United States District Court, D. Minnesota
A. Lesko, Esq. and Peiffer Rosea Wolf Abdullah Carr &
Kane, APLC, counsel for plaintiffs Jennifer Wright, et al.
K. Shelquist, Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, counsel for
defendant Aaroon Bleess.
Charles F. Knapp, Esq. and Sean R. Somermeyer, Esq. and
Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, counsel for defendants.
S. Doty, Judge United States District Court
matter is before the court upon the motions to dismiss or, in
the alternative, to stay the action by defendants Walden
University, LLC and Laureate International Universities.
Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings
herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the
The Wright Action
University is a for-profit, online university that offers a
variety of bachelor, masters, and doctorate
degrees. No. 16-cv-4037, Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.
Plaintiffs Jennifer Wright, Kelli Callahan, Janet Harrison,
Pete Holubz, and Kelly Gardiner were doctoral students at
Walden. Id. ¶¶ 18-22.
Plaintiffs claim that Walden represented to them and other
prospective students that the doctoral program dissertation
process would take 13-18 months and require five
dissertation-level courses. Id. ¶ 3. Defendants
allegedly knew, however, that it took substantially longer to
complete the doctoral program but withheld this information
from students. Id. ¶ 7. As a result, plaintiffs
claim they spent substantially more time and money on the
doctoral program than anticipated. Id. ¶¶
13-15. Based on these alleged misrepresentations, plaintiffs
filed this class action lawsuit on December 1, 2016,
asserting claims of unjust enrichment, breach of contract,
and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing
against Walden and fraud in the inducement and violation the
Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act against both Walden
and Laureate. Plaintiffs also asserted common law claims
under the states of their respective residencies as an
alternative state-wide subclass.
The Thornhill Action
October 5, 2016, nearly two months before the Wright
action, counsel for plaintiffs in the Wright action
filed a class action lawsuit in the Southern District of Ohio
on behalf of plaintiff LaTonya Thornhill. See No.
2:16-cv-962 (S.D. Ohio), ECF No. 1. The complaint in
Thornhill is nearly identical to the complaint filed
in Wright: Thornhill asserts claims of breach of
contract, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, and
breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing
against Walden; fraud in the inducement and violation of the
Minnesota Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act against both
Walden and Laureate; and Ohio common law claims brought
alternatively as an Ohio state-wide sublcass. Further, the
claims are based on the same allegations in the
Wright complaint, namely, that Walden misrepresented
the amount of time it would take to complete the doctorate
The Bleess Action
December 29, 2016, plaintiff Aaron Bleess filed a class
action lawsuit, nearly identical to the complaints filed in
Wright and Thornhill, against Walden and
Laureate based on the same alleged
misrepresentations. See No. 16-4402, ECF No. 1.
Bleess alleges claims of breach of contract, breach of
implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust
enrichment against Walden and fraudulent inducement,
violation of the Minnesota Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices
Act, and violation of the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act
against both Walden and Laureate. Defendants move to dismiss,
or in the alternative, to stay both the Wright and
Bleess actions. On April 5, 2017, while the motions
were pending, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation
denied centralization of the above and other related actions.
well established that in cases of “concurrent
jurisdiction, the first court in which jurisdiction attaches
has priority to consider the case.” Orthmann v.
Apple River Campground Inc., 765 F.2d 119, 121 (8th Cir.
1985). The first-filed rule is not “rigid, mechanical,
or inflexible” and the court applies it to serve the
interests of justice. Id. The rule exists
“[t]o conserve judicial resources and avoid conflicting
rulings.” Nw. Airlines, Inc. v. Am. Airlines,
Inc., 989 F.2d 1002, 1006 (8th Cir. 1993). Absent
compelling circumstances, “the first-filed rule gives
priority, for purposes of choosing among possible venues when
parallel litigation has been instituted in separate courts,
to the party who first establishes jurisdiction.”
Id. Parallel ...