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Fleming v. Virginia State University

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 4, 2016

JAAMAL FLEMING, Plaintiff,
v.
VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Virginia State University ("VSU"), the Policies and Procedures Committee, the Academic Credit Committee, Dr. Katrina Walker, Dr. Pamela Hammond, and the Commonwealth of Virginia's (collectively, the "Defendants"[1]) Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).[2] (ECF No. 5.) Plaintiff Jaamal Fleming, proceeding pro se, responded, and Defendants replied.[3] (ECF Nos. 7, 10.) The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before the Court adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition.

I. Standards of Review

A. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction: Rule 12(b)(1)[4]

In a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) challenging the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, the burden rests with the plaintiff, as the party asserting jurisdiction, to prove that federal jurisdiction is proper. See Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Va. Int'l Terminals, Inc., 914 F.Supp. 1335, 1338 (E.D. Va. 1996) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion may attack the complaint on its face, asserting that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which subject matter jurisdiction can lie. See Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n, 914 F.Supp. at 1338; see also Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219. In such a challenge, a court assumes the truth of the facts alleged by plaintiff, thereby functionally affording the plaintiff the same procedural protection he or she would receive under Rule 12(b)(6)[5] consideration. See Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n, 914 F.Supp. at 1338; see also Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219.

B. Obligation to Construe Pro Se Pleadings Liberally

District courts have a duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally. Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999). A pro se plaintiff must nevertheless allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action. Id. (citing Sado v. LelandMem 7 Hosp., 933 F.Supp. 490, 493 (D. Md. 1996)). The Court cannot act as a pro se litigant's "advocate and develop, sua sponte, statutory and constitutional claims" that the litigant failed to raise on the face of the complaint. Newkirk v. Circuit Court of Hampton, No. 3:14cv372, 2014 WL 4072212, at * 1 (E.D. Va. Aug. 14, 2014).

II. Procedural and Factual Background

The Amended Complaint describes Fleming's difficulty with Dr. Walker's two psychology classes, PSYC 517 and PSYC 522, his resulting letter grade of "C-" for PSYC 522, and his attempts to convince the VSU administration to change this grade. Fleming took PSYC 517 in the fall of 2009 and PSYC 519 in the spring of 2010, both taught by Dr. Walker. He alleges that during those classes, Dr. Walker consistently "berat[ed]... his opinions" and taught with a "subtle, " yet "clear, " ring of "underlying disdain" for him. (Am. Compl. 2-3.) In the fall of 2009, Fleming also enrolled in PSYC 522. Dr. Walker taught this class as well, but another professor, Dr. Renia Brown-Cobb, was "the actual evaluator of work product." (Am. Compl. 4.)

Near the end of the spring 2010 semester, Fleming apparently began to take issue with his grade in PSYC 522 and met with Dr. Walker to address the situation. Following the meeting, Fleming learned that he had scored 141 out of 170 points for PSYC 522, which, combined with his 768 out of 800 points in PSYC 520, should have garnered him a letter grade of "A" instead of "C-." During or following the meeting, Fleming alleges that Dr. Walker agreed to change his grade. After no change occurred, Fleming asked the acting head of the department, Dr. Oliver Hill, to assist in changing his grade. Throughout the ensuing years, Dr. Walker and Dr. Hill apparently made multiple efforts to change Fleming's PSYC 522 grade, including sending the change of grade to the "Academics Credit Committee." (Am. Compl. 4.) Fleming's grade remains unchanged.

On April 30, 2015, Fleming filed this suit. Fleming brings three causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) defamation; and, (3) fraud.[6] He seeks $27, 000 in compensatory damages for the cost of his "tuition and living expenses while a student at [VSU]"; $1, 000, 000 in other, unspecified damages; punitive damages; and, a "permanent injunction to change the grade in PSYC 522." (Am. Compl. 9.)

III. Analysis

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const, amend. XI. The principles underlying the Eleventh Amendment "preserve the integrity of state sovereign immunity within our federal structure" and prohibit federal courts from exercising diversity or supplemental jurisdiction over actions that "would otherwise be prohibited by the courts of the forum state on the basis of that state's sovereign immunity." Amaran v.Va. State Univ., 476 F.Supp.2d 535, 539-40 (E.D. Va. 2007), aff'd, 261 F.App'x 552 (4th Cir. 2008). "As such, the 'ultimate guarantee of the ...


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