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Maryann Cottrell and Richard G. Holland v. Rowan University

April 5, 2011

MARYANN COTTRELL AND RICHARD G. HOLLAND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROWAN UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter involves plaintiffs' claims that defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, and their First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection constitutional rights when they banned plaintiffs from entering the Rowan University campus, and terminated plaintiff Richard Holland's employment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons expressed below defendants' motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Maryann Cottrell is the mother of a severely disabled daughter, and she and plaintiff Richard Holland share the responsibility of her care. Plaintiffs are advocates for the disabled, and they inform local authorities about businesses that fail to maintain handicap accessible parking and fail to discourage unauthorized use of handicapped parking spaces. Plaintiffs have filed numerous cases throughout this District against businesses for their ADA-violative conduct. This case concerns plaintiffs' enforcement activities on the campus of Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Intertwined with their claims regarding their handicapped parking violation monitoring efforts are claims regarding Holland's termination from employment with Rowan as a groundskeeper.

Beginning in September 2005, plaintiffs focused their attention on handicapped parking violations on Rowan's campus. Over the course of the fall semester, plaintiffs observed what they perceived to be handicapped space parking violations. They would approach the alleged perpetrators, take photos or video of them and their vehicles, and file citizens complaints against them for prosecution in municipal court. Several of these alleged perpetrators reported to Rowan University officials that they had been harassed, frightened, and threatened by the plaintiffs and their conduct. Rowan University security personnel also reported that plaintiffs were uncooperative, rude, and confrontational with them while they tried to address plaintiffs' interactions with the alleged parking violators.

Although plaintiffs dispute that their enforcement activities caused any consternation to Rowan students, staff, visitors or administration, by January 30, 2006, their conduct over the course of several months resulted in Rowan University issuing them a trespass letter banning them from campus. (Def. Ex. C.) The letter informed them that they could appeal that decision in writing within fifteen days.

Cottrell filed a letter of appeal; Holland did not. Cottrell was notified on March 15, 2006 that a hearing on her appeal would be held on March 30, 2006. The letter, issued by defendant Edward Schoen, the Dean of the College of Business who would be serving as the hearing officer, informed her that she would be able to present evidence, including witnesses, at the hearing concerning the ten specific incidents listed in the January 30, 2006 trespass notice. Schoen told Cottrell that if she did not participate in the hearing it would still proceed in her absence. (Def. Ex. Y.) Schoen also informed Cottrell of the evidentiary standard he would follow in weighing of the evidence. If she was not satisfied with his decision, Schoen told her that she could file an appeal with defendant Drew Calandrella, Rowan University's Vice President for Student Affairs. If Cottrell did not appeal Schoen's decision, it would become final; if she did not appeal Calandrella's decision, it would become final. Should she wish to appeal Calandrella's decision, Schoen informed Cottrell that she would then need to take the matter to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.

On March 30, 2006, Cottrell appeared at the hearing before Schoen. She refused to participate, however, because her request for a continuance was rejected. Cottrell claims that she had asked for a continuance because she was handed a "discovery packet" minutes prior to the hearing, and did not have time to prepare. She also refused to participate in the hearing because it would not be recorded, it was not "sanctioned" by any court, and Schoen was not a "judge of any magnitude with the State of New Jersey." (Pl. Br. at 10.)

At the hearing, held in Cottrell's absence, testimony was presented by ten witnesses, and eleven incident reports were accepted into the record. On April 10, 2006, Schoen issued a nine-page hearing decision, in which he found that in ten documented incidents, Cottrell acted hostile, harassing, disruptive, and aggressive to Rowan University staff, students, and visitors, including a nine year old child, a diabetic pregnant woman, and a student with spinal meningitis. Schoen found that the trespass notice was correctly issued to Cottrell, and that she was banned from campus until June 1, 2008. If she were to enter the campus without prior authorization from the public safety office during that time, she would be subject to arrest. (Def. Ex. Z.) Holland was banned for the same period for the same reasons. Neither Cottrell nor Holland appealed that decision to Calandrella or the New Jersey Superior Court.*fn1

During this time, pending was an appeal by Holland of his 1997 termination from employment with Rowan University. In 1997, Holland had been hired as a groundskeeper, but was terminated two months later due to a conviction for possession of fifty grams of marijuana with intent to distribute. Holland appealed both his termination and his criminal conviction. Ultimately, his criminal conviction was overturned,*fn2 and his position at Rowan reinstated. See In re Holland, 2007 WL 2570222, *1 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2007). In March 2008, Holland returned to work at Rowan as a groundskeeper. Because of Holland's return to work, Rowan lifted his trespass ban three months early.

Holland only worked for Rowan for five months. During that time, Holland received unsatisfactory progress reports due to his failure to properly perform his grounds maintenance duties, unauthorized breaks, taking excessive personal calls on his cell phone, taking maintenance department vehicles to areas of campus not relevant to his work, taking pictures during work hours, tape recording conversations without the consent of co-workers and supervisors, making co-workers feel uncomfortable, and excessive absences. On May 9, 2008, sixteen grounds department employees sent the Office of Employee Relations and Office of Equity and Diversity a joint letter complaining that Holland's behaviors and actions were "detrimental and intimidating to the inner-workings of the department." (Def. Ex. QQ.) Twelve separate letters were also separately sent by grounds department employees complaining about Holland. (Def. Exs. II, JJ, KK, LL, OO, PP, RR, SS, TT, UU, VV, and WW.) Additionally, a Rowan secretary, not in the grounds department, complained about Holland's behavior and expressed that she was threatened by Holland's presence. (Def. Ex. ZZ.) On July 12, 2008, Holland was terminated from employment at the end of his working test period due to two unsatisfactory progress reports, which detailed his sub-par performance and other conduct.

Two additional incidents occurred on Rowan's campus that, upon amending their complaint, became part of plaintiffs' current suit. On August 27, 2008, a mother of a student filed a report to campus police stating that Cottrell approached her with a video camera very near to her face, causing her to fear for her safety. The mother was delivering medicine to her son, who was a Rowan student.

On August 30, 2008, during student move-in day, the parking lots adjacent to the residence halls were closed to vehicles, and only students and their families were allowed to drop off their belongings at the curb and then move along. Students with disabilities were given special access. Both plaintiffs entered the parking lot of one residence hall, refused to move their parked vehicle, yelled at various security personnel and confronted the president of the university. Plaintiffs complained about the covered handicapped parking signs and how Rowan security allowed cars to illegally park at the curb and in the handicapped parking area.*fn3

As a result of these two incidents, on September 19, 2008, Rowan issued plaintiffs a warning notice. (Def. Ex. AAA.) The notice detailed the two incidents on August 27 and 30, and informed plaintiffs that "if you engage in further disruptive activity on the Rowan University Campus, interfering with the University's operations, a trespass notice will be issued to you, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3." (Id.) No trespass notice was issued pursuant to this warning.

On April 10, 2008, plaintiffs filed their complaint, later amended on July 10, 2009, against Rowan University, Timothy Michener,*fn4 Drew Calandrella,*fn5 Edward J. Schoen, Rowan University Police Department, and Edward Thompson. Plaintiffs claim that defendants violated their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. ยง 12181 et seq. ("ADA"), New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. ("NJLAD"), and New Jersey's Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et seq., as well as violated their First Amendment, Due Process and Equal Protections right under the ...

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