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Yousaf v. The Curators of University of Missouri

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 22, 2019

SEAN YOUSAF, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CURATORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          GREG KAYS, JUDGE.

         This lawsuit arises from Plaintiff Sean Yousaf's dismissal from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Dentistry (“the SOD”) for failing grades, amidst accusations of cheating. The Complaint alleges the SOD and various faculty members and school officials committed breach of contract, violated Plaintiff's due process rights and various civil rights laws, and also committed various torts.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 16) for failure to state a claim.[1]

         Standard of Review

         A claim may be dismissed if it fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court “must accept as true all of the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff [ ].” Stodghill v. Wellston School Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008). To avoid dismissal, a complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Plaintiff need not demonstrate the claim is probable, only that it is more than just possible. Id.

         In reviewing the complaint, the court construes it liberally and draws all reasonable inferences from the facts in the plaintiff's favor. Monson v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 589 F.3d 952, 961 (8th Cir. 2009). The court generally ignores materials outside the pleadings but may consider materials that are part of the public record or materials that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings. Miller v. Toxicology Lab. Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Background

         The following summary is distilled from the sixty-seven page Complaint (Doc. 1) and the fifteen exhibits (Doc. 1-1 to Doc. 1-15) totaling 196 pages attached to it. These exhibits include SOD handbooks and policy manuals, summaries from an investigation into the cheating accusations conducted by the University, and emails Plaintiff exchanged with various administrators. Ironically, some of the exhibits undermine the Complaint's allegations.

         The Complaint contains nineteen counts[2] and makes a variety of wordy assertions and conclusions, a few of which are unrelated to this case.[3] The Complaint is occasionally vague and confusing; differently numbered counts are sometimes similarly named and make essentially the same allegations. For example, Count 1, “Violation of Academic Policies (SOD), ” asserts that the SOD violated Plaintiff's due process rights by refusing to allow him to proceed on his grade appeals. Compl. ¶¶ 141-43. Count 6, “Violation of Academic Policies Relating to Final Grades (SOD), ” alleges Plaintiff's final grades were “arbitrary, capricious, and/or in bad faith” because Plaintiff was preempted from proceeding with his grade appeals. Compl. ¶¶ 289-92. Although the Complaint is at times difficult to follow, the Court has reviewed it and the materials attached to it in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and finds the facts relevant to the pending motion to be as follows.

         In early 2018, Plaintiff was dismissed from the SOD for poor academic performance. During the Fall 2017 academic semester, Plaintiff had received failing grades from two instructors, Defendants Dr. Donna Deines and Dr. Lance Godley, and a grade of “No Credit” from Dr. Deines in a third class. Dr. Godley also alleged Plaintiff had cheated on a re-test of a practical exam.[4]

         Plaintiff faced dismissal for academic reasons pursuant to academic standards and policies at the SOD, which provide that any student who fails more than one course in any semester will be dismissed. He also faced potential discipline by the SOD Honor Council for allegedly cheating.

         On December 14, 2017, the SOD Honor Council advised Plaintiff that it had decided to go forward with an official hearing on Dr. Godfrey's cheating allegation. On December 19, 2017, the Honor Council set a hearing date for January 17, 2018. Plaintiff requested twice that the Honor Council hearing be continued. Both requests were granted. The hearing was eventually reset to February 21, 2018.

         On December 22, 2017, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Defendant Pam Overman, sent Plaintiff a letter informing him that his academic performance in the Fall 2017 semester had resulted in his dismissal from the SOD. It advised him that he had a right to appeal his dismissal to the Academic Standards Committee, which was scheduled to meet on January 31, 2018. It also stated the following:

Should you believe that any of the grades resulting in your dismissal were derived capriciously (the definition of which may be found in chapter 2 of the School of Dentistry Student Handbook), you also have the option of pursuing a grade appeal as part of your dismissal appeal. Please be advised that the first step of the grade appeal process is to discuss the course grade fully with the course instructor. This must be done within seven (7) calendar days after the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester (which begins on Tuesday, January 16).
If the matter cannot be resolved by consultation with the course instructor, and you still wish to continue the grade appeal process, you will need to submit a written request for a hearing to me within seven (7) calendar days following denial by the course instructor. The request will need to give the reasons for the grade appeal (i.e. how the assigned grade was derived capriciously) and provide relevant information.

         Dismissal Notice at 1 (Doc. 1-9). Although the Complaint asserts Plaintiff “initiated . . . the Grade Appeal as directed by the . . . Dismissal Notice, ” Compl. ¶ 40, nothing in the voluminous exhibits attached to the Complaint corroborate this bare assertion.

         On January 31, 2018, the Academic Standards Committee held a hearing to determine whether dismissal was appropriate due to his failing grades. Plaintiff presented his case for readmittance, and Drs. Deines and Godley testified. Following the hearing, the Committee recommended that Plaintiff not be readmitted. The Honor Council never held a hearing regarding the cheating allegations.

         On April 27, 2018, Plaintiff filed the pending lawsuit. On November 7, 2018, the Court denied Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction (Doc. 49). Among other holdings, the Court ruled that Plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits.

         Discussion

         I. All counts premised on Plaintiff having initiating a grade appeal before January 23 are dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Counts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 17, 18, and portions of Counts 11 and 16 rest on the assertion that Plaintiff initiated a grade appeal before the deadline to do so expired. It is doubtful that the conclusory allegation in paragraph 40 that Plaintiff “initiated . . . the Grade Appeal as directed by the . . . Dismissal Notice” is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss under Iqbal. But even if it were, the exhibits attached to the Complaint render the claim highly implausible. The various emails, letters, notices, agendas, and investigation reports in the exhibits make no mention of Plaintiff ever stating, orally or in writing, that he had initiated any grade appeal before January 23, 2018. Although Plaintiff asserts that he informed Dean Overman on February 12, 2018, that he had initiated grade appeals, there is no mention of him doing so prior ...


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