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Streeter v. Walden University, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 5, 2017



          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Eric D. Streeter, has sued the defendants, Walden University and Laureate Education, claiming that their unjustified delay of his doctoral program, among other things, gives rise to six legal claims: breach of contract; unjust enrichment; violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act; violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; libel under Florida law; and violation of the False Claims Act. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, that, for the reasons found below, will be granted.


         Streeter enrolled in Walden University's Doctorate in Business Administration program in the summer of 2010. (Compl. ¶¶ 50-51).[1] Between the summer of 2012 and the fall of 2014, Streeter was enrolled in a dissertation course meant to guide students through the dissertation writing process. (Id. at ¶ 58). The dissertation process has five stages: (1) develop and write a premise; (2) develop a prospectus; (3) write a proposal; (4) study or research the subject of the dissertation; and (5) defend the dissertation. (Id. at ¶ 22). At each stage, a student needs faculty approval before proceeding to the next step. (Id. at ¶ 23). For example, a student's prospectus must be approved “by both the dissertation supervisory committee chair and the committee member” before the student may write a proposal. (Id. at ¶ 27).

         In February 2012, Streeter submitted his prospectus to the supervisory committee for approval. (Id. at ¶ 59). It was approved and his supervisory committee was created. (Id.). Over the next two years, however, the composition of Streeter's supervisory committee changed twice: first, Dr. Lionel deSouza replaced a committee member; then, after Streeter requested a new committee chair, the University appointed Dr. deSouza to the position of chair despite Streeter suggesting one of three other faculty members for the position. (Id. at ¶¶ 60-61). Soon after, Streeter learned that Dr. deSouza did not support aspects of his proposed doctoral study. (Id. at ¶ 62). He was asked to start over. (Id.).

         In response, Streeter petitioned the university for reimbursement of the money he spent developing his original doctoral study. (Id. at ¶ 63). After his petition was denied, Streeter requested a teleconference with the university's ombudsman, the director of his program, and anyone else the university thought necessary to the resolution of his grievances. (Id. at ¶ 64). Streeter was again rebuffed. (Id.). Streeter now sues Walden and Laureate claiming they unlawfully expanded the length and cost of his doctoral program. (ECF No. 1).[2] Walden and Laureate responded with a motion to dismiss the complaint. (ECF No. 19). For the following reasons, the court will grant the motion.

         Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). “To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not ‘forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements.” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable, ' the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And the plaintiff typically must do so by relying solely on facts asserted within the four corners of his complaint. Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Intern., Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606-07 (4th Cir. 2015).


         Streeter claims that Walden and Laureate, [3] by extending the length of his doctoral program: breached their contractual obligations; were unjustly enriched; violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, Md. Code Com. Law, § 13-301 et seq.; violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; committed libel under Florida law; and violated the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729.

         I. Breach of Contract

         Streeter argues Walden and Laureate breached their contractual obligation to provide him feedback on his dissertation proposal within fourteen days.

         Under Maryland law, matriculation creates a contractual relationship between student and university with terms which may be “contained in the brochures, course offering bulletins, and other official statements, policies and publications of a university.” Harwood v. Johns Hopkins University, 747 A.2d 205, 209 (Md.App. 2000) (internal quotations omitted). Although courts will enforce these contracts under certain circumstances, especially when a student has completed all of her degree requirements and denial of a degree would be “arbitrary and capricious, ” they should be “mindful of their lack of competence in assessing academic judgments.” Onawola v. Johns Hopkins University, 412 F.Supp.2d 529, 532 (D. Md. 2006).

         Upon his matriculation there is no doubt some contract was formed between Streeter and the defendants or that among the university's “official statements, policies and publications” there is a fourteen day response policy.[4] But Streeter never identifies the particular circumstances surrounding the defendants' delayed response; the complaint fails ...

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