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Cain v. Mandl College of Allied Health

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 22, 2017

ILEEN CAIN, Plaintiff,


          Edgardo Ramos, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se plaintiff Ileen Cain ("Plaintiff or "Cain") was enrolled in the surgical technologist program at Mandl College of Allied Health ("Mandl") for approximately three j months in 2012. She brings this action against Mandl, Mandl College, Inc. ("MCI"), Mandl's President, Mel Weiner ("M. Wiener"), its Director of Operations, Stew Weiner ("S. Weiner") and a fellow student, Aisha Reid ("Reid, " and collectively, Defendants"), alleging that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by harassing her and allowing fellow students to harass her, and by retaliating against her when she complained of the abuse. The Court dismissed Plaintiffs original complaint without prejudice on May 29, 2015, and Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint ("FAC"), which the Court dismissed, again without prejudice, on September 30, 2016 (the "September 2016 Order"). Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") on November 7, 2016. Defendants now move to dismiss the SAC with prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Doc. 102. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED. Plaintiff will not be given an opportunity to file a third amended complaint.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         The Court presumes familiarity with the September 2016 Order, which details the facts and procedural history of this case, Doc. 89, and discusses here only those facts necessary for its disposition of the instant motion. In its September 2016 Order, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs discrimination and retaliation claims because Plaintiff failed to raise "a plausible inference that the difficulties she faced at Mandl were the result of discrimination on the basis of her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Doc. 89 at 13. The Court also found that Plaintiff failed to adequately allege that she qualified as a disabled individual in order to assert claims under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Doc. 89 at 14.

         Plaintiffs SAC incorporates by reference the claims and factual allegations contained in her FAC, with the exception of the cyberstalking claim. In the SAC, Plaintiff attempts to cure the deficiencies identified by the Court in the September 2016 Order, primarily by describing how her PTSD manifests and providing definitions of the terms "coo coo" and "kook, " the names that her fellow Mandl students allegedly used to harass her. Doc. 95.

         II. Legal Standard

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). The court is not required to credit "mere conclusory statements" or "thread bare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also Id. at 681 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 551). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter ... to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). More specifically, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. If the plaintiff has not "nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680.

         The question in a Rule 12 motion to dismiss "is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Sikhs for Justice v. Nath, 893 F.Supp.2d 598, 615 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 278 (2d Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he purpose of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) 'is to test, in a streamlined fashion, the formal sufficiency of the plaintiffs statement of a claim for relief without resolving a contest regarding its substantive merits, '" and without regard for the weight of the evidence that might be offered in support of Plaintiff s claims. Halebian v. Berv, 644 F.3d 122, 130 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Global Network Commc'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 155 (2d Cir. 2006)).

         The same standard applies to motions to dismiss pro se complaints. See Zapolski v. Fed. Republic of Germany, 425 F.App'x 5, 6 (2d Cir. 2011). The Court remains obligated to construe apro se complaint liberally, Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011), and to interpret a pro se plaintiffs claims as raising the strongest arguments that they suggest. Tries tman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006). The obligation to be lenient while reading a pro se plaintiffs pleadings "applies with particular force when the plaintiffs civil rights are at issue." Jackson v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Labor, 709 F.Supp.2d 218, 224 (S.D.N.Y.2010) (citing McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004)). "However, even pro se plaintiffs asserting civil rights claims cannot withstand a motion to dismiss unless their pleadings contain factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal quotation marks omitted). A pro se plaintiffs pleadings still must contain "more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation." Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 678. A complaint that "tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further enhancement" will not suffice. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Triestman, 470 F.3d at 477 ("[P]ro se status 'does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'") (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)). Additionally, as the Second Circuit has noted, "[a] district court deciding a motion to dismiss may consider factual allegations made by apro se party in his papers opposing the motion." Walker v. Schult, 111 F.3d 119, 122 n.l (2d Cir. 2013) (emphasis added).

         III. Discussion

         A. Claims for Discrimination and Retaliation in Violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her rights under Tittle III of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Title III of the ADA provides that "[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of a 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 ... or operates a place of public accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Correspondingly, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).

         To establish & prima facie violation of these Acts, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) "that she is a qualified individual with a disability;" (2) that the defendants are subject to one of the Acts;" and (3) "that she was denied the opportunity to participate in or benefit from defendants' services, program, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by defendants, by reason of her disability." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 73-74b (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Powell v. Natl Bd of Med. Examiners, 364 F.3d 79, 85 (2d Cir.), opinion corrected, 511 F.3d 238 (2d Cir. 2004)). To state a claim for retaliation under the Acts, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) she "was engaged in protected activity;" (2) "the alleged retaliator knew that plaintiff was involved in protected activity;" (3) "an adverse decision or course of action was taken against plaintiff;" and (4) "a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action." Weixelv. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 287 F.3d 138, 148 (2d Cir. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).[1]

         As a preliminary matter, in order to bring ADA and Section 504 claims, Plaintiff must demonstrate that she is a qualified individual with a disability.[2] In the September 2016 Order, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to adequately allege that she is a disabled individual as defined by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act because the FAC contained "no allegations as ...

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