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Resendez v. Prance

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 29, 2018

JOSE RESENDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SHANE PRANCE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO, Judge.

         Plaintiff Jose Resendez, who played baseball for Purdue University Northwest, alleges in this action that his coach made racially derogatory comments and falsely accused him of misconduct and a criminal offense, leading to his suspension from the team. He sued the coach, asserting an equal protection claim for racial discrimination under § 1983 and state claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He also asserted a claim against the university under Title VI, and claims against university administrators under § 1983. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. They argue that the complaint fails to state a claim for discrimination, and that the claims are also barred by various immunities under federal and state law, among other arguments. On a referral, the magistrate judge recommended that the Court grant the motion. Resendez has objected to that recommendation. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jose Resendez was a student at Purdue University North-Central, now known as Purdue University Northwest. He was a member of the baseball team during the 2014-15 season. Defendant Shane Prance was the head coach of the team, and defendant Tom Albano was the athletic director.

         Resendez alleges that he “is of Hispanic heritage, specifically Mexican, and is brown-skinned and darker compl[exioned], typical of his heritage.” [DE 17 ¶ 16]. In this action, he alleges a series of incidents in which he believes Prance mistreated him because of his race. He alleges that on March 19, 2015, “Prance directed a racially derogatory comment to Resendez, specifically, ‘I don't want to deal with campus police saying a Mexican with a beard is jumping the fence and causing trouble on the field, [Resendez] that was directed to you.'” Id. ¶ 34. On March 30, 2015, Prance allegedly called Resendez a “pussy” and “a lazy piece of shit.” Id. ¶ 36. That prompted a verbal altercation between the two, but Resendez alleges that no physical contact occurred. Prance nonetheless stated during a phone call with Resendez's father that Resendez had attacked him and chest-bumped him 4-5 times. Prance also made Resendez run for two hours straight during the practice the following day.

         Late in the evening on April 14, 2015, Prance called the police to report that a paintball gun was being fired at his house and that he could hear the paintballs hitting the house. When police arrived, he reported that he saw a vehicle outside his house during the incident, and that he recognized it as belonging to Resendez's girlfriend. He further stated that, a couple minutes later, he saw the same vehicle in the area, and he was able to identify Resendez as the driver. Resendez alleges, however, that these allegations were false, and that he and his girlfriend were not even in the same town as Prance's home at the time of the incident. Resendez alleges that these false accusations were racially motivated. In response to the accusation, police contacted Resendez, who offered to let them search for a paintball gun, but none was found.

         Shortly thereafter, Resendez was summoned to a meeting with Albano, the athletic director. Prance had reported to Albano that Resendez physically assaulted him by charging and bumping into him during the incident on March 30. Prance further reported that Resendez had shot paintballs at his house. Accordingly, Resendez was suspended from the team pending an investigation into those incidents.

         Resendez alleges that Albano investigated Prance's allegations about the assault and found that they were false, but that Resendez remained suspended and Prance was not disciplined. Resendez also sought help from the chancellor, defendant James Dworkin. Dworkin initially represented that he would “take care of the situation, ” but he then refused to meet with Resendez. Id. ¶ 73. Resendez alleges on information and belief that Dworkin “knew about the racial slurs, ” but that Prance was not disciplined except for being told “not to use the racial slurs again.” Id. ¶¶ 78-80.

         Resendez further alleges that Prance's treatment of him was part of a pattern of treating non-white players worse than their white counterparts. He alleges that white players on the team were not disciplined as severely for their misconduct and that Prance did not file false police reports against any white players. He also alleges that non-white players received less playing time.

         Resendez filed this action, asserting federal claims for racial discrimination, and state claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In response to a motion to dismiss, Resendez filed an amended complaint. The defendants then moved to dismiss the amended complaint as well. The Court referred that motion to the magistrate judge for preparation of a report and recommendation. In the report and recommendation, the magistrate judge recommended that the federal claims be dismissed for failure to state a claim, and that the Court relinquish supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims. Resendez timely objected to that report and recommendation, after which he moved to supplement his objection. The objections are now ripe for ruling.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff's claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff's claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         That same standard of review applies to the Court's review of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3), the district court must undertake a de novo review “of those portions of the magistrate judge's disposition to which specific written objection is made.” Johnson v. Zema Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999); Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Here, Resendez has objected to each of the magistrate judge's recommendations, so the Court evaluates the sufficiency of the complaint de novo.

         III. ...


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