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Mensah v. Morehouse School of Medicine

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 13, 2018

FREDA MENSAH, Plaintiff,
v.
MOREHOUSE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Linda T. Walker's Final Report and Recommendation [23] (the “Final R&R”). The Final R&R recommends that this action be remanded to the Superior Court of Fulton County for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Dr. Freda Mensah, was a medical resident enrolled in Defendant Morehouse School of Medicine's (“Defendant”) Community Pediatric Residency Program. On or about February 9, 2015, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a settlement agreement (the “Settlement Agreement”) readmitting Plaintiff into Defendant's program after Plaintiff agreed to a general release of all claims and voluntarily dismissed her then-pending action against Defendant in this Court in case captioned 1:14-cv-1991-WBH. In that lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12182 (“the ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701, when Defendant denied her requests for reasonable accommodation and dismissed her from the residency program. (See Mensah v. Morehouse Sch. of Medicine, No. 1:14-CV-1991, Am. Compl., [7] ¶¶ 65-79 (N.D.Ga. Aug. 25, 2014)).

         On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendant in the Superior Court of Fulton County. ([1.1]). Plaintiff alleges state law causes of action for breach of the Settlement Agreement, damage to reputation, liability for punitive damages, and attorney's fees due to Defendant's bad faith and stubborn litigiousness. Plaintiff alleges that under the Settlement Agreement, Defendant was required to readmit her back into the Pediatric Residency Program as a Post Graduate Year 1 resident and provide reasonable accommodation for a broad range of covered disabilities. (See Compl. ¶¶ 3, 9; Agreement and General Release, Pl.'s Dep., Ex. 3, at 2 ([14.4] at 40) (explaining that Plaintiff “acknowledges that she is only entitled to a reasonable accommodation as defined under the ADA”)).

         Plaintiff also alleges that although she fully complied with her obligations under the Settlement Agreement, Defendant delayed her reentry into the program for more than a month, failed to provide her with self-study materials it agreed to make available prior to readmission, refused to grant her permission to take time off for a post-surgery medical examination and procedure, omitted to provide her with access to a website containing mandatory training modules, did not include her on resident email communications which provided critical information necessary for her successful completion of the program, denied her leave so that she could attend mandatory orientation for residents, and refused to provide clinic experiences equivalent to those provided to other residents. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-14, 21). Plaintiff claims that Defendant's failure to provide her with training and access to training resources adversely impacted her evaluations and maintains that she was subjected to letters being placed in her file criticizing her professionalism and documenting performance issues. (Id. ¶¶ 16-20). Plaintiff contends that Defendant's alleged failures and omissions breached the Settlement Agreement and caused her to be unable to complete the residency program resulting in professional harm and harm to her reputation. (Id. ¶¶ 33-39).

         On September 7, 2016, Defendant removed this action to this Court [1] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1446. In asserting its basis for federal-question jurisdiction, Defendant argues that “it appears” that Plaintiff “seeks to recover for alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination laws pursuant to the [ADA] and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” (Notice of Removal [1] ¶ 3). To demonstrate that this action presents a federal question, Defendant notes that Plaintiff has filed two complaints with Defendant's Office of Civil Rights in late 2015 alleging that Defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act when Defendant denied her access to the same services, programs, and activities as other residents due to her disabilities, retaliated against her, and failed to accommodate her disabilities. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8). Finally, Defendant argues that in the Settlement Agreement, Plaintiff consented to the exclusive jurisdiction of this Court for matters relating to a breach of the settlement agreement. (Id. ¶ 6).

         On May 15, 2017, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment [14]. That motion was submitted to the Magistrate Judge on June 20, 2017.

         On January 4, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued the Final R&R [23]. In the Final R&R, the Magistrate Judge did not address Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Instead, the Magistrate Judges raised the issue of federal subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte, and recommended that this action be remanded to the Superior Court of Fulton County for lack of jurisdiction. The Magistrate Judge found (i) on its face, the Complaint does not assert claims pursuant to the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act; (ii) Plaintiff's breach of contract claim does not confer federal question jurisdiction even if it invokes federal disability discrimination law; and (iii) the Court does not have ancillary jurisdiction over the Settlement Agreement despite language in the agreement consenting to the jurisdiction of this Court for matters relating to breach of the Settlement Agreement.

         On January 18, 2018, Defendant filed its Objections to the Final R&R [25]. Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on the grounds that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim raises a substantial federal issue.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review of a Magistrate Judge's R&R

         After conducting a careful and complete review of the findings and recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject, or modify a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam). A district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Where no party has objected to the report and recommendation, the Court conducts only a plain error review of the record. United States v. Slay, 714 F.2d 1093, 1095 (11th Cir. 1983) (per curiam).

         Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the fact Plaintiff's breach of contract claim may turn on issues of federal disability discrimination law under the ADA is insufficient to confer federal jurisdiction. The Court conducts its review of those findings and recommendations de novo. Defendant does not object to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the Complaint, on its face, does not state a claim for relief under federal law. Nor does Defendant object to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the Court may not exercise ancillary jurisdiction over the Settlement Agreement by way ...


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