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Robbe v. Webster Univ.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 25, 2015

LILY ROBBE, Plaintiff,

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For Lily Robbe, Plaintiff: Andrew W. Kuhlmann, LEAD ATTORNEY, KUHLMANN, LLC, St. Louis, MO.

For Webster University, Defendant: Dennis C. Donnelly, Travis R. Kearbey, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BRYAN CAVE LLP, St. Louis, MO.

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This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion. Defendant filed a Reply, to which Plaintiff filed a Sur-Reply. Suffice to say, the Motion has been more than fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss will be denied.

Facts and Background[1]

Plaintiff Lily Robbe (" Plaintiff" ) is a foreign citizen who resides in Geneva, Switzerland. Defendant Webster University (" Defendant" ) is a non-profit corporation based in Missouri which has academic campuses in Missouri and other locations, including Geneva. Plaintiff graduated from Defendant's campus in Geneva in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations. Thereafter, she enrolled in Defendant's Master's Degree Program in the Department of International Relations in Geneva in Fall 2010.

Before Plaintiff enrolled in the Master's Program, Defendant's agents and representatives advised her that during the Program she would be able to prepare a Master's thesis as part of her course work and, if it was deemed passable, defend her thesis. the opportunity to prepare and defend a thesis was important to Plaintiff because her sole motivation for obtaining a Master's Degree was to undertake further studies in a PhD program, with the aim to pursue a desired career.

After maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 throughout the required coursework for her degree program, Plaintiff enrolled in her final 6 credit Master's thesis course in August 2011. Plaintiff was to prepare a thesis and, when it was deemed passable by a thesis committee, defend the thesis before the committee. Plaintiff avers that a date for a defense meeting is only set when a thesis committee comprised of two readers deems the thesis passable.

Plaintiff's official thesis committee was comprised of Dr. Michael Veuthey and Dr.

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Sabina Donati. After Plaintiff submitted her thesis to Dr. Veuthey and Dr. Donati in April and May 2012, the head of the Geneva campus's International Relations Department, Dr. Alexandre Vautravers, officially confirmed the constitution and establishment of Plaintiff's thesis committee in an email sent on June 11, 2012. Through emails sent on June 14 and 15, 2012, Dr. Veuthey and Dr. Donati established July 10, 2012 at 3:30 p.m. as Plaintiff's defense date.

Thereafter, on June 19, 2012, Dr. Veuthey requested a first draft of Plaintiff's thesis, as though he had never seen a draft of it. However, by that date he had already provided two sets of comments on thesis drafts and had proposed to hold the defense meeting promptly. Plaintiff, confused by Dr. Veuthey's request, contacted Ron Daniel, the Academic Director, who immediately investigated the matter, including proof from Plaintiff that she had provided her thesis to Dr. Veuthey and Dr. Donati. Mr. Daniel promised Plaintiff that he would resolve the situation and that she could defend her thesis as planned on July 10, 2012.

Plaintiff appeared to defend her thesis, as planned, at 3:30 p.m. on July 10, 2012. However, the thesis committee failed and/or refused to appear at the meeting. Plaintiff immediately went to see Mr. Daniel, who expressed surprise that the thesis committee had failed to appear. Thereafter, Dr. Spencer emailed Dr. Donati about the matter, who then falsely stated in her reply that she had never received any draft of Plaintiff's thesis.

Plaintiff next went to the office of the Geneva campus's General Director, Dr. Robert Spencer. After Plaintiff provided Dr. Spencer with the evidence of the wrongs committed by the thesis committee, Dr. Spencer promised to resolve the matter and asked Plaintiff not to take further action.

Plaintiff met again with Dr. Spencer two days later, on July 12, 2012. At the meeting, Dr. Spencer acknowledged that the thesis was officially submitted and ready for defense, and that Plaintiff had an official, properly constituted thesis defense committee which had established a defense date. Dr. Spencer promised Plaintiff that a new defense date would be set for mid-August 2012, and requested that Plaintiff take no further action, such as taking the matter higher or otherwise pursuing Dr. Veuthey and Dr. Donati's failure to co conduct the July 10, 2012 meeting. Plaintiff agreed.

On July 18, 2012, Dr. Spencer sent Plaintiff an email falsely stating that Plaintiff incorporated neither Dr. Veuthey nor Dr. Donati's advice into her thesis. Based on the strength of these false statements, Dr. Spencer annulled his July 12 promise to set a new defense date for mid-August. Dr. Spencer encouraged Plaintiff ...

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