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Shume v. Pearson Education Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 29, 2018

PEARSON EDUCATION INC. et al., Defendants.


          TIMOTHY J. KELLY United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Muluwork Shume applied for, and was granted, a Nurse Aide Certificate by the District of Columbia Department of Health in 2007. The District of Columbia then renewed Shume's certificate three times. However, in 2015, Defendants Pearson Education Inc. and NCS Pearson, Inc. (together, “Pearson”)-which contract to provide testing services for the District of Columbia-informed Shume that her renewal application would be denied, explaining that she did not meet the qualifications for a Nurse Aide Certificate and had to take an examination to renew hers. On November 30, 2015, Shume's certificate expired. On December 1, 2015, Shume filed this lawsuit.

         Defendants Pearson and the District of Columbia have each moved to dismiss Shume's Amended Complaint. See ECF No. 12 (“Pearson Br.”); ECF No. 13 (“D.C. Br.”); see also ECF No. 15 (“Pl.'s Opp'n”); ECF No. 17 (“Pearson Reply”); ECF No. 18 (“D.C. Reply”). Each motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Shume brings a claim for breach of contract, which will be dismissed. Shume's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, however, may proceed. Shume also asserts claims for injunctive and declaratory relief and a writ of mandamus. Her requests for injunctive and declaratory relief will be dismissed without prejudice to her seeking such relief at the appropriate time, and her request for a writ of mandamus will be dismissed as well.

         I. Background

         For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the allegations in Shume's Amended Complaint.[1] Shume worked as a nursing assistant in New York until 2006, when she moved to the District of Columbia. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. In February 2007, she successfully completed a state-approved training program in Maryland, which she alleges also constituted a “nurse aide competency evaluation program which had been approved by the District of Columbia.” Id. ¶¶ 9-10. In October 2007, the Maryland Board of Nursing issued Shume a Certified Nursing Assistant license, which was still active as of the filing of the Amended Complaint. Id. ¶ 11.

         Shume then sought and obtained a Nurse Aide Certificate from the District of Columbia Department of Health by “endorsement” (that is, based on her Maryland license). Id. ¶¶ 12-13. The certificate, dated November 30, 2007, stated that Shume had “successfully completed the required competency evaluation program and [was] listed on the Nurse Aide Registry in the District of Columbia.” Id. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Ex. C. Her certificate in hand, Shume began working as a nurse aide in the District of Columbia. Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Shume subsequently renewed her certification three times, in 2009, 2011, and 2013. Id. ¶ 15. Like the original certificate, each renewal stated that Shume had fulfilled the “required competency evaluation program.” Id. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Ex. D.

         When her certification was up for renewal again in 2015, Shume timely completed a renewal form application and sent it to Pearson. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. The application required Shume to pay a $12 fee, provide her contact information and work history, and certify her fulfillment of certain continuing education requirements. See ECF No. 14-1; ECF No. 15-3.[2]The renewal form stated: “Once Pearson . . . receives your form and fee, they will renew your certificate and send you a new certificate and wallet card.” ECF No. 15-3; see ECF No. 14-1; Am. Compl. ¶ 25.

         After submitting the application, Shume received a letter from Pearson stating that her certificate could not be renewed. Am. Compl. ¶ 19. Pearson explained that Shume was not qualified because “she had not passed the NNAAP Nurse Aide Practice Exam or been enrolled on the Maryland Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA) registry.” Id. Shume's license expired on November 30, 2015. Id. ¶ 20. As a result, Shume's employer placed her on “unpaid administrative leave” on December 1, and terminated her on December 15. Id. ¶¶ 21-22.

         On December 1, 2015, Shume filed a handwritten pro se complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. See ECF No. 2-1 at 86. The complaint named “Promissor, Inc.” as the defendant and was apparently intended to be brought against Pearson. See Id. Shume also filed a form motion for a temporary restraining order, which was denied after a hearing. See Id. at 77, 84. Pearson moved to dismiss, see Id. at 65-68, but its motion became moot when Shume, having obtained counsel, filed the Amended Complaint against Defendants Pearson and the District of Columbia, see Id. at 4 (docket number 12); Am. Compl.

         The Amended Complaint asserts four causes of action. The first, for breach of contract, alleges that Shume's submission of her renewal application caused a binding contract to form between her and Defendants, which they breached by declining to renew her certificate. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-27. Shume's second cause of action seeks a “Preliminary and Permanent Injunction and/or Writ of Mandamus” requiring Defendants to renew her certificate. Id. ¶¶ 28-35. Her third cause of action seeks a declaratory judgment that she is entitled to renewal. Id. ¶¶ 36-38. The fourth cause of action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that Defendants violated her right to due process by revoking her certificate without a pre- or post-deprivation hearing or other adequate safeguards. Id. ¶¶ 39-45.

         Pearson removed the case to this Court, asserting federal question jurisdiction. ECF No.

         I. Defendants then filed the instant motions to dismiss.

         II, Legal Standard

         “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff s complaint; it does not require a court to ‘assess the truth of what is asserted or determine whether a plaintiff has any evidence to back up what is in the complaint.'” Herron v. Fannie Mae, 861 F.3d 160, 173 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). “In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). “But the Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if those inferences are not supported by the facts set out in the complaint, nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast as factual allegations.” Id. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must have ‘facial plausibility, ' meaning it must ‘plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         III. Analysis

         As explained below, the Court agrees with Defendants that Shume has failed to state a claim for breach of contract, which will be dismissed. But the Court concludes that Shume has stated a claim for a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on her right to procedural due process (although the claim will be dismissed insofar as it attempts to state a claim based on substantive due process). Shume also asserts two causes of action seeking equitable and declaratory relief, along with a writ of mandamus. Those claims will be dismissed without prejudice to Shume's ability to request any relief to which she may be entitled at the appropriate time.

         A. Breach of ...

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