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Duffin v. Idaho State University

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 21, 2017

ORIN DUFFIN, Plaintiff,
IDAHO STATE UNIVERSITY, et. al., Defendants.




         The Court has before it Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. 26), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 27), and Defendants' Motion to Strike (Dkt. 30). The Court heard oral argument on September 21, 2017, and now issues the following decision.


         Orin Duffin is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“LDS Church”). In 2014-15, he played on the Idaho State University (“ISU”) men's tennis team during his freshman year in college. During that time, Jeff Tingey was the athletic director, Bobby Goeltz was the head coach of the tennis team, and Nate Gross was a graduate assistant for the tennis team. Duffin claims that he was harassed by Goeltz and Gross because of his religion. Specifically, he states that he was told that his decision to serve an LDS mission was insane, that he was disparaged because he would not drink alcohol, that he was harassed about his sexual orientation, that he was harassed about whether he watched pornography, had sex with women, or masturbated, and that two girls were sent to his hotel room in Las Vegas during a tennis tournament to proposition him for sex.

         Duffin quit the tennis team after he was scratched from an out-of-state tournament. He then filed his Complaint on May 20, 2016. Based upon stipulated deadlines, the Court entered a Case Management Order on August 8, 2016. (Dkt. 20). The order set January 30, 2017 as the dispositive motion deadline. On January 12, 2017, the parties filed a stipulation to extend the dispositive motion deadline to July 14, 2017. (Dkt. 21). The Court agreed to the stipulation because Duffin was out of the District of Idaho for an extended period of time while serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church. (Dkt. 22). The parties filed their cross-motions for summary judgment on July 14, 2017.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         When cross-motions for summary judgment are filed, the Court must independently search the record for factual disputes. Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). The filing of cross-motions for summary judgment - where both parties essentially assert that there are no material factual disputes - does not vitiate the court's responsibility to determine whether disputes as to material fact are present. Id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir.2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Deveraux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.


         1. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendants ask the Court to dismiss all of Duffin's claims based upon Eleventh Amendment immunity, qualified immunity, or failure to state a claim. The Court will address each of these arguments below.

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Absent consent by the State, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits in federal court against the State or its agencies. Krainski v. Nevada, 616 F.3d 963, 967 (9th Cir.2010). On more than one occasion, this Court has previously held that ISU is an arm of the State of Idaho. Sadid v. Idaho State University, 837 F.Supp.2d 1166, 1172 (D.Idaho 2011); Ferguson v. Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 647 F.Supp. 190, 193 (D.Idaho 1985). Neither party disputes this holding. Thus, the only question here is whether ISU has consented to this lawsuit.

         “A state waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity if it ‘unequivocally evidence[s its] intention to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the federal court.'” Johnson v. Rancho Santiago Community College Dist., 623 F.3d 1101, 1021 (9th Cir. 2010); citing Hill v. Blind Indus. & Servs. of Md., 179 F.3d 754, 758 (9th Cir.1999). “A state may waive its sovereign immunity through conduct that is incompatible with an intent to preserve that immunity.” Id. (Internal citation omitted). Notably, the Ninth Circuit has “found that state defendants engaged in conduct ‘incompatible with' an intent to preserve sovereign immunity when they raised a sovereign immunity defense only belatedly, after extensive proceedings on the merits.” Id. In Johnson, the Ninth Circuit determined that the defendant waived Eleventh Amendment immunity when it participated in discovery, and did not raise it in its motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. The court noted that “[i]n circumstances like these, we deem the defendant to have made a tactical decision to delay asserting the sovereign immunity defense[, ]” and that “[s]uch tactical delay undermines the integrity of the judicial system[, ] . . . wastes judicial resources, burdens jurors and witnesses, and imposes substantial costs upon the litigants.” Johnson, 623 at 1022 (Internal quotations and citations omitted).

         Here, Defendants did not file a motion to dismiss, but raised sovereign immunity in their motion for summary judgment. However, that motion was delayed by stipulation, and thus was filed more than two years after the events supporting the allegations in the case. This is significant because Duffin's claims are likely now barred in state court by the statute of limitations. See Idaho Code Ann. § 5-219(4) (two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions); Knox v. Davis, 260 F.3d 1009, 1012-13 (9th Cir.2001) (for § 1983 claims, federal courts apply the forum state's personal injury statute of limitations and federal law for determining accrual; a § 1983 claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury that forms the basis of the action).

         Moreover, the law in Idaho is well-established that ISU, and presumably all other state universities, are arms of the state and protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Therefore, there was no need to develop any factual basis on that issue before asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity. Allowing Defendants to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity now would fly in the face of the Rule 1 admonition that the Court construe and apply the rules and procedures in a manner that secures the just, speedy and inexpensive resolution of all disputes. Defendants initially chose to defend the claims on the merits in federal court by engaging in discovery, stipulating to extend deadlines, and waiting until the dispositive motion deadline to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Court can only conclude that this was a tactical attempt to deny Duffin his day in Court. The Court will not allow Eleventh Amendment immunity to be used that way. Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendants have waived their sovereign immunity defense, and will address the claims on the merits.

         B. Qualified ...

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