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Michael Eric Prete v. Roger Williams University School of Law and

December 12, 2012

MICHAEL ERIC PRETE
v.
ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW AND CHRISTOPHER NERONHA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph N. Laplante United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This age discrimination case arises out of Roger Williams University School of Law's (the "law school") decision to deny early admission to plaintiff Michael Eric Prete. Prete has brought suit against the law school and Christopher Neronha, the Associate General Counsel for Roger Williams University, alleging that the law school denied him admission as an undergraduate junior on the basis of his age, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, cl. 4, and the Age Discrimination in Federally Assisted Programs Act ("Age Discrimination Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 6101 et seq. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that Prete has failed to state a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).

This court has jurisdiction over the equal protection challenge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question). The parties disagree as to whether the court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over Prete's Age Discrimination Act claim. After hearing oral argument on both the defendant's motion to dismiss and Prete's motion for a preliminary injunction, the court concludes that it cannot entertain Prete's Age Discrimination Act claim because Prete neither provided notice to defendants nor exhausted his administrative remedies before filing suit.*fn1 Prete's equal protection claim also fails because the law school is not a state actor bound by the Fourteenth Amendment.

I. Applicable legal standards

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's complaint must make factual allegations sufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., Martino v. Forward Air, Inc., 609 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 2010). The court "may consider not only the complaint but also facts extractable from documentation annexed to or incorporated by reference in the complaint and matters susceptible to judicial notice." Rederford v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 589 F.3d 30, 35 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal quotation omitted). With the facts so construed, "questions of law [are] ripe for resolution at the pleadings stage." Simmons v. Galvin, 575 F.3d 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2009).

The standard of decision for a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) is identical to that applicable to Rule 12(b)(6) motions, Sam M. ex. rel. Elliot v. Chafee, 800 F. Supp. 2d 363, 370 (D.R.I. 2011), however, a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction "involves a court's power to hear a case." Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Amer., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Consequently, a court without jurisdiction over a claim must dismiss it. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). "The burden of proving federal court jurisdiction is on the party invoking the jurisdiction." Pejepscot Indus. Park, Inc. v. Maine Cent. R. Co., 215 F.3d 195, 200 (1st Cir. 2000).

II. Background

Prete, age 20 as of July 16, 2012*fn2 , is an undergraduate student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. Roger Williams University School of Law is an ABA-accredited law school also located in Bristol. The law school is a private institution that receives financial assistance from the federal government.

In 2010, Roger Williams University accepted Prete into its "Three-Plus-Three program." The program allows Roger Williams University undergraduate students to begin their first year of law school during their fourth year of undergraduate study--provided they are able to gain early admission to the law school. Early acceptance into the law school is guaranteed to students who (1) satisfy Roger Williams University's undergraduate requirements, (2) achieve a Law School Admissions Test ("LSAT") score that is at or above the law school's median accepted score for the prior year, and (3) present no serious character or fitness issues.

Prete sat for the LSAT during the first semester of his junior year. He scored 149, two points below the law school's median accepted LSAT score in the year prior to his application. After receiving his results, Prete contacted the law school and was informed that his score was not at or above the median accepted score of 151 and that he would not be guaranteed early admission. The law school, however, invited Prete to apply for admission the following year, his senior year of undergraduate study. Undeterred, Prete applied for early admission anyway. His application was denied.

The parties agree that Prete's LSAT score did not qualify him for guaranteed entry. According to Prete, the combination of his GPA and LSAT scores would have resulted in his admission into the law school had he been a college senior rather than an undergraduate junior. In short, Prete (completely ignoring the difference between a junior and senior under the law school's admissions policies) alleges there was "no academic reason for denial of acceptance into law school" and that he was denied admission because of his age. Prete filed this suit in the Providence Superior Court and defendants removed the case to this court.

III. Analysis

A. Age Discrimination Act claim

Prete's age discrimination claim rests on the allegation that, because the law school denied him early admission as a junior when it would have admitted a similarly-situated senior, his age was the motivating factor in the law school's decision. Rather than exploiting the manifest absurdity of Prete's substantive argument (there is no serious dispute that the law school denied Prete's admission because he was neither a college graduate nor an undergraduate junior who met the law school's early admissions requirements, and not because of his age)*fn3 , the defendants instead argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Prete's Age Discrimination Act claim because Prete did not exhaust administrative remedies or give notice as required under the statute. 42 U.S.C. ยง 6104. Alternatively, the defendants argue that Prete has failed to state a ...


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