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Bradford v. George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 18, 2017

BRICE BRADFORD, et al., on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge

         The named plaintiffs in this civil action, Brice Bradford, David Forman, Casey Schreiber, and Kenneth Bell, originally filed this putative class action against the defendant, the George Washington University (the “University”), in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (the “Superior Court”), asserting violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (the “Consumer Protection Act”), D.C. Code §§ 28-3901-28-3913 (2012), and claims for unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation. See Notice of Removal (“Removal Notice”) ¶ 1; see also id., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Class Action Complaint (“Compl.”)) ¶¶ 57-88. Currently pending before the Court are the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (“Pls.' Remand Mot.”) and the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss All Claims (“Def.'s Mot.”). For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that it can exercise jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims, and the plaintiffs' motion to remand must therefore be denied. The Court also concludes that it must grant the defendant's motion to dismiss.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 7, 2016, the plaintiffs filed this putative class action against the University in the Superior Court. Removal Notice ¶ 1. The plaintiffs allege that they each “paid over $28, 000 in tuition to participate in what they believed would be a specialized online education program” provided by the defendant. Compl. ¶ 3. Plaintiffs Bradford, Forman, and Bell were enrolled in the program from January 2012 to May 2013, while plaintiff Schreiber was enrolled from January 2012 to August 2013. Id ¶¶ 5-8. This online education program on Security and Safety Leadership (“SSL”) was allegedly marketed “as substantially identical” to the same course offered “in a traditional classroom setting.” Id. ¶ 13. The plaintiffs allege, however, that the online SSL program is not equivalent to the classroom version, and that the defendant “solicits applications and enrollment in the SSL online program through a series of misrepresentations . . . made both on the program website, and through the program's admissions advisors.” Id. ¶¶ 13-33. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that “students were provided the PowerPoint slides from in-class courses without any accompanying lecture or video, ” id. ¶ 17, that were “nonsensical” and “contained typos, grammatical errors, and incomplete sentences, ” id. ¶ 18. They also contend that “[t]he supplementary course material was . . . lacking, ” as “[m]any of the course readings were scanned copies of books . . . which cut off information and blurred entire sentences.” Id. ¶ 19. The plaintiffs further allege that the online SSL program instructors “did not prepare any course material and were hardly involved at all in any actual online instruction.” Id. ¶ 23. Moreover, according to the plaintiffs, the defendant misrepresented that the fall 2012 online SSL program had to be postponed due to its popularity and large class size, id. ¶¶ 32-33, and that the online SSL program is “universally lauded by alumni, ” id. ¶¶ 28-29.

         The plaintiffs allege that the defendant “was made aware of the program's shortcomings and did nothing to rectify the situation.” Id. ¶ 34. They contend that “[s]everal students first submitted a formal complaint to [the defendant] on January 21, 2012[, ] less than two weeks after their program began.” Id. ¶ 34. Purportedly, from January 2012 until mid-November 2012, students complained to the defendant about the quality of the program and the defendant allegedly “continued to promise that the program would improve[, ] . . . [but] no improvements were made.” Id. ¶¶ 34-43. On May 20, 2013, “eleven students from the May 2013 cohort wrote a letter to Steven Knapp, ” the president of the University, expressing their disappointment with the program. Id. ¶ 43. In response to this letter, the Dean of College of Professional Studies allegedly “called several of [the plaintiffs] and apologized for the dysfunction of the SSL program.” Id. ¶ 44. However, “[d]espite the numerous complaints, ” the plaintiffs represent that the defendant “offered no remedy” or “did nothing to rectify the situation.” Id. ¶¶ 42, 44.

         The putative class of plaintiffs is defined as “[a]ll United States residents who paid tuition to [t]he . . . University for the online [SSL] program, ” and the plaintiffs assert that the “claims of the named [p]laintiffs are typical of the [c]lass.” Id. ¶¶ 48, 51. The plaintiffs' first cause of action alleges a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. See Compl. ¶¶ 57-63. The plaintiffs also assert claims for unjust enrichment, see id. ¶¶ 64-68, fraudulent misrepresentation, see id. ¶¶ 69-78, and negligent misrepresentation, see id. ¶¶ 79-88. The Class Action Complaint seeks “monetary damages and disgorgement of unjust profits obtained” by the defendant, statutory damages, treble damages, punitive damages, and “reasonable attorneys' fees.” Id at 20.

