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Soueidan v. St. Louis University

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 14, 2019

Ahmed Soueidan Plaintiff - Appellant
St. Louis University Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Ahmed Soueidan appeals from the district court's[1] order dismissing his Missouri state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and fraudulent misrepresentation against St. Louis University (SLU). Soueidan argues that the district court erroneously dismissed the claims under the educational malpractice doctrine and for failure to prove the required elements. He further asserts that the district court erred in denying his request for leave to amend his complaint. We affirm.

         I. Background[2]

         Soueidan enrolled as a doctoral student at SLU in the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology in 2012. SLU represented to Soueidan that he would obtain his Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering in four years. In August 2012, Soueidan met with the department chair to discuss a plan of study. The department chair drafted a plan for Soueidan to graduate with his doctoral degree in four years. