United States District Court, District of Columbia
BRICE BRADFORD, et al., on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
B. WALTON, United States District Judge
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
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.
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,
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
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. 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.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Motion to Remand Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c)
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)).
Motion to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
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.
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
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. §
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 ...