         The defendant filed a notice of removal, asserting that this Court has jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (the “CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) (2012). See Removal Notice ¶¶ 10-20. The defendant contends that jurisdiction lies with this Court under the CAFA because “[o]ver 300 individuals are members of the proposed class, ” satisfying “[the] CAFA's numerosity requirement.” Id ¶ 14. The defendant further claims that the CAFA amount-in-controversy requirement is satisfied “because [the plaintiffs] seek restitution of all tuition payments . . ., as well as statutory damages, treble damages, punitive damages, and reasonable costs and attorney's fees, which in the aggregate could exceed $5 million.” Id ¶ 16. The plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to remand the case to the Superior Court, alleging that jurisdiction does not lie with this Court under the CAFA. See Pls.' Remand Mot. at 1; see also Pls.' Remand Mem. at 2-3.[2] The defendant has now filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), requesting “dismissal of all putative class-action claims.” Def.'s Dismiss Mot. at 1.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Motion to Remand Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)

         “A civil action filed in state court may only be removed to a United States district court if the case could originally have been brought in federal court.” Nat'l Consumers League v. Flowers Bakeries, L.L.C., 36 F.Supp.3d 26, 30 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) (2012)). “If a defect in removal procedures or lack of subject-matter jurisdiction becomes apparent at any point prior to final judgment, the removal court must remand the case to the state court from which the defendants originally removed the case.” Julien v. CCA of Tenn., Inc., 268 F.Supp.2d 19, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)). Whenever a plaintiff seeks to remand a case that was removed to federal court back to state court, “[t]he party opposing [the] motion to remand bears the burden of establishing that subject[-]matter jurisdiction exists in federal court.” Int'l Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers v. Ins. Co. of the W., 366 F.Supp.2d 33, 36 (D.D.C. 2005) (Walton, J.). “Because of the significant federalism concerns involved, [a court would ordinarily] strictly construe[] the scope of its removal jurisdiction.” Breakman v. AOL, L.L.C., 545 F.Supp.2d 96, 100-01 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 107-09 (1941)). Under the CAFA, however, “no antiremoval presumption” attaches because “Congress enacted [the CAFA] to facilitate adjudication of certain class actions in federal court.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, __U.S.__, __, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554 (2014) (citing Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, __U.S.__, __, 133 S.Ct. 1345, 1350 (2013)).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint “state[s] a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In making this assessment, a plaintiff receives the “benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged, ” Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted), and the Court “may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[, ] and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice, ” EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (footnote omitted). But raising a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” fails to satisfy the facial plausibility requirement. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rather, a claim is facially plausible only “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While the Court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even those allegations pleaded with factual support need only be accepted to the extent that “they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Before reaching the merits of the defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court must first address the plaintiffs' motion to remand, which raises a challenge to the Court's jurisdiction.

         A. The Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand “To remove a case from a state court to a federal court, a defendant must file in the federal forum a notice of removal ‘containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.'” Dart Cherokee, __U.S. at__, 135 S.Ct. at 551 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)). “When removal is based on diversity of citizenship, an amount-in-controversy requirement must be met.” Id. In class actions, however, “the requirement of diversity of citizenship is relaxed.” Id. Accordingly, the CAFA gives “federal courts jurisdiction over certain class actions[] . . . if the class has more than 100 members, the parties are minimally diverse, and the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.” McMullen v. Synchrony Bank, 82 F.Supp. 3D 133, 137-38 (D.D.C. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting Dart Cherokee, __U.S. at__, 135 S.Ct. at 552); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d).[3]

         In support of the plaintiffs' motion to remand, they argue that the defendant “provided no evidentiary basis for its barebones assertion” that this action “meets the requirements for CAFA jurisdiction.” Pls.' Remand Mem. at 2-3. They specifically argue that the defendant failed to establish both the ...


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