United States District Court, D. Kansas
DUSTIN D. COFFMAN, Plaintiff
HUTCHINSON COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Crow, U.S. District Senior Judge
plaintiff, Dustin D. Coffman, appears pro se
bringing this action alleging he was dismissed from the
nursing program at Hutchinson Community College
(“HCC”) in a manner that violated his federal and
state constitutional rights and that created actionable state
common-law claims. The case comes before the court on the
defendants' second motion to dismiss (ECF# 70) and on the
plaintiff's motions for ruling (ECF# 106 and 107). Last
year when it was the only defendant to have been properly
served, HCC filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF# 21). The court
granted the motion in part finding it was without
jurisdiction to address the plaintiff's state law tort
claims. ECF# 28. The court, however, denied the balance of
HCC's motion, because it failed to address the
allegations in the plaintiff's supplement (ECF# 7) to his
form complaint (ECF# 1). ECF# 28. All defendants now move to
dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief, and the
individual defendants also seek dismissal on qualified
immunity grounds. ECF# 70.
defendants filed a notice on January 10, 2018, certifying
that they had served this motion, among other pleadings, by
mail. ECF# 79. The pro se plaintiff, Dustin Coffman,
thereafter submitted multiple filings, some or all of which
are intended to be his response to the defendants'
motion. ECF# 85, 91, 92, and 93. None of these submissions
were filed within the 21-day deadline imposed by D. Kan. Rule
6.1(d)(2). Without objecting to the plaintiff's untimely
responses, the defendants then timely filed their reply. ECF#
97. Thereafter, Mr. Coffman filed yet another document that
also appears to address the merits of defendants' motion
to dismiss. ECF# 100. The defendants object to this late
filing and ask the court to strike it as either an untimely
response or a sur-reply filed without leave of the court.
ECF# 102. Mr. Coffman has been warned repeatedly on the
importance of following the court's local rules and
particularly “Rule 7.1 that governs the filing of
motions and responses and replies thereto and Rule 7.6 that
governs briefs and memoranda.” ECF## 19 and 28, p. 4.
The court sustains the defendants' objection and shall
disregard the plaintiff's filing at ECF# 100.
12(b)(6) Standards and Qualified Immunity
Tenth Circuit recently summarized the relevant standards
governing a court's analysis of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
for failure to state a claim for relief:
“A pleading is required to contain ‘a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” SEC v. Shields, 744
F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). “We accept as true all well-pleaded factual
allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most
favorable to the” plaintiff. Id. (quoting
Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706
F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013)). We then “determine
whether the plaintiff has provided ‘enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” George [v. Urban Settlement
Servs.], 833 F.3d  at 1247 [(10th Cir. 2016)]
(quoting Hogan v. Winder, 762 F.3d 1096, 1104 (10th
“In determining the plausibility of a claim, we look to
the elements of the particular cause of action, keeping in
mind that the Rule 12(b)(6) standard [does not] require a
plaintiff to ‘set forth a prima facie case for each
element.'” Id. (quoting Khalik v.
United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1192-93 (10th Cir.
2012)). “The nature and specificity of the allegations
required to state a plausible claim will vary based on
context.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins,
656 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2011). But “mere
‘labels and conclusions' and ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action' will not
suffice; a plaintiff must offer specific factual allegations
to support each claim.” Id. at 1214 (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127
S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Thus, a “claim is
facially plausible if the plaintiff has pled ‘factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.'” George, 833 F.3d at 1247
(quoting Hogan, 762 F.3d at 1104, which in turn
quotes Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129
S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).
However, “when legal conclusions are involved in the
complaint[, ] ‘the tenet that'” we accept the
allegations as true “is inapplicable to [those]
conclusions.” Shields, 744 F.3d at 640 (second
alteration in original) (citation omitted).
Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865,
878 (10th Cir. 2017).
Tenth Circuit recently observed that Twombly
requires sufficient factual allegations to show a violation
of the plaintiff's constitutional rights and
“requires enough specificity to give the defendant
notice of the claim asserted.” Matthews v.
Bergdorf, 889 F.3d 1136, 1144 n.
