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Wells v. Newkirk-Turner

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

October 22, 2014

REBA WELLS, Plaintiff,


DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This suit involves civil-rights and state-law claims brought by a student who received a failing grade after allegedly cheating on an exam. The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and for Qualified Immunity [11]. The Court, having considered the parties' submissions and the pertinent authorities, finds that Defendants' motion should be granted as to all claims against Jackson State University ("JSU"); granted as to the federal claims against Dr. Brandi Newkirk-Turner; and taken under advisement as to the statelaw claims against Newkirk-Turner. Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to seek leave to amend some of the dismissed claims.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff Reba Wells is a graduate student at JSU in the College of Public Service, School of Health Sciences. According to Wells, Defendant Newkirk-Turner, the interim graduateprogram director in the Communicative Disorders program, informed Wells that a professor and other students observed Wells cheating on an examination. Compl. [1] ¶ 8. Wells avers that she denied the accusations when confronted, but Newkirk-Turner expelled Wells from the class and gave her a failing grade for the course. Id. ¶ 10.

Wells contends that other students in the same program had previously been accused of cheating on their examinations yet "were not removed from their classes and not given failing grades for the semester." Id. ¶ 11. Believing Defendants violated her right to equal protection, Wells filed this action against JSU and Newkirk-Turner (in her individual capacity) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wells also brought state-law claims for defamation and breach of contract.

Defendants answered the Complaint and several months later moved for judgment on the pleadings. Newkirk-Turner also moved for judgment based on qualified immunity. Wells eventually filed a four-page Response, in which she also asked for leave to amend. Defendants filed a Rebuttal. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

II. Standard of Review

The standard for deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is the same as that under Rule 12(b)(6). Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 313 n.8 (5th Cir. 2002). In considering a motion under Rule 12(c), the "court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)).

To overcome a Rule 12(c) motion, Plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555 (citation and footnote omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "This standard simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements." In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Finally, the Supreme Court has provided a framework for examining the sufficiency of a complaint:

[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

III. Analysis

A. Wells's Claims Against Jackson ...

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