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Kade v. Workie

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 27, 2017

BRITTANY KADE, Plaintiff,
v.
BIZUNEH WORKIE, AHMED A. MOHAMED, NOURREDINE MELIKECHI, and DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Defendant Ahmed A. Mohamed is the sole defendant remaining. (D.I. 13). Presently before me is his Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all claims brought by Plaintiff Brittany Kade against him. (D.I. 10). Those claims are the following: (1) Count I, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (2) Count II, Assault; (3) Count III, Battery; and (4) Count DC, Section 1983. (D.I. 1-1). The briefing is complete. (D.I. 11; D.I. 14; D.I. 15). I reviewed supplemental letters relating to the § 1983 claim. (D.I. 18; D.I. 19; D.I. 20).

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 8 requires a complainant to provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows the accused party to bring a motion to dismiss the claim for failing to meet this standard. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion may be granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the complainant, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).

         "Though 'detailed factual allegations' are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Davis v. Abington Mem'I Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). I am "not required to credit bald assertions or legal conclusions improperly alleged in the complaint." In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 216 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint may not be dismissed, however, "for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." See Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014).

         A complainant must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has "substantive plausibility." Mat 347. That plausibility must be found on the face of the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [complainant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [accused] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following allegations are highly relevant. Plaintiff Kade is female and was a student a Delaware State University ("DSU"). (D.I. 1-1 ¶ 1). Defendant Mohamed is male and was employed by Delaware State University as a professor in the chemistry department. (Id. ¶ 3). During the spring semester of 2014, Kade was a senior chemistry student who also worked part-time in the chemistry department helping set up laboratories for chemistry professors. (Id. ¶ 6). She worked on a senior thesis/capstone project with Mohamed, along with multiple publications with him. (Id.¶ 1). She worked with Mohamed for approximately two years. (Id.). Mohamed was her primary professor and reference. (Id. ¶ 17).

         On or about February 10, 2014, Kade's car broke down and she asked Mohamed if he would drive her to an autoshop for repairs as the two of them were supposed to meet regarding a project anyway. (Id. ¶ 8). During the drive, Mohamed spoke to Kade "about how he missed his wife and how he missed having sex, giving hugs, and kissing women." (Id.). He further indicated how "he liked how Ms. Kade looked, dressed, smelled, and wore makeup." (Id.). Kade told Mohamed, and he acknowledged, the inappropriateness of his comments. (Id.). Later during the drive, Mohamed brought up his loneliness. (Id. at 10).

         Upon arriving at the autoshop, Kade informed Mohamed that he could leave, but he insisted on remaining until she left in her car. (Id. at 11). When Kade stepped out of the car, he stepped out of the car, "put his arm around her, and patted her on the shoulder." (Id.). He further indicated that "if she ever needed anything, even outside school, she should let him know." (Id.).

         Kade and Mohamed traveled in separate vehicles back to DSU. (Id. ¶ 12). Kade realized that she left her belongings in Mohamed's office, and returned to his office to get them. (Id.). While in his office, Mohamed asked her to sit and talk to him. (Id.). Kade thought the conversation would be about her paper. (Id.). Instead, Mohamed asked whether Kade had sexual relations with a former student named Patrick who lived with Kade and her husband while Patrick was going through a divorce. (Id. ¶ 14). She said she did not because she was married and that Patrick was not her type. (Id.). He asked her what her type was. (Id.). To diffuse the tension, she said "her husband was tall, dark, and handsome." (Id.). He said that he was as well and that she likes his accent. (Id.). She asked him to stop. (Id.). He said that he really liked Kade and liked being able to talk to her in this fashion. (Id.). When Kade stood up to leave this conversation, he "came around the desk and pulled her into a two-arm hug." (Id. ¶ 15). He further "turned his face as if to kiss her and held her there." (Id.). She pushed him away. (Id.).

         At some point in time later, Kade had to ask Mohamed where the silver nitrate was located. In response, he "bit his bottom lip and winked at her." (Id. ¶ 18).

         Some of the injuries Kade alleges she suffered include the following: extreme emotional distress that included being reduced to tears on multiple occasions, humiliation in front of her peers and classmates on multiple occasions, embarrassment by rumors being spread on the DSU campus about her, having to see a therapist, avoidance of the building housing the chemistry department, and interference with her education. (Id. ¶ 47).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Eleventh Amendment

         Defendant Mohamed argues that under a reasonable reading of the complaint, he is sued only in his official capacity and not his individual capacity. (D.I. 11 at 13-14). Because he is sued only in his official capacity, Defendant argues that all claims must be dismissed against him pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. (Id.).

         "The Third Circuit employs a course of proceedings test to determine whether a plaintiff in a § 1983 action may proceed with both an official and individual capacity suit when it is unclear what his intentions are from his complaint." Davis v. Thomas, 2009 WL 3112318, at *3 (D. Del. Sept. 25, 2009) (internal quotations omitted). "Under this test, the court may examine 'the substance of the pleadings and the course of proceedings in order to determine whether the suit is for individual or official liability, ' and is not limited by the presence or absence of language identifying capacity to sue on the face of the complaint." Id. "Factors considered include 'the nature of the plaintiffs claims, requests for compensatory or punitive damages, and the nature of any defenses raised in response to the complaint, particularly claims of qualified immunity.'" Id. "The 'underlying inquiry remains whether the plaintiffs intention to hold a defendant personally liable can be ascertained fairly.'" Id.

         Here, as to the nature of plaintiff s claims, Plaintiff is asserting that Defendant engaged in intentional torts against her. (Id. ¶¶ 48-52, 53-57, 58-62). This strongly suggests that Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his individual capacity. See Davis, 2009 WL 3112318, at *4.

         She is requesting punitive damages for these intentional torts and for her § 1983 claim. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 57, 62, 95). This also strongly suggests that Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his individual capacity. See Davis, 2009 WL 3112318, at *4.

         The fact that Plaintiff maintains in her answering brief that she is suing him individually weighs in her favor. See Moore v. City of Harriman, 272 F.3d 769, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) ("[W]hile it is clearly preferable that plaintiffs explicitly state whether a defendant is sued in his or her 'individual capacity, ' failure to do so is not fatal if the course of proceedings otherwise indicates that the defendant received sufficient notice." (citation omitted)).

         Defendant has asserted a qualified immunity defense (D.I. 11), which suggests that he was placed on adequate notice of being sued individually. See Id. ("Notice of personal capacity in turn allows government defendants to avail themselves of the qualified immunity defense.").

         Defendant points to language in the complaint, in the context of a respondeat superior claim against DSU and in the context of Plaintiff s ยง 1983 claim where Plaintiff argues that Defendant acted under color of state law by working for DSU, which suggests that Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his ...


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