Cir. 2018). This bite taken by the Twombly standard
may be “greater” when the affirmative defense of
qualified immunity is being analyzed:
Qualified immunity exists “to protect public officials
from the ‘broad-ranging discovery' that can be
‘peculiarly disruptive of effective
government.'” Anderson v. Creighton, 483
U.S. 635, 646 n. 6, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 817,
102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). Defendants are
permitted to appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss on
qualified immunity grounds precisely to spare them the ordeal
of discovery if the complaint fails to allege a
constitutional violation or if the alleged violation was not
clearly established. Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S.
299, 306, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996). To
“nudge their claims across the line from conceivable to
plausible, ” Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, in
this context, plaintiffs must allege facts sufficient to show
(assuming they are true) that the defendants plausibly
violated their constitutional rights, and that those rights
were clearly established at the time. This requires enough
allegations to give the defendants notice of the theory under
which their claim is made.
This does not mean that complaints in cases subject to
qualified immunity defenses must include “all the
factual allegations necessary to sustain a conclusion that
defendant violated clearly established law.”
Breidenbach v. Bolish, 126 F.3d 1288, 1293 (10th
Cir. 1997). In Currier we found this heightened
pleading standard superceded by the Court's decision in
Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 118 S.Ct.
1584, 140 L.Ed.2d 759 (1998). Currier v. Doran, 242
F.3d 905, 916 (10th Cir.2001). Twombly, too, rejects
a heightened pleading standard. 127 S.Ct. at 1973-74.
However, the complaint must meet the minimal standard of
notice pleading as articulated by the Court in
Twombly. Although we apply “the same standard
in evaluating dismissals in qualified immunity cases as to
dismissals generally, ” Shero v. City of Grove,
Okl., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir.2007), complaints in
§ 1983 cases against individual government actors pose a
greater likelihood of failures in notice and plausibility
because they typically include complex claims against
multiple defendants. The Twombly standard may have
greater bite in such contexts, appropriately reflecting the
special interest in resolving the affirmative defense of
qualified immunity “at the earliest possible stage of a
litigation.” Anderson, 483 U.S. at 646 n. 6,
107 S.Ct. 3034; Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727.
Without allegations sufficient to make clear the
“grounds” on which the plaintiff is entitled to
relief, Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n. 3, it would be
impossible for the court to perform its function of
determining, at an early stage in the litigation, whether the
asserted claim is clearly established.
Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1248-49 (10th
Cir. 2008) (footnote omitted).
Complaint ECF# 1 and 7.
court understands the defendants' struggle to understand
what the plaintiff is asserting as his claims for relief. The
plaintiff's filings are not “a short and plain
statement” as contemplated by Rule 8(a). The
plaintiff's allegations intermingle conclusory factual
allegations of his own circumstances with excerpts of factual
findings and legal conclusions taken from an order apparently
issued by a federal district court from Michigan. This other
court order involves a case that has no apparent legal or
factual relationship to these Kansas proceedings. The
plaintiff's filings confusingly blend his own factual
allegations with excerpts from that court order. The
potential for confusion is aggravated by the plaintiff's
failure to use quotation marks or citations. In addition, the
plaintiff's filings make it difficult to parse which
factual allegations are deemed relevant for consideration
under each of the respective claims for relief.
plaintiff's complaint entitles one section,
“Introduction, ” and sets out there a summary
listing of his alleged claims against the defendants:
1) Violation of the plaintiff's First amendment
(retaliation); 2) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's
due process clause; 3) Violation of the Fourteenth
Amendment's equal protection clause; 4) Violation of the
Kansas constitutional right to free speech; 5) Violation of
Kansas' constitutional right to due process; 6) Violation
of Kansas' constitutional right of equal protection under
the law; 7) Breach of contract; 8) Defamation (as to
defendants Jay Ballard and Kathy Sanchez); 9) Libel and
slander as to defendants Jay Ballard and Kathy Sanchez; 10)
Tortious interference with a contract as to defendants Debra
Heckler, Cindy Hoss, Janet Hamilton, Kathy Sanchez and Jay
Ballard; 11) Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
12) Violation of the Kansas Civil Rights Act; and 13)
Violation of the Kansas victim protection act.
