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Ling Yuan Hu v. George Washington University

March 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION Defendant George Washington University ("GW") seeks to dismiss the Complaint of Plaintiff Ling Yuan Hu for her failure to bring this suit within the applicable statutes of limitations. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 5]. Plaintiff alleges six counts against Defendant:

(1) common law fraud; (2) common law spoliation of evidence; (3) discrimination against "English as a Second Language" ("ESL") students; (4) common law defamation; (5) common law misrepresentation; and (6) breach of a fiduciary duty. See generally Compl [Dkt. # 1-1]. Plaintiff argues several theories that posit the statutes of limitations for each claim have not yet expired. The Court is not persuaded. Because each of the alleged violations was known to Plaintiff in 2006, when they allegedly occurred, the statutes of limitations began to run at that time and each has conclusively run. Plaintiff's lawsuit is too late, whatever other merits it might or might not have, so the Court will dismiss the Complaint in whole.


In 2003, Plaintiff started taking courses at GW in a teacher preparation program, and subsequently received her teacher's license in 2004. Compl. ¶¶ 5--6. While serving as a full- time high school mathematics teacher, Plaintiff took additional classes at GW toward a masters' degree in secondary education. Id. ¶ 6. Professor Curtis Pyke was Plaintiff's faculty adviser until Spring of 2006, when Professor Pyke went on sabbatical leave. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff submitted a transfer request to Professor Pyke for six graduate-level mathematics credits that she received for courses taken at the University of Maryland. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that she was led to believe by Professor Pyke that the transfer approval was going smoothly. Id. Plaintiff's academics were also purportedly going well under Professor Pyke until his sabbatical in Spring 2006, at which time GW hired a substitute professor, Professor Kathleen Clark. Id. ¶ 7. Professor Clark harshly criticized Plaintiff's writing style, format, wording, and grammar in her assignments; required her to rewrite all of submitted assignments; and generally had substantive issues with Plaintiff as a student. Compl. ¶¶ 20--24.

Plaintiff was approved to participate in the final comprehensive exam in May 2006, but was unable to finish the exam within the allotted two hours because of language difficulties. Id. ¶ 9. Due to this language barrier, Plaintiff requested that she be able to finish the exam in excess of the two allotted hours or take an oral exam in its place. Id. At that point, Professor Clark charged Plaintiff with plagiarism. Id. Plaintiff denied the charge. Id. A hearing was scheduled regarding the plagiarism charge but was canceled, and a "hold" was placed on Plaintiff's records for the next semester. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that the director of the office of academic integrity, Timothy Terpstra, failed to tell her the full contents of her alleged misconduct and repeatedly pressured her to plead guilty to plagiarism. Id. ¶ 10.

On July 7, 2006, Plaintiff received an e-mail from GW stating that she had not been eligible for Spring 2006 graduation because certain requirements had not been met: (1) she failed her comprehensive exam; (2) she was missing Praxis II scores;*fn1 and (3) she was missing six elective credits. Id. ¶ 11 Two years later, in January 2009, Plaintiff pursued theses issues with GW, complaining about Professor Clark and Mr. Terpstra, mostly concerning the plagiarism charge and the way in which the comprehensive exam was conducted. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Motion to Dismiss ("Opp'n") [Dkt. # 6] at 8; Ex 1, 3--5. The Associate Dean of Academic Affairs responded to Plaintiff's complaint in February 2009, explaining the requirements to be readmitted into the graduate program, including addressing the outstanding academic integrity (plagiarism) charge and the requirement of six elective credits to finish her degree. Id., Ex. 1 at 1--2. Plaintiff did not respond to this letter. Plaintiff left the United States for Taiwan in March 2009 and reamained out of the country until October 2010. Pl.'s Reply in Support of its Opp'n ("Pl. Reply") [Dkt. #9] at 4.

On October 25, 2010, Plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. On November 12, 2010, Defendant removed this action to federal court because Count 3 alleges discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq,*fn2 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.,*fn3

both federal statutes.


A. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face. An affirmative defense that claims are barred by the statute of limitations may be asserted in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion "when the facts that give rise to the defense are clear from the face of the complaint." Smith-Haynie v. District of Columbia, 155 F.3d 575, 578 (D.C. Cir. 1998). A court may only rule on a statute of limitations defense when the face of the complaint conclusively indicates it is time-barred. See Performance Contracting, Inc. v. Rapid Response Constr., Inc., 267 F.R.D. 422, 425 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Smith-Haynie, 155 F.3d at 578); Lewis v. Bayh, 577 F. Supp. 2d 47, 51 (D.D.C. 2008); Turner v. Afro-American Newspaper Co., 572 F. Supp. 2d 71, 72 (D.D.C. 2008).

B. Statutes of Limitations

D.C. Code § 12-301 (2011) outlines the statutory time limitations for bringing all types of actions within the District of Columbia. While delineating particular limitations for specific actions, it also contains a catch-all provision, that sets a statute of limitations of three years Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2007). for those causes of action "for which a limitation is not otherwise limited." D.C. Code § 12-301.

"The statute of limitations for a defamation claim in the District of Columbia is one year." Mullin v. Washington Free Weekly, Inc., 785 A.2d 296, 298 (D.C. 2001); see D.C. Code § 12-301 (4) (setting statute of limitations at one year "for libel, slander, assault, battery, mayhem, wounding, malicious prosecution, false arrest or false imprisonment"). Claims of fraud, misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty fall within the three-year statute of limitations "catch-all" provision. See Dubois v. Wash. Mut. Bank, Civ. No. 09-2176, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91855, *10--11 (D.D.C. Sept. 2, 2010). A claim of common law spoliation of evidence,"for which a limitation is not otherwise specially prescribed" under D.C. Code § 12-301, also falls within the three-year statute of limitations "catch-all" provision. See D.C. Code § 12-301 (8). "The Rehabilitation Act does not contain its own statute of limitations, and ...

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