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Roland Ma v. Department of Education

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 30, 2019

ROLAND MA, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the report and recommendation of the Honorable Mary Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 13), Plaintiff's motion for judicial review (Dkt. No. 18) and motion for reconsideration (Dkt. No. 19) and Defendant University of Southern California's (hereinafter “USC”) motion for protective order or in the alternative to quash (Dkt. No. 22). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby ADOPTS Judge Theiler's report and recommendation, DENIES Plaintiff's motion for judicial review and motion for reconsideration, and GRANTS Defendant USC's motion for protective order or in the alternative motion to quash for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 18, 2019, Plaintiff Roland Ma initiated this lawsuit by filing a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (hereinafter “IFP”). (Dkt. No. 1.) In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts that the United States Department of Education “failed to protect students by enforcing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Section 504, in accordance to the most recent Case Processing Manual (CPM) issued on November 19, 2018.” (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 4.) He additionally alleges that Defendant USC “failed to provide reasonable accommodations in accordance to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, and the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, which also prohibits retaliation against the individuals.” (Id.)

         The Court recently presided over a lawsuit filed by Plaintiff that alleges nearly identical claims against USC. See Ma v. Univ. of S. Cal., No. C18-1778-JCC (W.D. Wash. 2018).[1] A brief background of that lawsuit's procedural and factual history provides important context to understand the Court's rulings on all of the present motions.

         On December 11, 2018, Plaintiff initiated his prior lawsuit by filing a motion for leave to proceed IFP. Ma v. Univ. of S. Cal., No. C18-1778-JCC, Dkt. No. 1. After initially requiring Plaintiff to file a revised application, Judge Theiler granted him IFP status. Id. at Dkt. Nos. 3, 9. In his amended IFP application-filed December 14, 2018-Plaintiff reported that he was unemployed, had $20 cash on hand, $100 in his checking account, and $0 in his savings account. Id. at Dkt. No. 4. He reported that, in the past 12 months, he had received $4, 562.10 in “Business, profession or other self-employment” as well as $2, 851.33 in “Disability, unemployment, workers compensation or public assistance.” Id. Plaintiff's IFP application stated that his “Parents pay for HOA dues, ” and that he was receiving “food stamps ($202/month), Medicaid (Apple Heath), and Seattle UDP.” Id.

         Plaintiff's prior lawsuit alleged that USC violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232f. Id. at Dkt. No. 10. Plaintiff's claims arose out of his enrollment at, and eventual expulsion from, USC. Id. In Summer 2018, Plaintiff was a student in USC's School of Social Work and had received certain accommodations for his claimed disability. Id. In July 2018, USC initiated an administrative proceeding against Plaintiff after one of his professors complained about his inappropriate behavior, which included verbally assaulting her, making threats, and filing a complaint with her professional licensing organization. Id.

         The administrative action ended with USC suspending and then expelling Plaintiff. Id. In his lawsuit, Plaintiff essentially alleged that USC's decision to suspend and expel him was in retaliation for seeking accommodations for his disability. Id. He additionally alleged that USC violated FERPA because it unlawfully disclosed some of his educational records throughout the administrative proceeding. Id. As a result of Plaintiff's conduct in the underlying administrative proceeding-which was characterized as harassing and threatening-two USC professors received civil protection orders against Plaintiff. Id. at Dkt. Nos. 57, 59. In addition, one of USC's attorneys of record, AnneMarie Hoovler McDowell (hereinafter “Ms. Hoovler”), obtained a civil protection order against Plaintiff in King County District Court because of his harassing conduct toward her. Id. at Dkt. No. 29.

         On February 1, 2019, the Court granted USC's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 and FERPA claims, leaving only his ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims to proceed. Id. at Dkt. No. 72. The Court subsequently denied Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, motion to appoint counsel, and motion to continue a status conference scheduled for March 26, 2019. Id. at Dkt. Nos. 73, 83, 86. On March 18, 2019, at Plaintiff's request, the Court voluntarily dismissed his remaining claims. Id. at Dkt. No. 86. Plaintiff represented to the Court that it should voluntarily dismiss his claims because he would not be able to attend a status conference until at least April 2019. Id. at 84.

         Just hours later, Plaintiff filed this nearly identical lawsuit, again seeking leave to proceed IFP. (Dkt. No. 1.) Judge Theiler directed Plaintiff to file an amended IFP application because his initial application contained several omissions and discrepancies with the application he had filed just months earlier in the prior lawsuit. (Dkt. No. 4.) Judge Theiler wrote:

Plaintiff indicates total yearly income in the amount of $9, 827.46 and total yearly expenses in the amount of $14, 565.00, but does not explain how he pays for the expenses exceeding his income. He omits information regarding financial resources previously reported in a different case filed in this Court. See Ma v. University of Southern California, C18-1778-JCC (Dkt. 4 at 1) (“Parents pay for HOA dues”). He fails to indicate whether and in what amounts he possesses in cash on hand and in checking and savings accounts. (See Dkt. 1 at 2.) In addition, plaintiff indicates he “just made the first payment” on an automobile, and appears to indicate he pays a monthly amount of $427.00 towards that purchase.

(Id. at 1-2.) Judge Theiler expressed concern that “plaintiff is not providing complete information regarding his financial status.” (Id. at 2.) Judge Theiler directed Plaintiff to file an amended application within 20 days, which included:

[C]omplete and detailed information, with specifics as to his income, any benefits, gifts or inheritances, or other sources of money, including money or other support received from family members. Plaintiff must also provide a detailed description of his monthly expenses, including specific monthly amounts paid towards housing and his vehicle, as well as a more detailed breakdown of all of his other monthly expenses.

(Id.) On March 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response to Judge Theiler's order. (Dkt. No. 7.) Plaintiff stated that “the discrepancy between the expenses of $14, 565.00 in the year of 2018, and the income of $9, 827.46 in the year of 2018 is due to a one-time tort claim payment of $4, 736 received in the year of 2018.” (Id. at 7.) He went on to write that “I have re-affirmed with my accountant, Seke Jung, CPA, that settlement payment from tort claim is not taxable, and should be excluded from taxpayer's gross income as stated in federal laws.” (Id.) He attached documentation to his response confirming that he had just secured a new auto loan with an initial balance of $28, 355.36, on which he was making monthly payments of $427. (Id. at 1-4.) Notwithstanding Judge Theiler's ...


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