This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Rahun Sanjiva Goonewardena,
University of Minnesota, et al.,
Filed September 17, 1996
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 95-4184
Rahun Sanjiva Goonewardena, 4014 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55409 (Appellant Pro Se)
Mark B. Rotenberg, General Counsel, Tracy M. Smith, Associate General Counsel, University of Minnesota, 325 Morrill Hall, 100 Church Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455 (for Respondents)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
A former University of Minnesota graduate student appeals from a grant of summary judgment dismissing claims of discrimination and conspiracy that he initiated against the University and 31 individuals employed by or associated with the University. Because appellant failed to establish a prima facie claim under any of the legal theories he asserted and because the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow appellant to amend his complaint to include legally insufficient factual elaborations of the original complaint, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant Ruhun Goonewardena, a former graduate student in civil engineering, initiated this action against respondents, the University of Minnesota and 31 individuals, including the University president, regents, faculty members, administrators, and grievance committee members. Appellant claimed respondents engaged in "discriminatory educational practices" in violation of 42 U.S.C §§1983, and 1985 (1994), and requested attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. §(1994). His complaint alleged discrimination based on appellant's race and national origin, and included allegations covering several years during which appellant was admitted to the civil engineering graduate program, took graduate course work, and was dismissed from the graduate school for failing to make academic progress. The district court dismissed the claims asserted against respondents as individuals based on the doctrine of qualified immunity and dismissed the section 1983 and 1985 claims for failure to state a claim. The court also granted summary judgment to respondents on appellant's section 1981 claim and denied appellant's request to amend his complaint.
As the record includes affidavits and other "matters outside the pleadings," this court's review of the district court's decision is treated as a review of summary judgment. Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03. On appeal from summary judgment, this court must determine whether there are any issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. Niccum v. Hydra Tool Corp., 438 N.W.2d 96, 98 (Minn. 1989). This court also views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was granted, resolving all factual inferences in favor of that party. Grondahl v. Bulluck, 318 N.W.2d 240, 242 (Minn. 1982); Wagner v. Schwegmann's So. Town Liquor, Inc., 485 N.W.2d 730, 733 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. July 16, 1992). We need not defer to the district court's determination of legal issues. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
I. Claims Against University and Respondents in Official Capacity
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may sue "[e]very person who, under color of" state law deprives the plaintiff of his or her constitutional rights; under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff may sue "two or more persons" for conspiring to violate his or her civil rights. In either case, the action is "directly against the public entity of which the official is an agent." Clay v. Conlee, 815 F.2d 1164, 1170 (8th Cir. 1987). Because the University is an instrumentality of the state, however, it is not considered a "person" under section 1983 and 1985 and may not be sued for damages. See Treleven v. University of Minn., 73 F.3d 816, 818-19 (8th Cir. 1996) (claim for damages against University and official barred by Eleventh Amendment). Thus, the district court properly dismissed the section 1983 and 1985 actions against the University and respondents in their official capacities.
Section 1981 guarantees individuals the right to make and enforce contracts without discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 1981; see Richmond v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Minn., 957 F.2d 595, 597-98 (8th Cir. 1992). Again, as an instrumentality of the state, the University may not be sued for damages. See Treleven, 73 F.3d at 818-19; Egerdahl v. Hibbing Community College, 72 F.3d 615, 619 (8th Cir. 1995) (official capacity claims against professor and administrators for race and gender discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 barred by Eleventh Amendment). The district court did not err in dismissing the section 1981 claim against the University and respondents in their official capacities.
II. Claims Against Respondents in Individual Capacities
The doctrine of qualified immunity is available to public officials sued in their individual capacities. Elwood v. County of Rice, 423 N.W.2d 671, 674 (Minn. 1988) ("[q]ualified or 'good faith' immunity is an affirmative defense available to public officials sued for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983") (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 2736 (1982)); see Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227-28, 112 S. Ct. 534, 536-37 (1991) (applicability of qualified immunity most properly resolved on summary judgment); Johnson v. Morris, 453 N.W.2d 31, 40 (Minn. 1990) (same). An official's conduct is protected if he or she "does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S. Ct. at 2738; see Elwood, 423 N.W.2d at 674. "A right is 'clearly established' if the contours of the right are such that a reasonable official would understand that what he or she is doing violates that right." Morris v. Clifford, 903 F.2d 574, 576 (8th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted); see Greiner v. City of Champlin, 27 F.3d 1346, 1351 (8th Cir. 1994) (public official loses qualified immunity only if law official violated clearly established at time of violation and applicability of law to official's particular action evident).
Appellant has alleged the individual respondents engaged in "discriminatory educational practices." His claims center on his failure to receive research necessary for completion of a thesis as part of a "Plan A" graduate degree. The record establishes that appellant was admitted to the graduate school despite being less qualified than other applicants; he was offered numerous research opportunities but rejected them for a variety of reasons; and, after he and respondents attempted several alternatives to resolve his academic problems, he was dismissed from the graduate school for failing to satisfy graduate school requirements.
Most of the individuals named by appellant had little or no contact with him and were not involved in the decision to dismiss him from the graduate school. And the actions of those officials who were more directly involved with appellant fell within the scope of academic discretion. See Miller v. Hamline Univ. Sch. of Law, 601 F.2d 970, 972 (8th Cir. 1979) (courts ill-equipped to evaluate academic performance). Moreover, the undisputed facts show that the graduate school includes students of varying ethnic and racial backgrounds. Appellant's bare allegations fail to demonstrate "particular facts showing behavior * * * motivated by racial animus" or discrimination based on national origin. Wicks v. Mississippi State Employment Servs., 41 F.3d 991, 996 (5th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 115 S. Ct. 2555 (1995). Appellant has failed to demonstrate that respondents violated any of his clearly-established rights or that respondents' actions were objectively unreasonable. See McGregor v. Louisiana State Univ. Bd. of Supervisors, 3 F.3d 850, 862 (5th Cir. 1993) (qualified immunity granted to academic officials where disabled student's right to special academic accommodations "not clearly established in a sufficiently particularized manner"), cert. denied, 114 S. Ct. 1103 (1994). The district court thus properly dismissed the claims against the respondent University officials in their individual capacities based upon the doctrine of qualified immunity.
III. Denial of Appellant's Motion to Amend Complaint
The district court denied appellant's motion to amend his complaint after concluding that the amendment would serve no useful purpose because it would add no new claims and was merely a "factual enhancement" of appellant's prior claims. Under Minn. R. Civ. P. 15.01, a trial court has discretion to allow a party to amend a pleading and should "freely" grant a motion to amend "when justice so requires." The court may deny a party's motion to amend if the proposed amendment "will accomplish nothing, such as when the amendment does not state a cognizable legal claim." Envall v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 704, 399 N.W.2d 593, 597 (Minn. App. 1987) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Mar. 25, 1987). Because the proposed amended complaint only restates facts and reargues positions stated in the original complaint, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant's motion to amend.