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Amiri v. The Board of Trustees of University of Alabama

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

October 2, 2018

ALI AMIRI., Plaintiff,



         This case is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. # 29). After careful consideration, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that the motion is due to be denied.

         I. Relevant Facts

         In August 2011, Plaintiff Ali Amiri began a PhD program in physics at the University of Alabama (“UA”). (Doc. # 28 at ¶ 5). In February 2013, Amiri started his dissertation research at the Center for Materials for Information Technology (“MINT”). (Id.). By fall 2015, Plaintiff had enough credentials to graduate from the PhD program, and he requested to defend his dissertation. (Id.). However, UA postponed the dissertation defense (without good reason, according to Plaintiff), and Plaintiff continued his research until June 2017. (Id.).

         In June 2017, a dispute between Plaintiff and the UA administration erupted concerning Plaintiff's access to UA laboratory facilities, the details of which are not relevant for purposes of this motion to dismiss. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-9). Relevant here, however, is Plaintiff's assertion that a June 20, 2017 letter from the MINT Center Director confirmed that, as of that date, Plaintiff was an active UA student working on his dissertation research. (Id. at ¶ 11). The letter informed Plaintiff that he was no longer a MINT student because he was not being supervised by MINT faculty or supported by MINT research funds, and it instructed Plaintiff to return all MINT facility keys to the MINT Facility Manager. (Doc. # 7-2 at 2). But, the letter does not state that Plaintiff had been dismissed from his graduate program at UA. It reads instead, “Of course, when you again become a MINT student, with your supervisor's approval you may request access [to MINT facilities].” (Id.).

         Nine days later, on June 29, 2017, Plaintiff received a letter from the graduate school informing him that “the graduate school received notification from the Department of Physics that you have been dismissed from the Doctor of Science in Physics program.” (Docs. # 28 at ¶ 11; 4 at 36).[1] Pursuant to UA policy, the letter explained, “departmental dismissal from a degree program also results in suspension from the Graduate School.” (Doc. # 4 at 36). As a result, Plaintiff was not permitted to register for the fall 2017 or any future semester unless he was first readmitted to the Graduate School, in a different program. (Id.). The letter then provided an internet link to the online Graduate Catalog, which describes the process for readmission. (Id.).

         According to Plaintiff, UA claims his dismissal was for academic reasons, not disciplinary reasons. (Doc. # 28 at ¶ 12). Plaintiff also claims academic standing is determined at the end of each semester and, at the end of the spring 2017 semester, he was in good academic standing. (Id.). He further asserts that UA failed to provide any specific reasons for his dismissal (academic or otherwise), never notified him that a dismissal procedure had begun, and held no hearing regarding his dismissal. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 12).

         Plaintiff claims the manner in which UA dismissed him from his program violated his right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. He has sued the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama for this alleged violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Board has moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Id. at 555, 557. “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion questions the legal sufficiency of a complaint; therefore, in assessing the merit of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must assume that all the factual allegations set forth in the complaint are true.” Mays v. U.S. Postal Serv., 928 F.Supp. 1552, 1557-58 (M.D. Ala. 1996). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007). Thus, for the purpose of resolving Defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. # 29), the court treats the facts plausibly alleged in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. # 28) as true. The court also liberally construes pro se filings, such as Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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). Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A plausible claim for relief requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Kivisto v. Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, PLC, 413 Fed.Appx. 136, 138 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Am. Dental Assn. v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)). That task is context specific and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         IV. Analysis

         “[A] § 1983 claim alleging a denial of procedural due process requires proof of three elements: (1) a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected liberty or property interest; (2) state action; and (3) constitutionally-inadequate process.” Grayden v. Rhodes, 345 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2003). Defendant concedes that it is a state actor. (Doc. # 29 at 6). But it argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly supporting the first and third elements of his claim- that Plaintiff was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest and that the process UA ...

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