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Kristen Hart v. University of Scranton and Professor George Jones

December 16, 2011

KRISTEN HART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF SCRANTON AND PROFESSOR GEORGE JONES DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss of Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 6). Plaintiff alleges she was expelled from Defendant University of Scranton in breach of her contract with the University, and based upon fraudulent misrepresentations made by the Defendants. The Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim on both counts. The Court agrees, and for the reasons below will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, giving leave to amend.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges the following. From January 2009 to approximately August 2010, Plaintiff Kristen Hart was an online student at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Compl. at ¶¶ 13-15, Doc. 1). One of her classes, a practicum in elementary education, was taught by Professor George Jones. Plaintiff included text she composed for another class in an assignment for Professor Jones, which Professor Jones construed as plagiarism. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). As a result, Hart received a zero grade for the course and was expelled from the University. By the time of her expulsion, Hart had spent more than $15,000 on her education at the University of Scranton. Her expulsion has also harmed her ability to advance at the school where she is a teacher. (Id. at ¶ 20).

On August 23, 2011, Hart, a citizen of New Jersey, brought this action pursuant to diversity jurisdiction against the Pennsylvania Defendants, alleging breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. She is seeking damages in excess of $150,000, as well as equitable relief, including reinstatement at the University. (Id. at ¶¶ 21, 24). On October 28, 2011, the Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). The Motion to Dismiss has now been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Detailed factual allegations are not required.

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211. Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or ...


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