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Gouda v. Harcum Junior College

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 4, 2015

LAMIS GOUDA, Plaintiff,
v.
HARCUM JUNIOR COLLEGE; JOYCE WELLIVER; and JULIA S. INGERSOLL, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

Anita B. Brody, J.

Plaintiff Lamis Gouda brings suit against Defendants Harcum Junior College ("Harcum"), Joyce Welliver, and Julia S. Ingersoll, alleging a variety of claims arising out of Gouda's dismissal from Harcum's Nursing Program.[1] Gouda claims that Defendants did not follow Harcum's disciplinary rules or internal grievance procedures when dismissing her. Defendants move to dismiss all but one of Gouda's claims.[2] For the reasons discussed below, I will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

I. BACKGROUND[3]

In the summer of 2011, Plaintiff Lamis Gouda enrolled in the two-year Nursing Program at Defendant Harcum Junior College. Gouda successfully completed the first three semesters of Harcum's program, maintaining approximately a 3.0 grade point average. Am. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 7. Gouda had to complete two courses in her final semester in order to graduate.

In August 2013, Gouda arrived at Harcum for the first day of classes in her final semester, only to learn that Harcum had changed the format of its semester. Instead of concurrently taking two classes over a fifteen week period, students would complete two consecutive intensive classes lasting for eight and seven weeks. Id. 12. Gouda has Attention Deficit Disorder and claims that this change in format negatively impacted her ability to complete Harcum's program. Id. 15. On October 15, 2013, Gouda failed the final exam for Nursing Care of the Adults II ("NUR214"), the first of her two intensive classes in her final semester. Id. ¶¶ 10, 13-14. Gouda claims that at least a quarter of her class also failed NUR214. Id. 14.

Immediately after learning that she had failed her class, Gouda had a meeting with Defendant Joyce Welliver, a Harcum administrator, to address Gouda's graduation status and grievances regarding the change in semester format. At the meeting, Welliver informed Gouda of Harcum's internal grievance procedures, and recommended that Gouda relay these procedures to any of her classmates that had also failed NUR214. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. After the meeting, Gouda initiated the first step of the grievance process.

Gouda also responded by investigating Harcum's compliance with the standards of the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing ("ACEN"). After speaking to an ACEN representative, Gouda determined that Harcum's revised class schedule was not in compliance with its ACEN accreditation. Id. 18. Gouda filed both filed a formal complaint with ACEN and notified the other nursing students in the program that Harcum was not in compliance with its accreditation. Gouda encouraged the other students to contact ACEN with similar complaints. Id. ¶¶ 18-19; see also Id. Ex. B., ECF No. 7-1.

On October 27, 2013, in response to Gouda's communications with the Harcum student body, Welliver emailed Gouda. Welliver informed Gouda that Gouda's complaint to ACEN and her attempts to get other students to do the same violated Harcum's internal grievance procedures. Am. Compl. 21. Welliver scheduled a meeting for later that day between Gouda, Welliver, and Defendant Julia Ingersoll, Harcum's in-house counsel and a member of its Board of Directors. Gouda responded that she was unavailable to meet at that time. Id. 22. Welliver informed Gouda that a meeting "[was] not optional, " and instructed Gouda to meet with Welliver and Ingersoll on October 29, 2013, at 5:15 p.m. Id. 23 (internal quotation marks omitted). Gouda responded that she was unavailable because she had class, and informed Welliver that Gouda would not be attending any meetings without legal representation. Id. 24. In response, Ingersoll forbade Gouda from attending classes or labs until the disciplinary meeting had occurred. Id. 26.

Notwithstanding Ingersoll's message, Gouda proceeded to attend class on October 30, 2013. Gouda's instructors informed her that she was not authorized to remain in class. When Gouda refused to leave, the instructors called campus security. Id. 28. Gouda left the premises after campus security agreed to provide a statement indicating that Gouda had cooperated, and that she had been denied attendance to a course for which she had paid. Id. 29.

On November 1, 2013, Welliver dismissed Gouda from Harcum's Nursing Program. Gouda's dismissal letter cited her "lack of behavior as a responsible, accountable adult learner[, ] ... failure to demonstrate professional behavior, and refusal to cooperate with campus security on [October 30, 2013, ]" as reasons for her dismissal. Am. Compl. Ex. M, ECF No. 7-1. Gouda appealed her dismissal through Harcum's internal grievance procedures. Am. Compl. 35. Ingersoll ultimately heard Gouda's appeal, and denied Gouda's request. Given Ingersoll's prior involvement with the case, Gouda requested that someone else consider her appeal, but her request was denied. Id.

Gouda brings a variety of claims against Harcum, Welliver, and Ingersoll. Against all three Defendants, Gouda alleges breach of contract, promissory estoppel, violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Against Harcum only, Gouda alleges violation of Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Against Ingersoll only, Gouda alleges violation of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. Defendants move to dismiss all claims except for Count V, violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss should be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff "under any reasonable reading of the complaint... may be entitled to relief." Kerchner v. Obama, 612 F.3d 204, 207 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). The complaint must allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Rather, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

A federal court sitting in diversity is required to apply the substantive law of the state whose law governs the action. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). The parties agree that Pennsylvania law governs all state law claims. "When [a federal court] ascertain[s] Pennsylvania law, the decisions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are the authoritative source." Spence v. ESAB Grp., Inc., 623 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010). In the absence of a controlling ...


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