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Kristen Hart v. University of Scranton and George Jones

March 26, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)


Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss of Plaintiff Kristen Hart's Amended Complaint. (Doc. 11.) Hart alleges she was expelled from Defendant University of Scranton in breach of her contract with the University. Because Hart has not identified any specific contractual promise that the Defendants failed to honor, I will dismiss her Amended Complaint in full for failure to state a cause of action.


Plaintiff Kristen Hart alleges the following. From January of 2009 to approximately August of 2010, Hart was an online student at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 13-16, Doc. 11.) One of her classes, a practicum in elementary education, was taught by Professor George Jones. Hart included text she composed for another class in an assignment for Professor Jones, which Professor Jones construed as plagiarism. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-18.) 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 in her career as a teacher. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Hart filed her original Complaint on August 23, 2011. In an Order dated December 16, 2011, I granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss but granted Hart leave to file an amended complaint. Hart filed her Amended Complaint on January 3, 2011, which was followed thereafter by Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on January 20, 2012. Hart's Amended Complaint alleges a sole claim for breach of contract.*fn1 Specifically, Hart alleges the Defendants: (1) illegally dismissed her from the University; (2) breached provisions in the University's Academic Code of Honesty by "expelling [her] for plagiarism, when no such plagiarism existed"; (3) failed to give her a hearing or an opportunity to confront the evidence or witnesses against her; and (4) failed to give her an opportunity to present evidence in her favor. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 31.) The Defendants' Motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the Court's review.


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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 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 (3d Cir. 2009). 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," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "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." Id. at 1950.

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 "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

II. Plaintiff's Claim for Breach of Contract

Hart alleges that the Defendants breached their contractual obligations by illegally dismissing her from the University, violating the University handbook's definition in regard to plagiarism, and failing to allow her a hearing or opportunity to present evidence before her dismissal. Because Hart still fails to point to concrete representations ...

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