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Richardson-Graves v. Empire Beauty School

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 5, 2014

EMPIRE BEAUTY SCHOOL, et al., Defendants.


SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction.

After an altercation with a fellow student, the plaintiff, Destiny Richardson-Graves, was suspended and then terminated from Empire Beauty School. Richardson-Graves filed this action raising a number of state-law claims as well as federal constitution claims arising from the termination of her beauty school education. The problem, however, is that Richardson-Graves has sued private entities who cannot be held liable for constitutional violations. Thus, the complaint fails to state federal constitutional claims, and we recommend that the federal claims be dismissed. Because we recommend that the federal claims be dismissed, we also recommend that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims and that the Court remand those claims to the state court.

II. Background and Procedural History.

Richardson-Graves began this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania in December of 2013.[1] The complaint names as defendants the following entities and individuals: (1) Empire Beauty School; (2) Jacolyn Patton, the executive director of Empire Beauty School; (3) Empire Education Group; (4) Delia Sube, the President of Empire Education Group; and (5) the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS).

Richardson-Graves alleges that she attended Empire Beauty School for a little more than a year during which time she maintained regular attendance and above average grades. She alleges that she had no disciplinary infractions or problems with staff or with other students with the exception of one other student who harassed and attempted to bully her. According to Richardson-Graves, she made several attempts to inform staff about this student, but she was told to just ignore the other student, and defendant Patton told Richardson-Graves and the other student to stay away from each other. At the end of one day in February of 2012, a loud verbal argument broke out between Richardson-Graves and the other student, who had taunted Richardson-Graves. The argument was loud, and threats such as "bitch I'll kick your ass" were made by one or the other of the students. Richardson-Graves alleges that while there never was any physical confrontation, she and the other student were in close proximity, and two teachers were needed to separate them.

On her way home after the altercation, Richardson-Graves received a phone call from defendant Patton telling her that she was suspended from school. Richardson-Graves asked Patton if the other student had also been suspended, and Patton told her not worry about that. Richardson-Graves then said that she was coming back to the school the next day to get her things and see if the other student was suspended. Patton asked if that was a threat, and Richardson-Graves said: "It's not a threat, I'm just coming back to see." According to Richardson-Graves, Patton said she was construing what was said as a threat and that Richardson-Graves was terminated from Empire Beauty School.

Richardson-Graves alleges that her mother went to the school the next day and spoke to Patton, who held fast in her decision to terminate Richardson-Graves from the school. According to Richardson-Graves, her mother and grandparents contacted higher authorities at Empire Education Group, to no avail. Richardson-Graves then wrote a letter to defendant Sube in an attempt to appeal and/or exhaust any remedies with respect to her termination, but Sube upheld the termination. Richardson-Graves then submitted a letter to NACCAS attempting to appeal the decision terminating her from Empire Beauty School. That too was to no avail. Richardson-Graves contends that she was never provided an opportunity to tell her side of the story prior to being suspended and terminated and that she was denied fair hearing procedures and an opportunity to be heard after her termination.

In her complaint, Richardson-Graves presents a number of state-law claims such as breach of contract, conflict of interest, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Richardson-Graves also claims that the defendants violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying her due process. As relief, Richardson-Graves is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

In January of 2014, NACCAS removed the case to this court. NACCAS then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. Defendants Empire Beauty School, Empire Education Group, Patton, and Sube (the Empire defendants) filed a separate motion to dismiss. We now address those motions, which have been fully briefed.

III. Discussion.

A. Motion to Dismiss and Pleading Standards.

In accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court may dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." When reviewing a motion to dismiss, "[w]e must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe the complaint in the light favorable to the plaintiff, and ultimately determine whether plaintiff may be entitled to relief under any reasonable reading of the complaint." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 229 (3d Cir. 2010). In making that determination, we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the [plaintiff's] claims are based upon these documents." Id. at 230.

"A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)." I.H. ex rel. D.S. v. Cumberland Valley Sch. Dist., 842 F.Supp.2d 762, 769-70 (M.D. Pa. 2012). "Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and of the grounds upon which it rests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but more is required than labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "In other words, 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). "A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts." Id.

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the complaint are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally, a court need not "assume that a... plaintiff can prove facts that the... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

Following Twombly and Iqbal, a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, it must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. In practice, ...

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