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Pose Beiro v. CFA Institute

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

February 4, 2019

MARIA DEL PILAR POSE BEIRO, Plaintiff,
v.
CFA INSTITUTE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

         Maria Del Pilar Pose Beiro, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this action against CFA Institute. The case is presently before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant the defendant's motion.

         Background

          The following facts are taken from the complaint and the written settlement agreement on which it explicitly relies. See Phillips v. LCI Infl. Inc.. 190F.3d609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999) (noting that the court could properly consider a document submitted by the defendant in determining whether to dismiss the complaint "because it was integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint").

         The plaintiff resides in London, England. In August of 2016, she enrolled in the CFA Program offered through the defendant in Charlottesville, Virginia. The plaintiff took the Level II CFA Exam in June of 2017. When the results were announced in August of 2017, the plaintiff learned that she had failed the exam.

         Both before and after the plaintiff received her exam score, the plaintiff voiced a number of complaints to the defendant's customer service team. For instance, she complained that "very poor facilities" were provided during the exam, that there was a one-week delay in receiving her exam score, and that the customer service team did not timely respond to her emails. Compl. 6, Dkt. No. 6. On August 4, 2017, the plaintiff received a telephone call from "Mr. Kaiser," a customer service representative, regarding her complaints. The plaintiff alleges that Mr. Kaiser verbally agreed to change the result of her exam to a passing score if she would stop complaining:

He asked me how I wanted to resolve the matter; first I asked for an exam fee refund that was rejected by him; then I asked for a change of mark of my exam to 'a pass' .... Mr. Kaiser then said that he would be able to help me and offered me a retabulation. I knew what a retabulation was and suggested that this was not enough. I wanted a regrade. Mr. Kaiser agreed to get me a regrade of my exam to a pass if I stopped complaining. I agree[d] and he agreed to call me back on the 7th [of] August to confirm completion.

Id.

         The plaintiff subsequently informed the defendant of her conversation with Mr. Kaiser and advised the defendant that she had recorded the phone call in which Mr. Kaiser had verbally agreed to give, her a passing score on the exam. The plaintiff subsequently received an email from Geoff Macdonald, legal counsel for the defendant. In the email, Mr. Macdonald disputed the plaintiffs assertions and requested that she provide a copy of the purported recording of her conversation with Mr. Kaiser. The plaintiff alleges that she "felt that [Mr. Macdonald] was trying to intimidate [her]," and that "he wanted to damage [her] reputation saying that [she] was telling false statements." Id. 7.

         On August 23, 2017, the plaintiff advised the defendant via email that she was "planning to bring this case to Small Claims Court" if the parties were unable to reach an agreement regarding the "misleading information provided" by the defendant and its agents. Id. In response, members of the defendant's "Professional Conduct department" advised the plaintiff that they were "opening an investigation for misrepresentation," based on the belief that the plaintiff had submitted a "false invoice" requesting a refund of her exam fee. Id. 7-8. The plaintiff alleges that the investigation was undertaken to intimidate her, damage her reputation, and inflict psychological harm, and that it appeared to be a "conspiracy" against her. See Id. at 8 ("I allege that Mr. Jason Kaiser and Mr. Geoff Macdonald collaborated with the Professional Conduct, during August 2017, to open an investigation. This seems a conspiracy against me."). The investigation was closed on January 11, 2018, at which time "Professional Conduct did not find [the plaintiff] guilty of misrepresentation." Id. 8.

         Three days before the investigation ended, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in the General District Court for the City of Charlottesville. The plaintiff claims that, by that time, her "reputation at work was damaged." Id. Because the plaintiff did not receive a passing score on the exam and was the subject of an investigation by the defendant, the plaintiff lost income and "had to leave [her] work." Id; see also id 10 (noting that the plaintiff s manager thought she was a "liar").

         The parties were scheduled to appear in state court on June 22, 2018. On June 20, 2018, the defendant presented the plaintiff with a written settlement agreement, through which the defendant sought to "resolve any and all claims against CFA Institute and/or its employees," including the claim filed in the General District Court for the City of Charlottesville. Settlement Agreement 1, Def.'s Ex. 1, Dkt. No. 9-1; see also Compl. 11 (discussing the settlement agreement). The written agreement provided that CFA Institute was willing to offer the plaintiff "a settlement in the amount of $750 (the equivalent of a refund of [her] exam fees for 2017, plus $100), and in addition a no-fee retabulation of [the plaintiffs] answer sheet for the June 2017 CFA Program Exam, Level II," if the plaintiff agreed to the remaining provisions and signed the agreement within 24 hours. Settlement Agreement 1. Both parties signed the settlement agreement on June 21, 2018. Under the terms of the agreement, the plaintiff agreed to withdraw or dismiss any pending complaint or action against CFA Institute, and "release any claim against CFA Institute and related persons or entities as set forth above arising from [the plaintiffs] participation in the CFA Program or the provision of customer service to [the plaintiff]." Id. The agreement emphasized that the release provision would apply to "all claims" the plaintiff had or may have had, "whether known or unknown," as of the date she signed the agreement. Id. The agreement further provided that it contained "the entire understanding of the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof," that it "supersede[d] all prior understandings or agreements, oral or written, with respect thereto," and that it "shall be governed by and construed according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and shall be binding upon the parties, their successors, assigns and heirs." Id. 2.

         On September 24, 2018, the plaintiff commenced the instant action against CFA Institute by filing a form "complaint for a civil case alleging breach of contract." Compl. 1. Liberally construed, the complaint appears to assert that CFA Institute breached the verbal agreement with Mr. Kaiser and the written settlement agreement by failing to change her exam grade to a passing score. The plaintiff also indicates that she is asserting two additional causes of action: "punitive damages for breach of contract" and "breach of contract accompanied by willful tort." IcL 6.

         The defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendant's motion has been fully ...


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