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Saha v. Lehman

March 12, 2008

PROFESSOR DEBABRATA SAHA, PH.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DONALD LEHMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motion [25] for summary judgment. Upon consideration of defendants' motion, the opposition and reply thereto, the record herein, and the applicable law, the motion shall be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Pro se plaintiff Debabrata Saha is a resident of Virginia and was formerly employed as a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering ("Department") at George Washington University ("University"). Defendant Donald Lehman ("Lehman") is the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of the University and defendant Timothy Tong is Dean of its School of Engineering & Applied Science ("SEAS"). Defendant George Washington University has its principal place of business in the District of Columbia. The facts giving rise to this matter stem largely from the events of September 1 and 2, 2005, when plaintiff was escorted from a classroom and from his office because he had been suspended.*fn1 That suspension represented the fourth time in eight years that plaintiff had been suspended. (See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ. J. 1.) The University announced the suspension in a letter to plaintiff dated August 29, 2005. That letter informed plaintiff that his classes for the Fall 2005 semester had been reassigned and instructed him not to come to the University's campus to teach or perform any University responsibilities. (See id., Ex. A, Letter from Donald R. Lehman to Debabrata Saha (Aug. 29, 2005).) The letter further informed plaintiff that Lehman intended to initiate tenure revocation proceedings against plaintiff in the very near future. (See id.) According to defendants, the letter was sent to plaintiff by regular mail, certified mail, by placing a copy under the door of plaintiff's office in the Department, and by hand via same-day courier service to plaintiff's residence.*fn2 (See id. at 2.) Based on the Department's prior history of difficulties involving plaintiff, defendant Tong arranged for plain clothes security officers to be present outside classrooms of the classes originally assigned to plaintiff in case plaintiff appeared for class despite his suspension.*fn3 (See id.)

When plaintiff appeared in a classroom and began to teach ECE-243 on the evening of September 1, a University security officer advised plaintiff that he was not permitted to teach any classes and asked him to leave the classroom. At which time, plaintiff was escorted from the building by University security officers without incident. The following morning, plaintiff appeared in his Department office-again in violation of his suspension. University security officers entered plaintiff's office, informed plaintiff that he was prohibited from being on campus, and again escorted him out of the building without incident. Plaintiff claims that the August 29, 2005 suspension was never communicated to him. (See Pl.'s Opp'n 17.) He further claims that he relied on information posted on the Department's bulletin board indicating that he was the professor assigned to teach ECE-243 beginning September 1.*fn4 (See id.) Plaintiff filed the instant suit on August 24, 2006, and filed a First Amended Complaint on January 5, 2007. The First Amended Complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, false arrest and imprisonment, invasion of privacy for false light, and a declaratory judgment. (See Am. Compl.)

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts of the First Amended Complaint on August 3, 2007, which was followed by plaintiff's opposition on November 8, 2007, and the reply thereto on December 5, 2007.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper when the evidence in the record demonstrates that there are no disputed issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment on the undisputed facts as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence, when viewed in light most favorable to the non-moving party, "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). However, a party must provide more than "a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position; the quantum of evidence must be such that a jury could reasonably find for the moving party. Id. at 252. The burden is on the movant to make the initial showing of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party is then entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322.

B. Count I: Violation of § 1983

Count I of plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges that defendants, under color of statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of the District of Columbia deprived plaintiff of his rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the District of Columbia in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) To state a claim under § 1983, plaintiff must allege both (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the defendant acted "under color of" the law of a state, territory or the District of Columbia. Hoai v. Vo, 935 F.2d 308, 312 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970)). Defendants challenge whether plaintiff can establish the first of these elements.

Plaintiff claims that defendants deprived him of his right to be in the classroom, to continue delivering his lecture, to move freely inside and outside of the classroom and on the campus, and the right to preserve his reputation and be portrayed as a law abiding person. (See Pl.'s Opp'n 17.) Plaintiff's § 1983 claim is clearly tied to his claims for false arrest and imprisonment (Count II) and invasion of privacy for false light (Count III). As to the claim for false arrest and imprisonment, the elements of a constitutional claim for false arrest are substantially identical to the elements of a common law false arrest claim such that the "constitutional claim cannot stand if the common law claim fails for lack of sufficient evidence." Weishapl v. Sowers, 771 A.2d 1014, 1023 (D.C. 2001) (quotation omitted). Regarding plaintiff's invasion of privacy for false light claim, where plaintiff has failed to show "an unreasonable and serious interference with protected interests," Jackson v. District of Columbia, 412 A.2d 948, 954 (D.C. 1980) (citation omitted), he has neither a constitutional nor a tort law claim. For reasons stated in the sections below, this Court finds that plaintiff's claims on Counts II and III are wholly without merit. As such, plaintiff has failed to establish that he was deprived of any right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States and his claim under § 1983 therefore fails.

Summary judgment as to Count I of plaintiff's First Amended Complaint will ...


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