United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division
D. LAND CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
Coombs was a student at the University of Georgia. He claims
that he was expelled from UGA without a meaningful
opportunity to be heard, in violation of the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
He brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
UGA President Jere Morehead and the Board of Regents of the
University System of Georgia. In addition to his § 1983
claim, Coombs asserts a state law claim for breach of
contract and claims under the Georgia constitution's due
process and equal protection clauses. Defendants filed a
motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 4).
now agrees that he may not pursue his claims against the
Board of Regents or Morehead in his official capacity.
Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for J. on the Pleadings 8,
ECF No. 8; see also Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S.
159, 165-66, (1985) (“Official-capacity suits . . .
‘generally represent only another way of pleading an
action against an entity of which an officer is an
agent.' ” (quoting Monell v. New York City
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)).
Accordingly, Defendants' motion for judgment on the
pleadings is granted as to Coombs's claims against the
Board of Regents and Morehead in his official capacity, which
leaves for resolution Coombs's § 1983 claim against
Morehead in his individual capacity and his state law claims.
discussed below, Coombs's §1983 claim against
Morehead individually is barred by the applicable statute of
limitations, and Morehead is entitled to judgment on the
pleadings as to that claim. With Coombs's action now
whittled down to only his claims under state law, the Court
finds no reason for those state law claims to be decided in
federal court. Accordingly, the Court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over those remaining state law
claims and remands this action to the state court from which
it was removed for the final resolution of those claims.
on the pleadings is appropriate where there are no material
facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Cannon v. City of W. Palm
Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001). In deciding
a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court “must
accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and view
them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
was a student at UGA. In early 2016, UGA's Equal
Opportunity Office (“EOO”) received allegations
that Coombs engaged in non-consensual sexual activity with
two UGA students, in violation of the school's
Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy. Coombs denied
the allegations. Coombs was suspended from UGA pending an
investigation. By letter dated June 10, 2016, the EOO
notified Coombs that it had investigated the allegations of
misconduct and found the allegations to be credible. The EOO
further notified Coombs that he was expelled from UGA. Coombs
alleges that he was expelled without “any opportunity
to challenge the credibility of the adverse witnesses'
statements against him, ” without being provided
“any information relevant to the alleged act of
misconduct, ” and without being provided “a list
of adverse witnesses and a summary of their testimony.”
Compl. ¶¶ 14-16, ECF No. 1-1.
timely appealed his expulsion to Morehead, arguing in part
that he had not received adequate process in the proceeding
before the EOO. By letter dated September 8, 2016, Morehead
denied Coombs's appeal and upheld the expulsion.
Id. ¶ 19. The letter stated that if Coombs
wished to appeal Morehead's decision, he “may
submit an application for discretionary review” to the
Board of Regents' Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs
“within twenty (20) calendar days from the date of this
letter.” Compl. Ex. H, Letter from J. Morehead to W.
Coombs (Sept. 8, 2016), ECF No. 1-1 at 28. The letter was
addressed to Coombs at his UGA email address, which was
disabled when Coombs was suspended. It was not mailed to
Coombs or to his lawyer. As a result, Coombs did not receive
the letter until January 2017. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22;
Compl. Ex. I, Letter from B. Allen to S. Burch (Aug. 29,
2018) (“Appeal Letter”), ECF No. 1-1 at 29-30;
Appeal Letter Ex. C, Text Message (Jan. 22, 2017), ECF No.
1-1 at 39 (forwarding Morehead's September 8, 2016
letter). More than nineteen months later, on August 29, 2018,
Coombs's attorney sent a letter to Board of Regents'
Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs requesting an out-of-time
appeal of Morehead's September 8, 2016 ruling. On January
7, 2019, the Board of Regents' Office of Legal Affairs
declined Coombs's request for review as untimely because
he received notice of Morehead's decision in January
argue that Coombs's § 1983 claims are time-barred.
