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Richardson-Graves v. Empire Beauty School

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 25, 2015

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 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 second amended complaint fails to state federal constitutional claims upon which relief can be granted, and we recommend that such claims be dismissed. We also recommend that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims.

II. Background and Procedural History.

Richardson-Graves began this action by filing a complaint on February 25, 2013.[1] On April 24, 2013, the District Court adopted the undersigned's Report and Recommendation that the case should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, with leave to amend. After Richardson-Graves filed an amended complaint, the District Court granted her leave to file a second amended complaint, which Richardson-Graves filed on July 18, 2013. See Docs. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 . The second amended complaint names as defendants the following entities and individuals: (1) Empire Beauty School; (2) Jacalyn Patton, [2] the executive director of Empire Beauty School; (3) Empire Education Group; (4) Delia Sube, an executive official of the Empire Education Group (these first four defendants are hereinafter referred to as the "Empire Defendants"); and (5) the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS).

Richardson-Graves alleges that she attended Empire Beauty School for almost two months (from December 10, 2011 to February 2, 2012) during which time she maintained regular attendance and above average grades. She alleges that she had no disciplinary infractions, no problems with staff, and, with the exception of one other student, no problems with other students. According to Richardson-Graves, on or about February 2, 2012, [3] a loud verbal argument broke out between her and another student, who had continuously verbally abused and bullied her. The argument was loud and contained profanity, but it did not involve physical contact because teachers separated the students.

On her way home after the altercation, Richardson-Graves received a phone call from defendant Patton telling her that she was suspended from school. When Richardson-Graves asked Patton if the other student had also been suspended and stated that she would return to school the following Monday to "see, " Patton construed the language as a threat and informed Richardson-Graves that she was terminated from Empire Beauty School.

Richardson-Graves alleges that on several occasions she and her mother and grandparents contacted "all relevant officials" at Empire Beauty School in order to appeal the termination or to, at least, receive a fair and impartial hearing. All of Richardson-Graves's calls to Patton and Empire Beauty School went unanswered. On or about February 13, 2012, Richardson-Graves wrote a letter to defendant Sube in an attempt to appeal her termination, but Sube upheld the termination. On November 6, 2012, Richardson-Graves filed a complaint with NACCAS, which responded on November 21, 2012, that it had closed its investigation of her complaint because its complaint process is designed as a tool to monitor compliance with their standards.

Richardson-Graves contends that Empire Education Group has an established disciplinary procedure that does not list termination as an option on a first offense. She further alleges that the student handbook states that "physical violence and threats of violence can mean immediate dismissal/suspension without previous warning." Per Richardson-Graves, during her initial enrollment and orientation, she never heard that a student who was involved in a dispute "where it involved either threats of violence or physical violence would result in immediate termination without an opportunity to be heard in a formal hearing."

Richardson-Graves contends that due to her termination from Empire Beauty School, her career opportunities have been harmed and her ability to obtain employment has been threatened, which hinders her ability to financially care for her two-year old daughter.

In her second amended complaint, Richardson-Graves 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 late April of 2014, the Empire Defendants and NACCAS respectively filed motions to dismiss the second amended complaint. 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 ...

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