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Mesumbe v. Howard University

April 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Ekiti G. Mesumbe ("Plaintiff"), brings this action against Defendants, Howard University, Robert E. Taylor, Sheik N. Hassan, and Irene Pandit (collectively, "Defendants"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the common law of the District of Columbia. The suit arises from Plaintiff's dismissal from Howard University College of Medicine.

This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.*fn1 Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.


A. Factual Background*fn2

Mesumbe is a Maryland resident and, until recently, was a student at Howard University College of Medicine ("Howard" or the "School"). Compl. ¶ 9 [Dkt. No. 1]. His "national origin is the Republic of Cameroon and his ethnic background and race is West African." Compl. ¶ 57

1. Plaintiff's USMLE Step 1 Exam and Third Year of Medical School

Howard students are required to earn a passing score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination ("USMLE") Step 1 in order to enter their third year at the School. Compl. ¶ 15; Defs.' Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n ("Defs.' Reply"), Ex. A (University and College of Medicine Policies Affecting Students ("University Policies")) at 36 [Dkt. No. 8-2]. Plaintiff failed the exam twice, in June and September 2005, and then passed on his third attempt in May 2006. He began his third year of medical school in July 2006.

Students are also required to pass "shelf" examinations, or standardized examinations given by the National Board of Medical Examiners ("NBME"), at the conclusion of each "clerkship," or course of study, during their third year in order to successfully complete that year. See Compl. ¶¶ 24-26; Def's Mot. at 4; University Policies at 34. During his third year, Mesumbe failed shelf examinations for Surgery and Ob/Gyn, although he passed his other exams. The University Policies "state that a student who fails two or more clerkships will either be dismissed from the College of Medicine or repeat the academic year." Compl. ¶ 26. Because he failed two exams, Plaintiff met with Defendant Hassan, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, in May 2007. At that meeting, Plaintiff signed a "decision" stating that he must repeat his third year. Id. at ¶ 22.

Plaintiff met again with Dean Hassan to inform him that he would be appealing the decision. Id. The Complaint does not make clear whether Plaintiff decided not to pursue the appeal, or whether an appeal was taken and denied, but ultimately Dean Hassan and Howard issued an official letter on July 13, 2007, requiring him to repeat the third year, and to obtain an evaluation for a learning disability. Mesumbe was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and anxiety disorder, and began receiving treatment for both in July 2007. He also began to repeat his third year around the same time.

Plaintiff alleges that, in contrast to the decisions made concerning his academic career, another Howard student was allowed to take the Internal Medicine shelf examination three times, in violation of the University Policies, which require a student who fails a shelf exam twice to repeat the clerkship for that subject. However, Plaintiff was not required to repeat his clerkships. He also alleges that another student failed the Pediatrics and Psychiatry shelf examinations, but was promoted to his fourth year, in violation of the University Policies.

2. Plaintiff's USMLE Step 2 Exams

Howard students are also required to take and pass the USMLE Step 2 examinations in Clinical Knowledge and Clinical Skills in order to graduate. University Policies at 39-40. Students must pass each test in three or fewer attempts. Id. Plaintiff took the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge exam twice, passing it on his second attempt on August 25, 2008. Howard then issued a letter, dated October 22, 2008, stating that the Committee on Promotions, Graduation, and Awards had approved Mesumbe for promotion to his final year of medical school.

Plaintiff, however, still needed to pass his USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills exam. He took the exam and failed it twice, on February 13 and September 17, 2008. He applied to the NBME to take the exam a third time. NBME verified Plaintiff's eligibility to sit for the exam a third time with Howard and Dean Hassan, and decided that Mesumbe was eligible to re-take the exam between December 5, 2008, and December 5, 2009.

Mesumbe maintains that he felt pressured to take the exam as quickly as possible, in light of emails to all students from Dean Hassan urging them to do so if they planned to graduate in May 2009. Plaintiff took the Clinical Skills exam for the third time on January 26, 2009, and did not pass it.

Under Howard policy, students who fail the Clinical Skills exam twice must satisfactorily complete a review program before taking the exam a third time. Compl. ¶ 38; University Policies at 40. Students must also obtain written approval from Dean Hassan to enroll in the review program. If students fail the exam a third time, they will be dismissed from Howard. Plaintiff, however, did not enroll in the review program, and claims that he was, in fact, unaware that he was required to take it.

Following his third unsuccessful attempt at the Clinical Skills exam, Plaintiff met with Dean Hassan again, on January 28, 2009. At that meeting, Dean Hassan asked about the test, and asked Plaintiff whether he had taken a review program. Plaintiff met again with Dean Hassan on April 8, 2009, to request assistance before re-taking the Clinical Skills exam for a fourth time. At this meeting, however, Dean Hassan informed Plaintiff that he would be dismissed from the School, and that this was the first time the dismissal policy would be applied, as no student had ever failed the Clinical Skills exam three times. Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that no student has ever taken the exam a third time without the benefit of a review course. Following the meeting, Mesumbe received a letter on April 17, 2009, stating that the Promotions and Graduation Committee had voted that he be dismissed under the University Policies because he failed the Clinical Skills exam three times.

Plaintiff appealed the decision. Defendant Robert E. Taylor, Dean of the Howard University College of Medicine, referred the appeal to the Student Grievance Committee. The Committee met on April 29, 2009, to review Plaintiff's appeal, and recommended that Plaintiff be allowed to take the Clinical Skills exam again.

At the Student Grievance Committee meeting, Plaintiff described a telephone conversation between Samson Sozi, another Howard medical student, and Defendant Irene Pandit, Director of Academic Support and administrative assistant to Dean Hassan. The conversation allegedly concerned a letter Sozi had received from Dean Hassan reminding him that he was required to take a review course because he had failed the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills exam twice. During their conversation, Sozi asked Pandit why a friend was not required to take the same review course. Pandit allegedly "stated 'you mean Mesumbe.'" Compl. ΒΆ 47. She also allegedly explained that Plaintiff was not required to take the course because his first attempt at the exam did not count, as it was taken during his third year. Mesumbe's third attempt would be considered his second attempt, for purposes of the review course ...

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