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Maxwell v. New York University

June 1, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., District Judge


This case involves the Military Selective Service Act (the "MSSA"), an infrequent subject of federal litigation since the Vietnam War era. Pro se Plaintiff Milford Maxwell ("Maxwell") initiated this action against Defendants New York University ("NYU") and Chris Connelly ("Connelly" and, collectively with NYU, "Defendants"), an employee in NYU's Office of Financial Aid. Maxwell alleges that NYU's cancellation of his $16,000 financial aid award for the 2005-06 academic year violated the MSSA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA") and he seeks $177,000 in damages. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. Maxwell separately moves for an order holding NYU's counsel in contempt or, in the alternative, imposing discovery sanctions on Defendants. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and Maxwell's motion for civil contempt or discovery sanctions is DENIED.


In September 2005, Maxwell enrolled at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies ("SCPS") for the 2005-06 academic year.*fn1 Defs.' 56.1 Stmt ¶4. In connection with his enrollment, Maxwell completed and submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid ("FAFSA") and was preliminarily determined to be eligible to receive a scholarship from SCPS, a federally funded Pell Grant, and state and federal student loans that together totaled $18,200 in financial assistance.*fn2 Id. at ¶6; Am. Compl. Ex. 1.

To determine a student's eligibility for federal financial aid, when processing a male student's FAFSA the Department of Education (the "DOE") cross-checks the student's social security number against the database of men who have registered with the Selective Service System ("Selective Service"). Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶6; see also 20 U.S.C.A. § 1091(n). In the letter dated September 29, 2005 that notified Maxwell of his preliminary eligibility for $18,200 in financial assistance, NYU also informed Maxwell that "[t]he results of your [FAFSA processing] indicate that you have one or more issues that must be resolved before your federal aid or need based aid can be disbursed." Connelly Decl. Ex. 1. Namely, NYU advised Maxwell that the DOE had notified the school "that the federal Selective Service System [had] not confirmed [his] registration or exemption status" and that if Maxwell did not provide adequate documentation explaining why he was not registered he would "not be eligible for federal/institutional financial aid." Id. On January 26 and February 6, 2006, NYU sent follow-up letters to Maxwell reiterating that he needed to either confirm that he had registered with Selective Service or document the reason(s) why he was exempt from doing so.

On February 21, 2006, Maxwell wrote the following to NYU's Office of Financial Aid:

1. I am 43 years old. The cut-off age is 26 for applying to selective service

2. During whatever period of time that I may have been eligible a document was mailed to an address. The letter was undeliverable

3. There is no draft at this time. The Selective Service System was set up for a time period when the law didn't encompass a volunteer army

4. Under paragraph (g) [of Section 12 of the MSSA] [i]t is a Federal law that no rights, privileges, or benefits can be denied because of this issue

5. I don't qualify for Selective Service today. I've never qualified for Selective Service at anytime [sic] in my life

6. The Draft of Selective Service issue is a political football that's been kicked around forever[.] It's been on again / off again many times[.] And at this time the point is legally "MOOT"

7. Paragraph (g) of the Federal Law clearly and in legal definition states what that means and how the moot ness [sic] is to be interpreted.

Connelly Decl. Ex 4; Am. Compl. Ex. 5. Enclosed with his February 21, 2006 letter, Maxwell sent NYU a letter he had received from Selective Service advising Maxwell that Selective Service records indicated that he was not registered and that Selective Service had "sent one or more pieces of correspondence informing [Maxwell] of the requirement to register, which were not returned as undeliverable." Am. Compl. Ex. 5A. The letter from Selective Service further advised Maxwell that pursuant to Section 12(g) of the MSSA one who has not registered for the draft cannot be denied federal rights or benefits if he can demonstrate that his failure to register was not knowing or willful. Id. Maxwell contends that months later he sent NYU a subsequent letter from Selective Service, dated July 5, 2006, which stated that "[n]o notices were sent to [him] by the Selective Service System regarding the requirement to register" but that "Selective Service is not required to notify men of their obligation to register." Maxwell sent no other documentation to NYU regarding his compliance with the MSSA. Maxwell Tr. 25-27.

On March 31, 2006, Connelly wrote to Maxwell to inform him that NYU was obligated to cancel his federal financial aid award as a result of his failure to document that he had registered with Selective Service or that he was exempt from doing so. Connelly Decl. Ex. 4; Am. Compl. Ex. 12. NYU then returned Maxwell's Pell Grant and his two Stafford Loans to the federal government and, pursuant to NYU policy, cancelled his $4,500 scholarship. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶20. NYU did not return a $825 grant Maxwell had received from the New York State Department of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities ("VESID") and applied the amount of that grant to Maxwell's tuition bill. Id. at ¶21.

Maxwell has never paid NYU for his tuition for the 2005-06 academic year, and after his account was referred to a collection agency in 2007, Maxwell filed this action on April 15, 2008. Am. Compl. Ex. 9. In his Amended Complaint Maxwell alleges that he "never qualified for the draft or Selective Service due to institutionalization between the ages of 18 and 26." Am. Compl. ¶11. At his deposition, Maxwell testified that he had been incarcerated for some portion of the period between his 18th and 26th birthdays, but acknowledged that he did not inform NYU of this fact during the time he was enrolled at the university. Maxwell Tr. 25-27; 34-35. Defendants filed a counterclaim against Maxwell seeking to recover the $20,915.09 that they contend Maxwell still owes the university, the majority of which presumably would have been covered by Maxwell's financial aid award had it not been cancelled by NYU.

Defendants initially filed their motion for summary judgment on January 26, 2009, and Maxwell opposed the motion on the basis of Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f), claiming that he had been denied discovery that would have led to facts essential to his opposition. On March 18, 2009, the Court reconsidered its earlier denial of Maxwell's motion to compel, ordered Defendants to produce documents responsive to certain of Maxwell's discovery requests, and authorized Defendants to make an election to either file a revised motion for summary judgment or stand upon their initial filing. Defendants elected to stand on their initial motion. On April 17, 2009 Maxwell informed the Court that he "elect[ed] to renew the existing opposition to Plaintiff's [sic] Motion for Summary Judgment" and thereafter Defendants filed their reply. On May 5, 2009 after Defendants had filed their reply, Maxwell filed a "renewed opposition" in which he contends principally that the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees him a right to a trial by jury and that certain factual issues, including whether the funds received by NYU from the "U.S. Military, its affiliates; and from various foreign governments in the Middle East theatre of our two present wars" have "a direct bearing on [his] being denied access to an education" under the MSSA. On April 20, 2009, Maxwell moved to hold NYU's counsel in contempt of court for alleged failure to comply with this Court's March 18, 2009 Order.


A. Summary ...

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