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Martinez v. Maricopa County Community College District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 31, 2017

Cleopatria Martinez, Plaintiff,
v.
Maricopa County Community College District, a political subdivision of the state, and Rufus Glasper and Debra Glasper, husband and wife, Defendants.

          ORDER

          NEIL V. WAKE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are competing motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 69, 71.) For the reasons below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion and deny Plaintiff's.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment tests whether the opposing party has sufficient evidence to merit a trial. Summary judgment should be granted if the evidence reveals no genuine dispute about any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         It is the moving party's burden to show there are no genuine disputes of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Upon such a showing, however, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must then “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial” without simply resting on the pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. To carry this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than simply show there is “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Id. at 587. “A court must view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the [non-moving] party.'” Tolan v. Cotton, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). “A ‘judge's function' at summary judgment is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Summary of Facts and Claims

         Plaintiff Cleopatria Martinez (“Martinez”) is a math instructor at Phoenix College, a school within the Maricopa County Community College District (“District”). She has over 30 years of service at the District and had reached “appointive” status, giving her a right to continuous employment. (Doc. 78 at ¶ 1, 14.)

         High-level administrative officials brought termination proceedings against Martinez. Following the District's termination procedure, a Hearing Committee found, in part, that Martinez had committed insubordination by refusing a direct command to refund money to students whom she had charged for course materials. Nevertheless, the Hearing Committee recommended against termination in light of her 30 years' service. Chancellor Rufus Glasper (“Glasper”) accepted the Hearing Committee's finding of misconduct and did not pursue termination any further, which would have required action by the Governing Board. He then commenced proceedings for the lesser sanction of suspension, which he imposed. Those proceedings did not require Board approval.

         Martinez brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 damage action against the District and Glasper personally[1] for violation of due process of law in depriving her of property and liberty. (Doc. 14 at ¶¶ 93-109.) She has since conceded that there was no due process violation for deprivation of liberty. (Doc. 71 at 13.) She also seeks declaratory relief. (Doc. 14 at ¶¶ 110-17.) Both sides have moved for summary judgment on facts that are materially undisputed.

         Martinez's exact claim is elusive. Her cause of action is 42 U.S.C § 1983. She attempts to plead only a claim for deprivation of property (her employment) without the federal constitutional minimums of fair and adequate procedure required by due process of law in the circumstances. It may seem strange and even bizarre that the District's rich and elaborate procedures for dismissal and suspension would nevertheless fall short of federal constitutional minimums of fairness. Indeed, the claim is bizarre. Martinez has raised no colorable federal claim of deprivation of property without due process of law.

         At oral argument on October 30, 2017, Martinez conceded that she pleaded no state law cause of action. Nevertheless, her briefing argues that her one-year suspension was not authorized under the District procedures for suspension, which do not require Governing Board approval. Her one-year suspension, Martinez contends, could have been done only under the District procedures for termination, which do require Governing Board approval. She says the one-year suspension was the “economic equivalent” of termination and therefore available only under the procedures for termination. Thus, she contends, Glasper could suspend her only by disputing the Hearing Committee's recommendation that she not be terminated and recommending that she be suspended by the Governing Board in the termination proceedings. Whatever its merit, that is a contention of the meaning of state law.

         Even apart from Martinez's disavowal of any state law cause of action, if she did plead a state law claim, it too would be patently incorrect. The District fully complied with the District's procedures. District policies themselves sensibly distinguish between dismissal and suspension and outline different procedures and authority for each. Martinez received the benefit of both sets of procedures, though her actual discipline was suspension only. A one-year suspension is still a suspension. Indeed, the suspension expired 13 months later, and Martinez returned to work the next Fall semester. To say she was terminated though she returned to work proves only that paper will bear any words written upon it. There is no colorable state law claim here even if Martinez did attempt to plead such a claim.

         B. Martinez's Transgressions

         Martinez did not require her students to purchase textbooks. Instead, she prepared her own materials, which she called lecture notes, to distribute to the students. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 7.) As part of these lecture notes, she would copy problems and diagrams from copyrighted sources. (Id. at ¶ 8.) She did not cite the sources when so copying. (Id.) Martinez believed that the education exception of the fair use doctrine protected her use of copyrighted materials. (Doc. 80 at 3, ¶ 9).

