United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
DARCY C. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
COPIAH LINCOLN COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
ROBERT H. WALKER, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Copiah Lincoln Community College's (Co-Lin) motion for summary judgment. Doc. . Plaintiff Darcy C. Martin, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint on April 29, 2013, alleging that Defendant violated various constitutional rights in connection with his attempts to enroll as a student at Co-Lin. Doc. . Defendant filed an answer denying Plaintiff's claims and asserting a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff owed Co-Lin approximately $625 for an unpaid account balance. Doc. . On March 27, 2014, the parties agreed to a settlement. See Minute Entry 3/27/2014. On March 28, 2014, the Court entered a final judgment of dismissal based on the settlement agreement. Doc. . Among the relevant terms of the settlement agreement, Plaintiff agreed to dismiss his claims and Defendant agreed to dismiss its counterclaim; Defendant agreed to release Plaintiff's academic transcript upon Plaintiff's written request to Michael Tanner; Defendant agreed to "write off", "forgive" and/or "extinguish" Plaintiff's debt on his student account; and the parties agreed to keep the terms of the agreement strictly confidential. Doc. .
On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a new complaint designated as Martin v. Copiah Lincoln Community College, Civil Action No. 3:14cv618. Doc. [31-1]. In the new complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Co-Lin failed to fulfill its obligations under the settlement agreement. Id. Specifically he alleged that on August 5, 2014, Co-Lin failed to send his transcripts to Hinds County Community College (Hinds) after he made the request of Co-Lin. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff alleged that the settlement agreement required Co-Lin to release all school transcripts upon his request. Id. As a consequence, Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered emotional distress and that he has not been able to enroll in college for two years. Id. at 4-6.
On October 14, 2014, Defendant filed a motion to re-open the case and to consolidate the newly filed complaint (3:14cv618) with the previously settled lawsuit (3:13cv251). Doc. . The Court granted Defendant's motion and re-opened Martin v. Copiah Lincoln Community College, Civil Action No. 3:13cv251. Doc. . The parties then filed a joint motion to consolidate, which the Court granted. Doc.  & . Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. . The Court conducted a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, at which hearing the parties presented evidence, testimony, and argument in support of their respective positions. See Minute Entry 4/16/2015 & Doc. . Prior to the hearing, the Court advised the parties that they "may present witness testimony and documentary exhibits either in support or opposition to the motion for summary judgment." Doc. .
Law and Analysis
Standard of Review
Rule 56(c) authorizes summary judgment where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). Where the summary judgment evidence establishes that one of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action does no exist as a matter of law, ... all other contested issues of fact are rendered immaterial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2552." Topalin v. Ehrman, 954 F.2d 1125, 1138 (5th Cir. 1992). In making its determinations of fact on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence submitted by the parties in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. McPherson v. Rankin, 736 F.2d 175, 178 (5th Cir. 1984).
The moving party has the duty to demonstrate the lack of a genuine issue of a material fact and the appropriateness of judgment as a matter of law to prevail on its motion. Union Planters Nat'l Leasing v. Woods, 687 F.2d 117 (5th Cir. 1982). The movant accomplishes this by informing the court of the basis of its motion, and by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine factual issues. Topalian, 954 F.2d at 1131. "Rule 56 contemplates a shifting burden: the nonmovant is under no obligation to respond unless the movant discharges [its] initial burden of demonstrating [entitlement to summary judgment]." John, 757 F.2d at 708. Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is presented, the nonmoving party must rebut with "significant probative" evidence. Ferguson v. Nat'l Broad. Co., Inc., 584 F.2d 111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978).
As part of the settlement agreement, Plaintiff agreed to release all of his claims against Defendant. The only issues remaining relate to whether Co-Lin breached the terms of that settlement agreement. At issue is whether Defendant failed to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement between itself and Plaintiff when Defendant allegedly failed to release Plaintiff's transcript to Hinds County Community College, thereby preventing Plaintiff from enrolling in college. Also at issue is whether Defendant breached the settlement agreement because it failed to erase Plaintiff's debt. Although Plaintiff raised new claims in response to the summary judgment motion and at the summary judgment hearing, such as violations of the First Amendment, bankruptcy laws, and the Family and Educational Privacy Act, these claims were not contained in Plaintiff's complaint; therefore, the Court will not consider them. Defendant also seeks liquidated damages based on Plaintiff's breach of the confidentiality terms contained in the settlement agreement and additional sanctions and attorney fees based on Plaintiff's misconduct.
