United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Elyssa Hubbard brings this action for breach of contract and
breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against
Defendant Howard University (“Howard”), alleging
that the university failed to provide adequate instruction
and materials for a course she took; denied “her right
to initiate” and to pursue “a grade dispute
pursuant to” established grievance procedures; and
deprived her of a meaningful opportunity to challenge her
academic suspension, Dkt. 1 at 7-8 (Compl. ¶ 35). The
matter is now before the Court on Howard's motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim. Dkt. 5. For the
following reasons, the Court will DENY that
purposes of Howard's motion to dismiss, the Court must
“accept as true” the following factual
allegations taken from Hubbard's complaint. See
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Elyssa Hubbard was, until recently, enrolled as a student at
Howard University in the mechanical engineering program. Dkt.
1 at 1 (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2). Some time prior to the
Spring 2017 semester, Hubbard was placed on academic
probation, and, as a result, was required to earn a
“minimum 2.0 GPA” to avoid suspension and
“to continue attending” Howard. Id. at
5-6 (Compl. ¶¶ 24, 30). Hubbard, however, did not
achieve that goal, due-at least in part-to a “D”
grade she received in Fluid Mechanics II. Dkt. 1 at 3 (Compl.
contends that her grade in that course was unjustified for
two reasons. First, she alleges that the grade that she
received on her mid-term examination was unfair. See
Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 15). In particular, she alleges
that when she asked Dr. James Hammonds, who taught the
course, about her grade, he “initially stated that
[she] did not provide graphs on the exam, but, when she
pointed out that she had provided graphs, he then said”
that the graphs she provided “were not what he
wanted.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 15). Hubbard adds,
moreover, that Dr. Hammonds never provided the class with any
“examples of what type of graphs he wanted and there
was no textbook for the class.” Id. (Compl.
¶ 15). Second, Hubbard alleges that Dr. Hammonds
mistakenly concluded that she “did not turn in any
assignments.” Id. at 3-4 (Compl. ¶ 13).
According to Hubbard, she, in fact, “completed all
homework assignments” for the class and “had
evidence [that] she submitted them to Professor
Hammonds” by email. Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶
with Howard's grievance policy, Hubbard contacted Dr.
Hammonds to dispute the grade. Id. at 3 (Compl.
¶ 12). Dissatisfied with Dr. Hammonds's response,
she then contacted the Department Chair, Dr. Nadir Yilmaz.
Id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 14). Dr. Yilmaz reviewed
Hubbard's exams and homework, but, because he did not
receive a response from Dr. Hammonds, Dr. Yilmaz
“recommended [that Hubbard simply] file a grievance
with the appropriate [university] entity.” Id.
at 5 (Compl. ¶¶ 16-19). Hubbard then
“submitted an [a]cademic [g]rievance” to the Dean
of the College of Engineering and Architecture, Dr. Achille
Messac. Id. (Compl. ¶ 21). “Receiving no
response, . . . Hubbard followed up with Dr. Messac, ”
who told her that “all official communications must be
submitted through [Howard University] emails.”
Id. (Compl. ¶ 22). Hubbard had initially filed
her grievance “using her personal email account,
” and she therefore “resubmitted” the
grievance to Dr. Messac using her Howard University email
account. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-23). Two days
later, however, she “received a notice of academic
suspension for failing to meet the 2.0 GPA requirement”
while on academic probation. Id. (Compl. ¶ 24).
receiving notice of her academic suspension, Hubbard met with
Dr. Yilmaz, who told her that because Dr. Hammonds was off
for the summer and “was not required to respond to Dr.
Yilmaz's emails, ” “Dr. Yilmaz could not move
forward with the grade dispute until Dr. Hammonds returned
from summer break.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 25).
Hubbard then “submitted an appeal for reinstatement
citing [her] pending grade dispute, ” which, “if
successful, ” would have allowed her to “meet the
2.0 GPA minimum to continue attending [Howard] on
probation.” Id. at 6 (Compl. ¶ 26). Dr.
Yilmaz, however, denied Hubbard's “appeal for
reinstatement” without resolving the pending grade
dispute. Id. (Compl. ¶ 27). Subsequently, the
university's Associate Provost, Dr. Angela Cole Dixon,
met with Hubbard and informed “her that her informal
grievance was never initiated in the first place because she
had not followed” the proper procedure; in particular,
she had not had “a face-to-face meeting with a
professor regarding [the] grade dispute.” Id.
(Compl. ¶ 29). According to Hubbard, no such requirement
“[o]n September 1, 2017, Dr. Yilmaz emailed . . .
Hubbard, ” stating that “he was upholding his
decision of academic suspension” because “Hubbard
had not formally initiated [the] grievance [process]”
and, “even if the outcome of the grievance was
favorable to her, ” “she would not reach the 2.0
GPA threshold required to bring her into good
standing.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 30). Hubbard
disagrees, alleging that she properly initiated the grievance
process and that “a successful grade dispute would have
at least given her the minimum 2.0 GPA for the spring 2017
semester, thus allowing her to continue attending
[Howard] on probationary status.” Id. (Compl.
¶ 30) (emphasis in original).
then brought this diversity action for breach of contract and
breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing,
seeking reinstatement, damages, costs, and attorney's
fees. Id. at 7-9 (Compl. ¶¶ 35-45).
claims fall into two general categories: First, she alleges
that “Dr. Hammonds [failed to] provide adequate
instruction and materials during the [Fluid Mechanics] II
class to ensure that [she] and other students knew what kind
of graphs he wanted to see on the mid-term
examination.” Id. at 8 (Compl. ¶ 35).
Second, she alleges that Howard failed to provide her with
the contractually required process for resolving her grade
dispute and challenging her suspension. Id. at 7-8
(Compl. ¶ 35). The Court will consider these claims in
respect to the first category, Hubbard alleges that her Fluid
Mechanics II instructor failed to “provid[e] adequate
instruction and materials, ” id. at 8 (Compl.
¶ 35), such as “lectures, ” “handouts,
” or a “textbook for the class, ”
id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 15), “to ensure that .
. . Hubbard and other students knew what kind of graphs he
wanted to see on the mid-term examination, ”
id. at 8 (Compl. ¶ 35). Howard moves to dismiss
this claim on the ground that academic decisions
“usually call for judicial deference, ” and
Hubbard “does not plead any improper motivation or