         When district officials learned of this behavior, they disapproved. The District's Vice President of Academic Services emailed Martinez on January 12, 2010. He flagged the potential copyright problems with materials she had printed for the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 semesters. He sent another email on January 26, 2010, and two days later, the District's in-house counsel talked with Martinez by phone. An in-person meeting with other administrators followed, as did a copyright training session with a librarian. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 10.)

         The administration restricted Martinez's ability to use the college's copy center, requiring her to submit her requests to the department chair so he could screen the materials. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 11.) Martinez did not abide by this policy, printing materials without departmental approval. (Id. at ¶ 12.) This deprived the administration of its independent confirmation that she was not continuing to use copyrighted material. Outside counsel informed the District that, in his opinion, Martinez's Fall 2010 lecture notes violated copyright law. (Id. at ¶ 13.) He said these violations could prove very costly-up to $150, 000 each. (Id.) Consequently, on December 9, 2010, the administration further restricted Martinez's printing and copying privileges. She was now unable to use materials that she created and had to use only math-department-approved materials or those available for sale at the bookstore. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

         Many months later, in August of 2012, Martinez photocopied materials at a local Staples store. (Id. at ¶ 15.) She used the materials as an alternative to a textbook. (Id.) She either “sold” the packets to the students for $11 (id.) or asked to be reimbursed for her expenses if the students did not copy the packets themselves (Doc. 80 at 5, ¶ 15).

         On October 18, 2012, the President of Phoenix College required Martinez to reimburse, via personal check, any affected student. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 17.) The President found that Martinez had violated District policy, particularly Administrative Regulation 1.12, by transacting directly with students. (Doc. 73-2, Ex. 21.) Administrative Regulation 1.12 requires the Governing Board to approve changes to the budget and fees collected, which it had not done with respect to the money Martinez collected when she transacted directly with students. (See Id. (“[Y]ou imposed charges on the students without authority to do so.”).) In the October 18 directive, the President reaffirmed her earlier restrictions on Martinez's copying privileges. (Id.) Citing Administrative Regulation 6.7, she also warned Martinez that further insubordination could subject her to harsher punishment, “up to and including termination.” (Id.)

         Around January 9-11, 2013, the District learned that several students had not received their reimbursement checks. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 17; Doc. 72 at ¶ 7.) The District required Martinez to produce copies of all refund checks by January 18, 2013. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 17.) As of her dismissal hearing in November 2013, she still had not done so. (Doc. 73-4, Ex. 23 at 232:17-25.)

         C. The Dismissal Hearing

         The road to that dismissal hearing began with a “Pre-Disciplinary Conference” on April 3, 2013. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 19.) The stated purpose of the conference was “to ensure that the decision to be made concerning the complaints against” Martinez would be “based on complete and accurate information.” (Doc. 73-5, Ex. 26.) Phoenix College's President and Vice President of Academic Affairs conducted the meeting. Also present were two Human Resources staff members. Martinez was entitled to have a fellow employee there as a representative, but only to observe and not to participate. (Id.)

         After the April 3, 2013 meeting, the President and Vice President decided to terminate Martinez's employment. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 20.) On August 9, 2013, the District provided Martinez with a Statement of Charges regarding termination proceedings. (Id.) The charges included violating copyright law and the District's cash handling policy- although pointing to Administrative Regulation 1.17 rather than Regulation 1.12. (Doc. 73-5, Ex. 27.) A copy of Regulation 1.17 was attached to the Statement of Charges. Regulation 1.17 requires that there be, among other things, specific safeguards for storing cash, independent reconciliation of receipts, and management oversight of cash handling processes and personnel. (Id.) The Statement of Charges also accused Martinez, because of her failure to follow the administration's commands barring unauthorized copying and requiring her to reimburse her students, of violating Administrative Regulations 6.7.1 and 6.7.3, which prohibit willful violations of the law or of District rules. (Id.)

         Martinez exercised her right to a hearing. (Doc. 80 at 6, ¶ 19.) The day-long hearing took place on November 18, 2013. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 22.) The Hearing Committee was composed of three faculty members. (Doc. 73-5, Ex. 24 at 8.) The procedures were robust and involved a scheduling order, pre- and post-hearing briefing of arguments, a list of witnesses and exhibits, citation to supplemental authority, and more. (Doc. 73 at ¶ 22.) Martinez was represented by counsel, called witnesses, cross-examined the District's witnesses, and offered evidence. (Id.) Among Martinez's evidence was advice she received ...


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