Release of Acadmic Transcript
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached the terms of the settlement agreement when it refused to release his Co-Lin academic transcript to Hinds. It is undisputed that Plaintiff agreed to and signed the settlement agreement. Included in the terms of the agreement, Plaintiff was required to direct all requests for academic transcripts to Michael Tanner, who is the Vice President of Business Affairs at Co-Lin. Doc.  at 4. It is undisputed that when Plaintiff made his transcript request on August 5, 2014, he did not direct his request to Tanner. Rather, he faxed a transcript request form instructing Co-Lin to send his transcript to Hinds. Doc.  at 3. Plaintiff also spoke to Gay Langham, Co-Lin's Student's Records Manager, who explained that there was a hold on Plaintiff's account. Doc.  at 10; Doc. [51-7]. Langham informed Plaintiff that she could not process his request until Tanner approved it. Id. The summary judgment evidence further demonstrates that on August 6th, Langham submitted Plaintiff's request to Chris Warren, Co-Lin's College Registrar and Director of Admissions and Records, who then forwarded the request to Tanner. Doc. [51-7]. Tanner approved the request. Doc. [51-4]. The summary judgment evidence indicates that Co-Lin electronically transmitted Plaintiff's transcript to Hinds on August 6, 2014. Hinds received the transcript that same day. Doc. [51-6]. Plaintiff testified that when he spoke with Gwendolyn Strong, a data entry clerk at Hinds' Utica campus, on August 5th and 6th, she informed him that Hinds had not yet received his Co-Lin transcript. Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on August 8, 2014, alleging a breach of the settlement agreement.
Based on the competent summary judgment evidence, the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact on the issue of whether Defendant breached the settlement agreement by failing to forward Plaintiff's transcript to Hinds. Other than Plaintiff's speculation and hearsay testimony, all of the evidence points to the fact that, once the request had been submitted to Tanner and approved by him, Co-Lin did in fact send Plaintiff's transcript to Hinds. Langham, Warren and Tanner all stated that Co-Lin sent Plaintiff's transcript on August 6, 2014. Doc. [51-4], [51-7] & [51-9]. Randall Harris, the District Registrar for Hinds Community College, stated that he received Plaintiff's transcript on August 6th. Doc. [51-6]. Harris further explained that the transcript may not have been processed on the day it was received by Hinds, but that it could have taken up to August 11th before the transcript processed and became visible in the system. Id. On August 8th, a mere two days after he thought his transcript had not been forwarded to Hinds, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit. Plaintiff argues that the requirement of directing transcript requests from Tanner goes against standard protocol for transcript requests. His argument ignores the fact that he agreed to a specific protocol as part of his settlement, i.e. that he request his Co-Lin transcript through Tanner. Any delay in the transcript transmittal occurred because Plaintiff failed to direct his request for transcript to Tanner directly, as required by the terms of the settlement agreement.
In contradiction to Defendant's summary judgment evidence, Plaintiff testified at the summary judgment hearing that as of November 2014, Hinds Community College had not received his transcript. Doc.  at 25. He bases this argument on inadmissible hearsay testimony of Tamika Smith, an admissions counselor at Hinds. He also referenced his online application to Hinds and student profile, which were not completed until December 13, 2014. Doc.  at 12-22. According to Plaintiff, the fact that his application was not completed until December 13, 2014, constitutes proof that Hinds did not have his transcripts prior to that time. The Court has reviewed these documents and there is nothing in them indicating when Hinds received Plaintiff's transcripts from Co-Lin. The documents merely show that the Hinds application was completed on December 13, 2014, but without any reference to Plaintiff's Co-Lin ...