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Smith v. Utah Valley Univ.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 20, 2015

SEAN SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
UTAH VALLEY UNIVERSITY, GREG SCHWAB, RYAN TANNER, and DANIEL MCDONALD, Defendants

Page 999

SEAN SMITH, Plaintiff, Pro se, Anderson, IN.

For UTAH VALLEY UNIVERSITY, GREG SCHWAB, RYAN TANNER, DANIEL MCDONALD, Defendants: Briana Lynn Clark, James M. Hinshaw, BINGHAM GREENEBAUM DOLL LLP, Indianapolis, IN.

Page 1000

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' SECOND MOTION TO DISMISS

TANYA WALTON PRATT, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Second Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendants Utah Valley University (" UVU" ); Greg Schwab (" Mr. Schwab" ), UVU Chair of the Aviation Department; Ryan Tanner (" Mr. Tanner" ), Director of Academic Support--Aviation Department and Daniel McDonald (" Mr. McDonald" ), Chairman of the Academic Standards Committee (collectively " the Defendants" ) (Filing No. 27). Plaintiff Sean Smith (" Mr. Smith" ) was an online student at UVU during the Fall 2012, Spring 2013, and Summer 2013 terms. After receiving undeserved low grades and being dissatisfied with the administrative appeals process, Mr. Smith, pro se, filed this diversity action alleging breach of contract, Fourteenth Amendment Due Process violations, and discrimination, and he requested punitive damages. Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint, which was filed in response to the Court's dismissal of claims in Mr. Smith's original complaint, without prejudice and with leave to re-file. For the following reasons, the Defendants' Second Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008). However, the allegations must " give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," and the " [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Page 1001

Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, the complaint must include " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow " the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Additionally, " [a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007).

II. BACKGROUND

UVU is a state university located in Orem, Utah (Filing No. 25 at 1).UVU accepts Title IV funds as authorized by the Higher Education Act. Mr. Smith, a resident of Madison County, Indiana, enrolled in online classes in UVU's aviation department during the Fall 2012, Spring 2013, and Summer 2013 terms. When he first enrolled, Mr. Smith selected Mixed race Native American during his application process. During the course of his study, Mr. Smith noticed a large number of incorrect answers in UVU's test banks in two of his classes: AVSC-3090 and AVSC-3010. Mr. Smith began recording these errors and communicating his findings via email, to the course instructors. The course instructors did not respond to Mr. Smith's emails. Because of the lack of response, on June 11, 2013, Mr. Smith appealed his course grades to Mr. Schwab, the chair of the aviation department. Mr. Schwab denied Mr. Smith's appeal. On June 21, 2013, Mr. Smith appealed Mr. Schwab's ruling to the UVU Academic Standards Committee, but the Registrar did not process Mr. Smith's appeal. When Mr. Smith submitted his appeal directly to Mr. McDonald, the chair of the Academic Standards Committee, Mr. McDonald refused to forward the appeal to the rest of the Academic Standards Committee.

Mr. Smith also took issue with the grades he received in courses AVSC-3030 and AVSC-410G. The final grade Mr. Smith received in AVSC-3030 was lower than he anticipated. Mr. Smith appealed the grade to Mr. Tanner, the Direct of Academic Support for the Aviation Department. With Mr. Tanner's assistance, Mr. Smith was able to convince the course instructor that the grade had been improperly computed, and Mr. Smith's grade for AVSC-3030 was raised accordingly.

Mr. Smith also was surprised by his low grade in AVSC-410G. After contacting Mr. Tanner and being directed to the course instructor, Mr. Smith learned that he had received a zero on his final paper. According to the course instructor, the score was the result of Mr. Smith's failure to comply with the requirements for the final assignment. Mr. Smith provided the instructor and Mr. Tanner with PDF metadata and a submission receipt which, he alleges, showed that he timely submitted a paper that complied with all the requirements. The instructor refused to re-grade Mr. Smith's paper, and Mr. Smith appealed to Mr. Schwab. Mr. Schwab denied Mr. Smith's appeal, telling him, " I am confident you were provided ample opportunity to accept a passing grade from the instructor had you agreed to his offerings or resubmitted the correct paper. Your continued steadfast refusal to cooperate with the faculty member is the only reason you were not able to experience a good outcome in this course." (Filing No. 25 at

Page 1002

8.) Mr. Smith appealed Mr. Schwab's decision to the Academic Standards Committee. Mr. McDonald informed Mr. Smith that the Committee had denied his appeal, but after talking to Mr. Smith on the phone, Mr. McDonald decided to reconsider the appeal. Finally, on August 19, 2013, Mr. McDonald informed Mr. Smith that his appeal had been denied again. Although Mr. McDonald told Mr. Smith that the correct paper might have been submitted, he asserted that the instructor made a reasonable effort to grade the assignment, thus eliminating Mr. McDonald's ability to overrule the grade.

Having exhausted UVU's administrative appeals process, Mr. Smith decided to seek relief in this Court, filing his Complaint on October 16, 2013 (Filing No. 1). In his Complaint, Mr. Smith asserted claims of breach of contract, fraud, defamation, and discrimination. He requested compensatory and punitive damages. The Defendants moved to dismiss this action on December 10, 2013 (Filing No. 16). On June 27, 2014, the Court granted the Defendants' motion, dismissing with prejudice Mr. Smith's claims of fraud and defamation. The breach of contract, discrimination, and punitive damages claims were dismissed without prejudice, and Mr. Smith ...


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