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Hussey v. Minnesota State Services for Blind

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 11, 2019

Alexandra Noelle Hussey, Plaintiff,
Minnesota State Services for the Blind; Carol Pandow; Brianna Mehr; Natasha Lamler; Maurita Christensen; and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Defendants.

          Alexandra Noelle Hussey, plaintiff pro se.

          Kathryn Fodness, Minnesota Attorney General counsel for defendants.


          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon defendants' motion to dismiss, plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, and defendants' motion to strike. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion to dismiss, denies the motion for leave to amend, and denies the motion to strike as moot.


         This civil rights dispute arises out of plaintiff Alexandra Noelle Hussey's interactions with defendants between 2007 and 2014. Hussey alleges that defendants illegally forced her to withdraw from a state-administered vocational rehabilitation program and made false statements about her in a 2014 assessment report.

         I. The Parties

         Hussey is a legally blind Minnesota resident. Am. Compl. at 9. Defendant Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) provides counseling, training, professional development, and job placement services for the visually impaired. Id. SSB is a division of defendant Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), a state agency. Id. From 1996 through 2014, SSB provided Hussey with vocational rehabilitation services and support to start a horticulture business. Id. The individual defendants - Carol Pandow, Brianna Mehr, Natasha Lemler, and Maurita Christensen - were DEED employees who provided services and counseling to Hussey. Id.

         II. Vocational Rehabilitation Services

         In 2007, Hussey, a student and employee at the University of Minnesota, was enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation services program through SSB. Id. at 7. Through that program, Hussey received a monthly living stipend and job placement assistance. Id. As part of her job placement assistance, Hussey was required to prepare an independent plan for employment (IPE).[1] Id.

         In the spring of 2007, SSB asked Hussey to complete an updated IPE. Id. Hussey was reluctant to do so because she believed that the updated information would cause her to lose her stipend and job at the University of Minnesota.[2] Id. at 8-9. Hussey alleges that she agreed to complete the updated IPE, but only after SSB told her that it would terminate her stipend if she did not do so. Id. at 8.

         Soon thereafter, Hussey found temporary employment through the AmeriCorps Vista program. Id. Hussey continued to work with SSB to find permanent employment. Id. In late 2007, SSB assigned Hussey a vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC). Id. Hussey told her VRC that she wanted to become an environmental lawyer, but claims that the VRC was condescending and did not help her with job placement or law school applications. Id. at 9. SSB assigned Hussey a new VRC, but Hussey claims that the new VRC also failed to properly assist her. Id.

         In late 2008, Hussey was scheduled to interview for a permanent position at Lutheran Social Services. Id. Hussey's new VRC recommended that she not pursue the position because it required a valid driver's license, which she did not have. Id. The VRC also dissuaded Hussey from pursuing a temporary position with the University of Minnesota. Id. at 10. Instead, the VRC recommended that Hussey attend training at Vision Loss Resources. Id. Hussey agreed to the training but found the experience “odd” because it included unusual braille and JAWS training. Id. Vision Loss Resources released Hussey from the program in April 2009 following an argument she had with the project manager. Id. According to Hussey, SSB blamed her for the argument and suggested that she seek counseling. Id.

         In July 2011, Hussey secured permanent employment with Crisis Connection. Id. at 12. She quit several months later due to concerns that management did not treat employees and clients properly. Id. Hussey also reported to her VRC that she was bullied at Crisis Connection. Id. She alleges that SSB did not address her concerns. Id.

         III. Business Start-Up

         In addition to providing rehabilitation services, SSB helped Hussey start a small horticulture business between 2010 and 2014. Id. SSB approved Hussey's initial business plan and provided funding for new supplies. Id. at 13. SSB later told Hussey, however, that she made too many changes to her initial business plan and that she would have to complete a revised plan. Id.

         In 2013, SSB assigned Hussey yet another VRC, defendant Natasha Lemler, to assist Hussey in revising her plan. Id. Soon thereafter, Hussey requested another VRC because she felt that Lemler did not timely respond to emails and was difficult to work with. Id. at 13-14.

         In January 2014, Hussey met with defendant Carol Pandow to discuss her business plan and her dissatisfaction with SSB's assistance. Id. Pandow rejected Hussey's business plan and requested that Hussey undertake another assessment to determine suitable employment opportunities. Id. Hussey disagreed that she needed another assessment and appealed Pandow's decision to SSB's workforce director. Id. It appears that the director supported Pandow's decision. Id.

         In mid-2014, defendant Maurita Christensen completed Hussey's revised assessment. Id. Hussey claims that the assessment included false information about her service dog's retirement date and other unspecified defaming statements about her personality and “thought processes.” Id. at 15. Hussey complained to Pandow, who refused to amend the assessment. Id. Pandow instead recommended that Hussey “work with her team to resolve the problem.” Id.

         Hussey alleges that the false information in the assessment caused defendant Brianna Mehr to challenge her updated business plan. Id. Hussey further alleges that SSB shared the false information with “at least two others” outside of SSB. Id. at 16-17. Hussey claims that SSB staff ultimately ...

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