The Court agrees. “The forum state's statute of
limitations for personal injury actions applies to §
1983 claims, which in Georgia is two years.” Bell
v. Metro. Atlanta Rapid Transit Auth., 521 Fed.Appx.
862, 864 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Lovett v.
Ray, 327 F.3d 1181, 1182 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam));
accord O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. The statute of
limitations begins to run when “the facts supporting
the ‘cause of action are apparent or should be apparent
to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his
rights.'” Id. (quoting Lovett,
327 F.3d at 1182).
it should have been apparent to Coombs by January 22, 2017
that he had been expelled from UGA and that Morehead had
upheld the expulsion. At that time, Coombs knew what process
he had received during the proceedings. And, it was apparent
from Morehead's letter that if Coombs wanted to pursue a
discretionary review with the Board of Regents' Office of
Legal Affairs, he should submit an application within twenty
days after receiving Morehead's letter. When he failed to
do so, the expulsion decision became final. Coombs, however,
argues that his procedural due process claim was not ripe
until he received notice that the Office of Legal Affairs
rejected his request for an out-of-time appeal, which was
made more than nineteen months after he received notice that
Morehead upheld his expulsion and gave him twenty days to
appeal to the Board of Regents' Vice Chancellor for Legal
Affairs. Coombs did not point to any authority suggesting
that his procedural due process claim did not accrue
until after he decided to seek an out-of-time appeal or that
a plaintiff can, by delaying pursuit of state remedies or by
declining to pursue them altogether, delay accrual of his
procedural due process claims.
argues that the Eleventh Circuit held in Cotton v.
Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328 (11th Cir. 2000) (per curiam)
that a procedural due process claim does not accrue
until it is shown that the plaintiff has no adequate state
remedies. That is not what the Eleventh Circuit held. Rather,
the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in
denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment
because the plaintiff failed to state a procedural
due process claim on the merits since the plaintiff failed to
show that no adequate state remedies were available to remedy
the alleged procedural deprivations. Id. The
Eleventh Circuit emphasized that the “inadequate state
procedures” rule “is not an exhaustion
requirement.” Id. at 1331 & n.2. The
Eleventh Circuit acknowledges that it has sown confusion by
stating that procedural due process claims do not become
“complete” or “ripe” until the state
refuses to provide due process. Horton v. Bd. of Cty.
Comm'rs of Flagler Cty., 202 F.3d 1297, 1301 (11th
Cir. 2000). The Eleventh Circuit stated that these were
“unfortunate” analogies and emphasized that
procedural due process claims dismissed as
“incomplete” were not unripe; instead,
they failed on the merits because state law provided
an adequate remedy. Id. Furthermore, at least one
panel of the Eleventh Circuit has concluded that a
plaintiff's procedural due process claims accrued when he
knew all of the relevant facts as to that claim.
Bell, 521 Fed.Appx. at 865 (finding that the
plaintiff's procedural due process claim accrued when he
resigned without a name clearing hearing after learning that
his employer recommended termination of his employment for
helping a coworker make unauthorized equipment purchases).
Accordingly, the Court finds that Coombs's procedural due
process claim accrued when the expulsion decision became
final, which happened in mid-February 2017 because Coombs
received Morehead's letter by January 22, 2017 and did
not seek a discretionary review by the Board of Regents'
Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs within twenty
days. He did not file this action until more
than two years later, on April 17, 2019.
argues that even if his procedural due process claim accrued
when his expulsion became final (after he received
Morehead's letter and failed to file a timely application
for discretionary review), the statute of limitations for
that claim was tolled under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99. Under
that statute, the “running of the period of limitations
with respect to any cause of action in tort that may be
brought by the victim of an alleged crime which arises out of
the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of
such alleged crime committed in this state shall be tolled
from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the
act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution
of such crime or act has become final or otherwise
terminated.” O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99. Coombs argues that
he is the victim ...