ECF# 7, p. 1. And, as taken from that section of the
plaintiff's complaint entitled, “Statement of
Facts, ” the court gleans the following as relevant
allegations of fact.
fall of 2014, Dustin Coffman enrolled in HCC and was later
accepted in the R.N. online bridge program in the Spring of
2015. The bridge program required Coffman to participate in a
clinical rotation, and his participation was supervised in
part by HCC's instructors, Jay Ballard and Kathy Sanchez,
who are individually named as defendants.
alleges that during the Summer 2015 semester, his supervisors
Ballard and Sanchez displayed a negative change of attitude
toward him. Ballard criticized Coffman before other students
and charge nurses for speaking Spanish to a patient and for
eating chocolate given to him by a charge nurse. Ballard also
told Coffman that he could not go into the hospital chapel
and pray during his break and that he could “not
attempt to outsource a patient to a rehab facility of the
Christian faith.” ECF# 7, p. 2.
end of the plaintiff's clinical rotation on July 24,
2015, Ballard and Sanchez met with Coffman. They told him
that, “he might have to sign a corrective action
contract with the school for issues, that were discussed, by
the Defendant Jay Ballard and for being sick and would be
asked to do a virtual makeup of the rotation.”
Id. at pp. 2-3. “Nothing was mentioned about
Unprofessional conduct by the Defendant in that
meeting.” Id. at p. 3.
plaintiff alleges he had no problem with making up the
clinical rotation day he missed because he had a contagious
skin issue. When he got home with the material for the makeup
assignment, Coffman realized the text book and the work book
were different editions, and he could not complete the timed
testing applications because the page references did not
correspond. Because of this problem, Coffman alleges he
“immediately” initiated a telephone conference
with the defendant Sanchez. He asked two other persons to
listen in as his witnesses. During the conference call,
Sanchez said they “could just work something else out
next semester” and also said, “do not worry about
the corrective action contract as well.” Id.
at p. 3.
weeks before the start of the next school semester, which was
Coffman's final semester of the registered nurse program,
he learned that the corrective action contract was still an
“issue.” Id. As an exhibit to his
memorandum opposing dismissal, the plaintiff attaches a copy
of an email from Sanchez addressed to him and dated July 30,
2015, at 5:47 pm:
Per our conversation on July 24, 2015, I am sending you the
Corrective Action Contract for NR 216. Please read, review,
download, add your student perception, sign and return by Aug
15, 2015. You may send your signed copy by mail or you may
scan the signed copy and send by your Hutchinson Community
College email or you may electronic sign and return through
your Hutchinson Community College email. Kathryn Sanchez
ECF# 93, p. 51. The plaintiff also submits a copy of three
emails which he sent to Sanchez in reply later that evening.
The first of which reads, “Per our texts conversational
said that I did not have too.” Id. The
plaintiff also attaches to his memorandum copies of emails he
sent on August 3, 2015, to Ms. Sanchez. They state:
This contract has several issues
1. This is my first corrective action and the wording says
final corrective action.
2. The software should not allow scheduling of an OB day if
it is not available.
3. We had visited in the break room post conference after my
second day was at IV infusion about me going to the ER on my
third clinical day.
4. The assignments are not correct via text messages about
not doing unit six. Unit six is already filled in and the
data disk information will not change so that could be
5. Time frame for completion of extra assignment is not
6. It took until almost 1100 am to receive any texts on the
issue of the wrong day due to tech issues.
7. I notified every Instructor about the issue.
8. I was also told by the director that there would be no
problems on a scheduling issues.
9. The assignments has the wrong editions of text book and
10. 1st corrective contract not final wording needs changed.
11. Text correspondence and verbal communication between you
and I stated no need for this contract.
12. Extension was granted via communication between us due to
the text book work book not being the same is not in the
13. Why do you need a contract? Unless its for some other
14. Did the other student who had to do make up work over
break have a contract? Please show evidence of for review.
I also have all the text data from all instructors plus I
record my clinical day on my dictation recorder. This is to
ensure the facts are not a matter of hearsay for any ...