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Klaassen v. University of Kansas School of Medicine

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 15, 2015

CURTIS KLAASSEN, Ph.D., Plaintiff,


DANIEL D. CRABTREE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Dr. Curtis Klaassen, a longtime professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine ("KUMC"), filed this lawsuit alleging that the school retaliated against him in violation of his constitutional rights. Defendants filed two Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docs. 80, 82). On February 2, 2015, the Court granted defendants' motions in part and denied them in part (Doc. 102).

On March 3, 2015, plaintiff filed this Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification of the Court's Order (Doc. 108). First, plaintiff argues that the Court erred in dismissing Count 2 of his Second Amended Complaint. Count 2 alleges that defendants Terranova, Atkinson, Kopf, Carlson, Tully, Hagenbuch, Jaeschke, and Stites (the "Individual Defendants") violated plaintiff's procedural due process rights by stripping him of his status as principal investigator on several grants from the National Institutes of Health ("NIH"). Plaintiff asks the Court to revive Count 2 or grant him permission to file a Third Amended Complaint, which, he believes, corrects the deficiencies the Court identified in its Order. Second, plaintiff asks the Court to clarify one aspect of its Order. The Court concluded that the Eleventh Amendment barred plaintiff's state law claims, Counts 9-14 of the Second Amended Complaint, and therefore dismissed them. Plaintiff asks the Court to specify whether it dismissed those claims with or without prejudice. For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiff's motion to reconsider its decision to dismiss Count 2 but grants plaintiff leave to file his Third Amended Complaint. The Court clarifies that it dismissed Counts 9-14 in its February 2 Order without prejudice.

I. Legal Standard for Motions for Reconsideration

The decision whether to grant or deny a motion to reconsider is within the Court's sound discretion. ScriptPro LLC v. Innovation Assocs., Inc., No. 06-2468-CM, 2012 WL 4887439, at *1 (D. Kan. Oct. 15, 2012). Three grounds may justify reconsideration: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Id. (citing Shinwari v. Raytheon Aircraft Co., 25 F.Supp.2d 1206, 1208 (D. Kan. 1998)). However, "[r]evisiting issues previously addressed is not an appropriate basis for reconsideration, nor is advancing new arguments or presenting facts that were previously available." Ning Lu v. Kendall, No. 13-2080-KHV, 2013 WL 6484588, at *1 (D. Kan. Dec. 10, 2013).

II. The Court Denies Plaintiff's Request to Reconsider its Order Dismissing Count 2 of His Second Amended Complaint

Plaintiff first argues that the Court's decision to dismiss Count 2 of his Second Amended Complaint was clearly erroneous and therefore warrants reconsideration. The Court disagrees.

A. Background

In Count 2, plaintiff alleges that the Individual Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and his procedural due process rights by asking the NIH to remove him from his position as principal investigator on four NIH grants. Plaintiff's duties as a tenured KUMC medical professor involved applying for and winning research grants. These grants funded both his research and part of his salary. Whenever plaintiff won a grant, he became the "principal investigator" for that grant. The principal investigator is responsible for the scientific and technical direction of a project funded by a research grant. Over the course of his 45-year career at KUMC, plaintiff obtained approximately 75 grants from the NIH. But while plaintiff was the person who applied for the grants, the NIH awards grants to institutions, not individuals. Thus, KUMC always was the actual recipient of the NIH grants for which plaintiff applied.

Starting in 2010, plaintiff began to have a series of disputes with KUMC and various KUMC officials. In November 2011 and September 2013, defendants asked the NIH to remove plaintiff from his position as the principal investigator on a total of four grants. The NIH granted each request and transferred the principal investigator status to other KUMC employees. Plaintiff argues that this action-requesting that the NIH remove him as principal investigator- infringed on a constitutionally protected property interest in the right to conduct research without due process of law.

"Procedural due process imposes constraints on governmental decisions which deprive individuals of liberty or property interests within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the... Fourteenth Amendment." Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1167 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 322 (1976)). Courts assess procedural due process claims in two steps: (1) whether the plaintiff had a constitutionally protected interest and (2) whether the process afforded was adequate to protect that interest. Koessel v. Sublette Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 717 F.3d 736, 748 (10th Cir. 2013). "[P]roperty interests... are not created by the Constitution but rather... by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law." Fisher Sand & Gravel, Co. v. Giron, 465 F.Appx. 774, 779 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)). Thus, statutes, ordinances, contracts, implied contracts, and rules and understandings developed by state officials create and define constitutionally protected property interests. Id. "Valid contracts may constitute a property interest for purposes of due process." Id. at 779-80.

Count 2 alleges that plaintiff had a property interest in the right to conduct unfettered research, with which the Individual Defendants interfered by stripping him of his status as principal investigator without adequate process. Plaintiff asserts that two sources establish this property right: (1) KUMC's adoption of the American Association of University Professors' 1940 Statement of Academic Freedom and Tenure ("1940 Statement"); and (2) KUMC's custom and practice created over the course of plaintiff's career at the school. Doc. 106 at ¶ 117. The Court dismissed Count 2 after concluding that plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts to assert a plausible property interest in conducting research. See Doc. 102 at 36-37; see Diversey v. Schmidly, 738 F.3d 1196, 1199 (10th Cir. 2013) (noting that on a motion to dismiss, courts "ask whether it is plausible that the plaintiff is entitled to relief"). Because the Court dismissed Count 2 on the first prong of the procedural due process test (whether plaintiff had a constitutionally protected interest), it did not reach the second prong (whether the process afforded was adequate).

B. Analysis

Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration makes three arguments why it believes the Court erred when it dismissed Count 2. First, plaintiff argues that the Court failed to consider evidence in the record showing that it was KUMC's policy and practice not to strip faculty members of their status as principal investigators. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint contained no facts showing that KUMC had such a policy or practice. In his Opposition to the Individual Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Opposition"), plaintiff argued, for the first time, that "he had never been stripped of his status as [principal investigator] or otherwise denied his right to full freedom of research." Doc. 90 at 18. But when the Court decided the Individual Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, it disregarded this assertion because plaintiff made it for the first time in his Opposition, not in his Complaint. Doc. 102 at 37 (citing Childers v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Bryan Cnty. State of Okla., 676 F.2d 1338, 1340 (10th Cir. 1982)); see also Phillips v. Bell, 365 F.Appx. ...

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