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Jesse Cruz v. Seton Hall University

July 10, 2012

JESSE CRUZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SETON HALL UNIVERSITY, ABC CORPS. 1-5, ALEXANDRA BAN DYK, YOSAYRA EUSEBIO,
TARA HEART, JANE DOES 1-5, JOHN DOES 1-5,
DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Before the Court is Defendants Seton Hall University ("SHU"), Alexandra Bandyk*fn1

("Bandyk"), Yosayra Eusebio ("Eusebio") and Tara Hart's ("Hart") (collectively "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) ("Motion"). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Venue is proper in this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Defendants' Motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At the time of the events leading up to this cause of action, Jesse Cruz ("Plaintiff" or "Cruz"), an openly homosexual male, was a student at SHU. (Nicholas Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Certification ("Certif.") ¶ 3.) On August 25, 2010,*fn2 Plaintiff applied for on-campus housing for the 2010-2011 school term. (Compl. ¶ 12.) SHU's housing application and residence life form did not inquire about Plaintiff's sexual orientation or sexual preference. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 21:19-21.) On August 30, 2010, SHU assigned Cruz to room 346 in Xavier Hall. (Nicholas Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Certif. ¶¶ 5-6; Compl. ¶ 14.) On that same date, Cruz met his roommate Anthony Crisci ("Crisci"), who was already residing in the room. (Nicholas Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Certif. ¶ 7.) Within twenty minutes of meeting, Crisci informed Cruz that "he wanted to room with someone else." (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 47:2-10.) Thereafter, Crisci emailed Eusebio, Xavier Hall's Residence Director, stating that he wanted to room with someone else. (Hart Decl. Ex. B at SHU00005-6.) Following that email, Cheryl Janus, SHU's Assistant Director of Housing Services, informed Crisci that he had to follow normal protocol and wait until September 15 for "room change day." (Hart Decl. Ex. D at SHU00010.)

The next day, Cruz moved into room 346. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 55:13-25, 64:24-65:10.) That same day, Crisci discovered, through Plaintiff's Facebook profile, that Plaintiff was homosexual. (Hart Decl. Ex. E at SHU00008.) Subsequently, Crisci's mother informed SHU that her son "wanted a room change because his roommate identified himself as gay on Facebook [and that] ma[de] [him] uncomfortable." (Id.) SHU denied the request. (Id.)

On September 15, 2010, Cruz and Crisci exchanged several text messages. Crisci expressed that he wanted Cruz to move out of the room so that one of Crisci's friends could move in. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. B at JC-1.) Cruz responded that he had no desire to move out, but Crisci could move out if he wanted to. (Id. at JC-1, JC-2.) Crisci then offered to give money and assistance to Cruz if he moved out of the room. (Id. at JC-2-JC-3; Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 106:10-17.) Subsequently, Cruz contacted Dawn Ohanessian ("Ohanessian"), Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life, about the text messages. (Hart Decl. Ex. H.) Ohanessian emailed Eusebio to set up a meeting with Crisci and to contact Cruz "to see how he's doing." (Id.) Plaintiff testified that he did not stay in his room for the next few days because he "felt awkward . . . [t]hat [Crisci] wanted [him] to leave. [He also] felt that [it] was awkward to be in the room with him at that point." (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 92:23-93:5.)

On September 16, 2010, Eusebio met separately with both Cruz and Crisci and gave them three options: (1) "[t]hey both move to a vacancy in the Complex;" (2) switch with two international students from China who want to live with American roommates; or (3) "[o]ne of them chooses to move to a vacancy in the Complex." (Hart Decl. Ex. K at SHU00035-36.) According to a memo recording the meeting between Eusebio and Cruz, Cruz was amenable to moving out of the room as long as Crisci moved out as well. (Hart Decl. Ex. I.) However, Cruz denies ever agreeing to move out. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 116:7-17.)

Subsequently, Crisci attempted to contact Cruz to inform him that he changed his mind about getting a new roommate and that he wanted to make amends. (Hart Decl. Ex. L at SHU00042.) Cruz concedes that he received Crisci's messages but did not reply to them. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 97:21-98:5.) In addition, Crisci emailed Eusebio the following: "I have thought it over and I am not willing to move out of Xavier. I am willing to make this work with [Cruz] for the rest of the year. I have tried to contact him this morning and he has yet to respond." (Hart Decl. Ex. L at SHU00042.)

Cruz, on the other hand, did not tell Eusebio or Hart which option he would pursue. Consequently, Eusebio emailed Cruz and informed him that pursuant to SHU's Housing Terms and Conditions of License Agreement, both he and Crisci would be assigned to separate rooms and that he "ha[d] until Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 10:00pm to complete the move." (Hart Decl. Ex. M at SHU00050.) Four minutes after that email, Cruz responded: "I am not moving, I don't think that's in my best interest. I am seeking legal representation on this matter." (Hart Decl. Ex. M at SHU00049.) On September 17, 2010, Cruz's attorney sent a letter to Eusebio asserting that she represented Cruz and that "[a]ny attempt to remove [him] from his current room assignment will be met with an immediate LAD lawsuit." (Hart Decl. Ex. N.) On September 21, 2010, Cruz returned to the room after Crisci vacated it. He never moved out of the room. (Sponzilli Decl. Ex. A, Cruz Dep. 141:22-25.)

On March 14, 2011, Plaintiff commenced this action asserting that Defendants violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. ("LAD"), Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., the New Jersey Fair Housing Act ("NJFHA"), N.J.S.A. 52:27D-301, et seq., and the United States Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq. Cruz also asserts claims for breach of housing contract, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247--48 (1986). A fact is only "material" for purposes of a summary judgment motion if a dispute over that fact "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248. A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The dispute is not genuine if it merely involves "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party to carry its burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the non-movant who must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations, speculations, unsupported assertions or denials of its pleadings. Shields v. Zuccarini, 254 F.3d 476, 481 (3d Cir. 2001). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

The nonmoving party "must present more than just 'bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions' to show the existence of a genuine issue." Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325). Further, the nonmoving party is required to "point to concrete evidence in the record which supports each essential element of its case." Black Car Assistance Corp. v. New Jersey, 351 F. Supp. 2d 284, 286 (D.N.J. 2004). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which . . . [it has] the burden of proof," then the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

DISCUSSION

1.Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation under LAD

The LAD provides in relevant part: "All persons shall have the opportunity to . . . obtain all the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation . . . . This opportunity is recognized as and declared to be a civil right." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-4. New Jersey courts have adopted the Supreme Court's analysis in anti-discrimination statutes when analyzing claims under LAD. Grigoletti v. Ortho Pharm. Corp., 118 N.J. 89, 97 (1990). Consequently, New Jersey applies the burden-shifting test espoused in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The McDonnell Douglas framework is a three-step process where:

(1) the plaintiff must come forward with sufficient evidence to constitute a prima facie ...


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