“Scheick”), Jeanetta Jackson (“Jackson”), Linda Woodruff (“Woodruff”), Mark Hardy (“Hardy”), and Glenda Glover (“Glover”). Plaintiff's pleadings consist of a form complaint brought under Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 et seq. (“Title VII”), in which he alleges, 1) ongoing discrimination on account of race, color, and national origin that began on or about March 4, 2014, and, 2) retaliation against him for his prior protected activity. See Docket Entry No. 1 at 1-4. In the section of the form complaint devoted to his request for relief, Plaintiff seeks $50, 000, 000.00 in punitive damages as his requested relief. Id. at 4.

         Although Plaintiff does not include any supporting factual allegations in the form complaint, he attaches a typed “complaint for declaratory judgment, and damages, ” in which he sets out 24 pages of allegations. See Docket Entry No. 1 at 5-28.[2] In his typed complaint, Plaintiff alleges discrimination against him on the basis of age, race, and nationality, as well as violations of “protected rights under due process of law, bad faith breaches of contracts, breaches of duty, character assassinations and defamation, and tortious infliction of emotional distress.” Id. at ¶ 17. As the basis for the Court's jurisdiction, he refers to “civil rights statutes” and various Tennessee statutory and constitutional provisions. Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff's typed complaint contains several complaints by Plaintiff about various aspects of the TSU administration. Although it is somewhat difficult to cull from these overall complaints the specific events at issue in this lawsuit, it appears that Plaintiff's lawsuit revolves around three events: 1) the cancellation of his teaching assignments in the Spring of 2015, id. at ¶ 23; 2) being required to teach mathematics in the Fall of 2015, id. at ¶ 24; and 3) disputes and controversies involving grade appeals of three students, whom Plaintiff alleges were forced to “make troubles with” Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 42-45. As in the form complaint, the only specific request for relief contained in the typed complaint is a request for $50, 000, 000.00 in punitive damages. Id. at 28.

         In lieu of an answer, Defendants have filed the pending motion to dismiss the action under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief by his request for punitive damages under Title VII because the individual defendants cannot be sued under Title VII and because Defendant TSU, as an agency of the State, is statutorily protected from punitive damages claims under Title VII. See Memorandum in Support (Docket Entry No. 16) at 2-4.

         In response to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff contends that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply in a situation in which he sues his supervisors, that Defendants have committed many discriminatory and criminal offenses, and that Rule 12(b)(6) has become “mute and redundant.” See Docket Entry No. 18. He further argues that the State of Tennessee should not defend the individual Defendants in this lawsuit because they are, like him, TSU employees. See Docket Entry No. 21.[3]


         A motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is reviewed under the standard that the Court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint, resolve all doubts in Plaintiff's favor, and construe the complaint liberally in favor of the pro se Plaintiff. See Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684 (6th Cir. 2006); Boswell v. Mayer, 169 F.3d 384, 387 (6th Cir. 1999); Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 11-12 (6th Cir. 1987). Although the complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, Plaintiff must provide the grounds for his entitlement to relief and this “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).


         The only federal claims specifically raised by Plaintiff in his pleading are employment discrimination and retaliation claims brought under Title VII, which is referenced on the first page of his form complaint. The jurisdictional section of Plaintiff's typed complaint refers solely to Tennessee statutory and constitutional provisions. See Docket Entry No. 1 at 13, ¶ 16. Although the Court is required to view Plaintiff's pro se pleadings with some measure of liberality, ...

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