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Saha v. George Washington University

September 23, 2008

DEBABRATA SAHA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court is defendant's Motion [9] to Dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff's complaint generally fails to identify how any of defendant George Washington University's alleged actions constitute a breach of contract, and it appears to the Court that most of them do not. With regard to the individual University administrators and faculty members named as defendants, plaintiff fails to identify any contractual relationship whatsoever.

However, plaintiff's action survives this Motion to Dismiss because one subcount-subcount 18(c), alleging that the University denied plaintiff access to evidence against him during his tenure revocation hearing-would, if true, likely constitute a breach of contract by the University. All other parts of plaintiff's complaint shall be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Debabrata Saha was hired by the George Washington University (the "University") in 1986 as an assistant professor. (Compl. Ex. A.) He was granted tenure effective Fall 1993. (Compl. Ex. F.) In 1996, plaintiff states that he informed University administrators of qualifying exams being improperly administered to graduate students in his department. (Compl. 5--6.) Plaintiff states that he has suffered retaliation from certain University faculty and administrators ever since.

Plaintiff was suspended by the University four times since 1996 (in years 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2005). (Compl. 22.) Before plaintiff's 2005 suspension began, there was a February 2005 meeting of professors from plaintiff's academic department at which plaintiff was not present. This was followed by another faculty meeting in May 2005. Plaintiff claims that the May meeting was the impetus for his 2005 suspension and eventual tenure revocation. (Compl. 27, 35 at No. 17.)

Plaintiff's 2005 suspension began on August 29, 2005. (Compl. 11, 18.) Plaintiff states that the University did not inform him that he had been suspended. Id. Plaintiff continued coming to work during the remainder of August. (Compl. 18.) On September 1, while plaintiff was giving a lecture on campus, he was escorted from the campus ("perp walked," in his words) by police officers and informed that, because of his suspension, he was barred from the campus. Id. Plaintiff states that he was "perp walked" again on September 2. (Compl. 11.) On September 16, 2005, University Vice President Donald Lehman filed a complaint with the University seeking to revoke plaintiff's tenure, charging plaintiff with "persistent neglect of professional responsibilities" and "gross misconduct that destroys academic usefulness." (Compl. 27; Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 1.) A November 18, 2005 letter from Vice President Lehman confirmed to plaintiff that he was "on paid suspension until further notice." (Compl. Ex. J.)

The tenure revocation proceeding began in December 2005 before a faculty Hearing Committee, as specified by the University Faculty Code's "Procedures for Implementation" ("Faculty Code Procedures"). (Compl.11; Faculty Code Procedures E, F.) Plaintiff states that during the proceedings he was not allowed to introduce evidence of events prior to April 1999, nor was he permitted to access certain pieces of University evidence (specifically a October 30, 1997 letter which he claims Vice President Lehman used in the complaint). (Compl. 29, 35 at No. 18.) On July 24, 2006, the Hearing Committee found that the University had met its burden on the first charge (neglect of professional responsibilities) but not on the second (gross misconduct). (Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 1.) Accordingly, the Committee decided that plaintiff's tenure should be revoked and his employment terminated. Id. at 13. Plaintiff appealed the Committee's decision, but the decision was affirmed in December 2006. (Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 2.)

After finding no compelling reason not to implement the decision, University Provost John Williams-filling in for Vice President Lehman, who had recused himself-did so on March 1, 2007. (Faculty Code Procedures E(7).) Plaintiff states that he never received confirmation of the final implementation of the Committee's decision. Defendants submit an affidavit stating that a letter was sent to plaintiff by Provost Williams via regular mail and courier on March 1, 2007, informing plaintiff that he was terminated as of that date. (Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 3.) Plaintiff maintains that, because he did not receive the letter from Provost Williams, his status is still that of suspended without pay. (Opp'n at 1.) The University stopped delivering plaintiff's paychecks and denied him office access beginning on March 1, 2007, and continuing to present.

On October 24, 2006, plaintiff sued the University and two administrators alleging § 1983 violations, false arrest and imprisonment, and invasion of privacy. This Court granted summary judgment for defendants in that lawsuit in March 2008. The current lawsuit, alleging breach of contract, was filed on January 16, 2008.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), this Court will dismiss a claim if the plaintiff fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating the prior standard which required appearance, beyond a doubt, that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief). The Court must construe the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff will have the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged. Barr v. Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citing Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). However, the Court is not required to accept plaintiffs' unsupported inferences, nor "legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276.

Pleadings filed by pro se parties are not to be read as stringently as those filed by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) ("A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed . . . .") (internal quotations omitted). However, "'a pro se complaint, like any other, must state a claim upon which relief can be granted by the court.'" Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Barbour, 555 F. Supp. 2d 91, 96 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Henthorn v. Dep't of Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 684 (D.C. Cir.1994)). In ruling on this motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court can consider "only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to ...


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