United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
DISMISS COUNT ONE OF THE AMENDED COMPLAINT (Dkt. 11)
A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge
civil rights case, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their
constitutional rights to procedural due process and equal
protection when Plaintiffs were dismissed from a
post-baccalaureate program offered through the Wayne State
University School of Medicine. Defendants have filed a motion
to dismiss count one of the amended complaint, which concerns
Plaintiffs' procedural due process claim only (Dkt. 11).
The issues have been fully briefed. Because oral argument
will not aid the decisional process, the motion will be
decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). As discussed below, the Court grants the
Nouhad Alame and Michael VanHall were students enrolled in a
non-degree granting post-baccalaureate program at the Wayne
State University School of Medicine during the 2015-2016
academic year. Am. Compl. ¶ 1 (Dkt. 9). This program is
intended for first-generation college graduates who are
interested in admission to the medical school. Id.
¶ 9; Defs. Br. at 2. Upon the successful completion of
the one-year program, the students matriculate directly into
the medical school the following academic year. Am. Compl.
¶ 15. Students participating in this program are
required to sign a post-baccalaureate program agreement,
which informs the students that, if they receive a grade of
“D” or lower in any academic course, they will be
dismissed from the program. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.
Both Alame and VanHall signed this agreement. Id.
the winter 2016 term, Plaintiffs took a course entitled Gross
Anatomy. Id. ¶ 28. Alame and VanHall received a
68.9% and 69.95% in the course, respectively. Id.
¶ 31. According to Plaintiffs, these percentage grades
equated to “C” grades based on the
instructor's syllabus. Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.
On March 3, 2016, Defendant De'Andrea Matthews, the
director of the program, met with Plaintiffs and informed
them that, notwithstanding the instructor's syllabus,
they had received “D” grades in the course and
were being dismissed from the program. Id.
¶¶ 2, 32. Plaintiffs thereafter sought to appeal
their dismissals. Id. ¶ 35.
first spoke with the course instructor, who indicated that he
was not aware that a grade below 70% was considered a
“D” grade by Wayne State, and believed that
Plaintiffs should not have received a “D” in his
course. Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiffs then sought to
follow Wayne State's policies for appealing a grade, but
claim that they encountered repeated obstacles along the way,
which failed to give them “any meaningful opportunity
to be heard.” Id. ¶ 37. For instance,
Plaintiffs attempted to contact Defendant Herbert Smitherman,
the medical school's interim vice dean of diversity and
inclusion, and Defendant Richard Baker, the vice dean for
medical education, but did not receive a response from
either. Id. ¶¶ 3, 4, 38. Rather, the
matter was referred back to Matthews. Id. ¶ 38.
claim that Matthews then held a “secret meeting”
with other school administrators to discuss Plaintiffs'
grades, of which the Plaintiffs had no knowledge.
Id. ¶¶ 39, 42. After the meeting, Matthews
informed Plaintiffs that the matter had been reviewed and
that “it was decided that their grades in Gross Anatomy
[were] indicative of poor academic performance, irrespective
of the letter grade assigned, ” and that this
constituted “just cause for dismissal from the
Program.” Id. ¶ 43.
appealed this decision to Defendant Joseph Rankin, associate
provost at Wayne State. Id. ¶¶ 5, 44.
Rankin responded in a letter dated April 18, 2016, in which
he stated that he was upholding Plaintiffs' dismissals
from the program and noted that a grade between 60% and 69%
is considered a “D” grade under Wayne State's
“universal” grading scale. Id.
initiated this action on June 23, 2016, claiming that
Defendants conduct violated their constitutional right to
procedural due process. See generally id.
¶¶ 58-66. Plaintiffs also claim that Defendants
treated them less favorably than similarly situated
African-American students in the program based on
Plaintiffs' race, which violated Plaintiffs' right to
equal protection. See generally id. ¶¶
67-73. Plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and either
admission to the medical school or reinstatement in the
post-baccalaureate program. Id. at 15, ¶¶
A-B (prayer for relief).
STANDARD OF DECISION
evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “[c]ourts must construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept
all well-pled factual allegations as true, and determine
whether the complaint states a plausible claim for
relief.” Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893
(6th Cir. 2010). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
must plead specific factual allegations, and not just legal
conclusions, in support of each claim. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679 (2009). A complaint will be
dismissed unless it states a “plausible claim for
relief.” Id. at 679.
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that a person acting under the color of state law
deprived the plaintiff of a federal statutory or
constitutional right. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42,
48 (1988). However, the doctrine of qualified immunity
shields a government official from civil liability, unless
the official violated a statutory or constitutional right
that was clearly established at the time of the challenged
conduct. Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044
(2015) (per curiam); accord Reichle v. Howards, 132
S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012). “A clearly established right
is one that is sufficiently clear that every reasonable
official would have understood that what he is doing violates
that right.” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305,
308 (2015) (per curiam); see also City & Cnty. of San
Francisco, Cal. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015)
(“An officer cannot be said to have violated a clearly
established right unless the right's contours were
sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in his
shoes would have understood that he was violating
a case directly on point is not required for a constitutional
right to be clearly established, the plaintiff must show
“either controlling authority or a robust consensus of
cases of persuasive authority . . . that could be said to
have clearly established the unconstitutionality” of
the official's conduct. Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134
S.Ct. 2012, 2023-2024 (2014); Ashcroft v. al-Kidd,
563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011) (“[E]xisting precedent must
have placed the . . . constitutional question beyond
debate.”); see also Durham v. Nu'Man, 97
F.3d 862, 866 (6th Cir. 1996) (“A right is not
considered clearly established unless it has been
authoritatively decided by the United States Supreme Court,
the Court of Appeals, or the highest court of the state in
which the alleged constitutional violation occurred.”).
Practically speaking, this prong of qualified immunity