United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Mark R. Hornak, Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Maureen P. Kelly, Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff Anna Sibeto (“Plaintiff” or “Sibeto”) has initiated this action against Defendant Capella University (“Defendant” or “Cappella”), asserting four claims arising out of Capella’s alleged misrepresentations and breach of contract regarding available educational services in connection with her doctoral dissertation. In particular, Sibeto alleges claims for (1) breach of contract; (2) intentional misrepresentation; (3) negligent misrepresentation; and (4) violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”).
Capella has filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff’s intentional and negligent misrepresentation claims, as well her UTPCPL claim. For the following reasons, it is respectfully recommended that the motion be granted with respect to Plaintiff’s intentional and negligent misrepresentation claims, and denied as to her UTPCPL claim.
A. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true the factual allegations in the Complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, for the purposes of this decision, the essential facts are as follows.
Sibeto, a Pennsylvania resident, seeks compensatory, treble and punitive damages in excess of $75, 000, from Capella, a Minnesota corporation, and asserts diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). In her Complaint, Sibeto alleges that since at least 2003, she has been a Spanish and French teacher at Moon High School. Hoping to further her career and income prospects, Sibeto applied to Capella University’s Professional Studies doctoral program in the School of Education. She was accepted into the program and enrolled during the summer of 2003.
Sibeto alleges that upon her enrollment, a valid and binding contract was formed between the parties whereby she “agreed to purchase and Capella agreed to provide a doctoral-level education culminating in ... a doctoral degree after she completed certain requisite coursework.” Complaint, ECF No. 1, ¶ 11. As part of Capella’s doctoral program, Sibeto was required to complete a dissertation. The Complaint incorporates Capella’s “Dissertation Manual” which describes the terms and conditions for satisfactory completion of the required dissertation, and sets forth Capella’s obligation to mentor each doctoral candidate through the process. In particular, the Dissertation Manual obligated Capella to provide a mentor to
1. “guide and support the learner;”
2. “provide feedback on the learner’s research and writing skills, and refer … [the learner] to additional support services … when those skills need further development;”
3. Engage in efforts with the learner on the “communication skills of writing, discussing and negotiation;”
4. “[E]nsure that the proposal … and the completed dissertation comply with all criteria used to evaluate acceptable scholar-practitioner work at the doctoral level;” and, 5. “[G]uid[e] the learner through the development of the proposal … and supervis[e] the learner in conducting the research project.”
Complaint, ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 21(a) – 21(e).
Sibeto alleges that after completing the comprehensive course requirements in 2005, Capella’s mentors provided “very little, if any, communication” or assistance with regard to the development and execution of her required dissertation. Her first mentor, Dr. Conrad, allegedly offered no feedback or guidance and delayed until June 2006 to inform Sibeto that she should find a different mentor. Her second mentor, Dr. Amar Almasude also failed to offer Sibeto any guidance. In January 2008, Sibeto contacted her academic advisor to complain about the lack of guidance and was told to contact “the head of the Department of Professional Studies” for assistance. Sibeto alleges that in recognition of the mentor-related difficulties, Capella reimbursed her for one-quarter of the ...