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Yu v. Idaho State University

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 26, 2018

JUN YU, Plaintiff,
IDAHO STATE UNIVERSITY, and JOHN/JANE DOES I through X, whose true identities are presently unknown, Defendants.


          Hon. Ronald E. Bush, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Pending is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 55), seeking dismissal of all claims. Having reviewed the briefing and supporting filings, participated in oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Decision and Order:

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jun Yu (“Yu”) is a Chinese national who matriculated into the Doctoral Clinical Psychology Program at Defendant Idaho State University (“ISU”) in 2008. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-16 (Dkt. 41). By mid-2012, all that remained for Yu to complete the requirements of the program was a successful clinical internship. Id. ¶ 75, 161. Yu coordinated with ISU and the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism (“CCCA”) in Cleveland, Ohio to develop a customized internship that would allow him to fulfill his final graduation requirement. Id. ¶ 87. He started the internship, which was designed to last for at least twelve months, on January 2, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 107, 108 (Dkt. 41).

         Yu did not complete the internship, as he was dismissed from the CCCA in approximately April of 2013. Id. ¶ 130. In May of 2013, ISU told Yu that the graduate faculty of the Psychology Department had voted to dismiss him from its doctoral program. Id. ¶ 6, 136. After various unsuccessful voluntary appeals, Yu received a letter from ISU's Graduate School Dean dated October 2, 2013 that denied Yu's final appeal and stated that his dismissal was effective immediately. Id. ¶¶ 7-10; see also Pl.'s Resp. Exhibit PR1-8 (Dkt. 56-12) (the letter).

         Yu initiated this action on September 16, 2015 by filing his Complaint against ISU, alleging liability for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, deprivations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Compl. ¶¶ 170-181 (Dkt. 1). On March 29, 2017, he filed an Amended Complaint, expanding his § 1983 claim to include allegations that ISU denied both his procedural due process rights (Count Two) and his substantive due process rights (Count Four). First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 354-359, 363-367 (Dkt. 41). He also added counts related to promissory estoppel and claims arising in contract law, bringing a total number of eighteen claims. Id. ¶¶ 368-435.

         Both the Complaint and the First Amended Complaint name ISU and “John/Jane Does I through X, whose true identities are presently unknown” as defendants. Compl. (Dkt. 1); First Am. Compl. (Dkt. 41). Yu did not timely move to amend to substitute any Doe defendants or join additional defendants, and the deadline to do so has passed. Second Am. Case Mgmt. Order 1 (Dkt. 29). Further, Yu did not name as a defendant any individuals associated with ISU, whether acting in an official capacity or not.

         ISU now renews its motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all eighteen claims. It argues that several of Yu's claims, including his Title VI claim, are barred by the statute of limitations because the claims accrued more than two years prior to Yu's filing suit. It also argues that ISU is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment for every claim except the Title VI claim.[1] For the reasons that follow, the Court denies ISU's summary judgment motion as to Yu's Title VI claim but grants the motion as to the other seventeen claims.


         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 summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (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. See Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). However, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. See McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. See Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001). 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 non-moving party's case. See 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 his favor. See Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by [his] own 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. Where reasonable minds could differ on the materials facts at issue, summary judgment should not be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.


         A. ISU Is Not Entitled to Summary Judgment on Yu's Title VI Claim.

         Count One of Yu's First Amended Complaint alleges a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d through 2000d-7. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 351-353 (Dkt. 41). ISU moves for summary judgment on this claim, arguing that (1) it is time-barred and (2) there is a lack of factual support in the record. Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. 4-5, 9-10 (Dkt. 55-1). Each of these arguments will be addressed in turn.

         1. Yu's Title VI Claim Is Timely as a Matter of Law.

         Title VI does not have its own statute of limitations; instead, “claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 2000d are governed by the same state limitations period applicable to claims brought under § 1983.” Taylor v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 993 F.2d 710, 712 (9th Cir. 1993). The state's personal injury statute of limitations applies to claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275 (1985).[2] Applicable here, therefore, is Idaho's two year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, found at I.C. § 5-219(4).

         Federal law determines when a Title VI claim accrues, for purposes of calculating the two-year statute of limitations under Idaho law. See Elliott v. City of Union City, 25 F.3d 800, 801-802 (9th Cir. 1994); see also Taylor, 993 F.2d at 712. Such a claim accrues “when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action.” Elliott, 25 F.3d at 802 (quotation marks omitted).

         ISU contends that Yu's Title VI claim accrued no later than May 2013, when ISU notified him the graduate faculty had voted to dismiss him from the doctoral program. Id. at 4. Therefore, ISU argues, Yu's September 2015 filing was untimely by some four months.

         Yu argues, first, that ISU's May 2013 notification did not effectuate a dismissal from the doctoral program because he possessed appeal rights (that could have kept him in the program) that were not exhausted until October 2013. Pl.'s Resp. 5 (Dkt. 56). Second, Yu argues that the statute of limitations was equitably tolled while he participated in ISU's voluntary administrative appeals process. Id. at 6.

         A more detailed description of the relevant facts and dates is useful in evaluating Yu's arguments. In a letter dated May 3, 2013, ISU told Yu:

It was the unanimous conclusion of the Graduate Faculty of the Psychology Department that you are not making satisfactory progress in the program. A formal ballot was taken to record the votes of the 10 members of the Graduate Faculty present at the meeting; all 10 members voted to dismiss you from the doctoral program in clinical psychology based on your unsatisfactory progress toward degree completion.
. . . .
You have the right to appeal this decision by following the procedures stated on pp. 16-17 of the Idaho State University Graduate Catalog. . .

Pl.'s Resp. Ex. PR1-4 p. 2 (Dkt. 56-8) (emphasis added). The letter was signed by Dr. Mark W. Roberts, Director ...

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