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Jumbo v. Alabama State University

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 23, 2017

SUCCESS JUMBO, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
ALABAMA STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. Keith Watkins, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Alabama State University (“ASU, ” “Alabama State, ” or the “University”). (Doc. # 9.) Because Plaintiffs' complaint (Doc. # 1) alleges facts sufficient to state each of their claims, the motion is due to be denied.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, “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)). “[F]acial plausibility” exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of a complaint; it is not a vehicle to litigate questions of fact. See Harper v. Lawrence Cty., Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2010). However, exhibits attached to the complaint are also properly considered in the 12(b)(6) inquiry. Weeks v. Wyeth, Inc., 120 F.Supp.3d 1278, 1283 (M.D. Ala. 2015) (citing Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 449 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006)).

         III. BACKGROUND

         The Federal Republic of Nigeria offers its citizens sponsorship to attend school abroad. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 2.) These sponsorships cover the full cost of attendance: Nigeria foots the bill for the sponsored students' “tuition, fees, health insurance, room and board, textbooks, and miscellaneous personal costs.” (Doc. # 1 ¶¶ 2, 4.) A few dozen of these sponsored students ended up at Alabama State University, leading to the dispute before the court today.

         Under its arrangement with ASU, Nigeria remitted sponsorship money directly to the University with the proviso that any funds not used for tuition or other fees be disbursed to the sponsored students to cover their sundry personal expenses. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs, thirty-seven Nigerian citizens enrolled at Alabama State University (collectively, the “Students” or the “Plaintiff Students”), filed suit on August 25, 2016, claiming that the University wrongfully converted their sponsorship money for its own use. (Doc. # 1.) The Students bring four claims against the University: (1) national-origin discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) breach of fiduciary duty in the University's conversion of the sponsorship money; (3) breach of the University's contract with Nigeria, enforceable by the Students due to their status as third-party beneficiaries; and (4) unjust enrichment.

         Assuming the truth of the Students' factual allegations, Resnick, 693 F.3d 1321-22, the facts of the case are as follows. After depositing the Students' sponsorship money for the 2013-14 school year in their financial accounts with the University, Alabama State prevented the Students from accessing the money for any purpose other than to repay school expenses. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 10.) Not only did the University bar the free spending of the Students' sponsorship money, it allegedly used the Students' financial accounts as a slush fund to pay for expenses unrelated to the Students or their education. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 10.) Sometime around the fall semester of 2014, Alabama State went so far as to empty the Students' accounts of the sponsorship money, purportedly because Nigeria had not yet paid the University for the Students' 2014-15 enrollment. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 11.) But on its eventual receipt of the sponsorship money, the University continued to withhold the ‘13-14 sponsorship money and refused to deposit any of the ‘14-15 money in the Students' accounts. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 12.) Pockets empty, the Students reached out to Kingsley K. KuKu, Special Adviser to the President of the Niger Delta, asking him to right the University's wrongs. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 13.) Mr. KuKu duly wrote the University on May 15, 2015, asking that the credit balances earmarked for the Students' tuition be carried over to help pay for the next semester and that the remaining credit balances be refunded to the Students. (Doc. # 1-1.) The University ignored Mr. KuKu's request. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 14.)

         In November of 2015, counsel for the Students wrote the President and Provost of the University, demanding that the Students be given their sponsorship money. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 15.) Two months later, University general counsel wrote back to the Students to inform them that, because “[t]here [wa]s no financial agreement between the University and the [Plaintiff Students], ” they would get nothing. (Doc. # 1-3.) Plaintiffs filed suit later that year, but their case was dismissed without prejudice for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. Jumbo v. Ala. State Univ., No. 2:16-CV-312-KS-GMB (M.D. Ala. July 6, 2016). The Students filed a second complaint on August 25, 2016, which is before the court today. (See Doc. # 1.)

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Before reaching the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' complaint, the analysis begins with the numerous exhibits attached to the parties' briefing. Both parties build their arguments on a pile of letters, emails, declarations, affidavits, and other papers attached to their briefs. (See generally Docs. # 9, 14, 17.) In so doing, they aim to litigate factual questions beyond the scope of 12(b)(6). Michel v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 816 F.3d 686, 701 (11th Cir. 2016) (“The clear rule in this Circuit is that consideration of material falling outside the pleadings converts a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.”) (citing Trustmark Ins. Co. v. ESLU, Inc., 299 F.3d 1265, 1267 (11th Cir. 2002)). While trial courts may consider matters outside the pleadings on conversion of the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, [1] the court enjoys near-absolute discretion to take such a procedural detour. 5C Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366 (3d ed. 2016) (“[F]ederal courts have complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.”). “A judge need not convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment as long as he or she does not consider matters outside the pleadings.” Harper, 592 F.3d at 1232. This is the path the court will follow. Summary judgment should not be entered absent adequate opportunity for discovery. See Jones v. City of Columbus, Ga., 120 ...


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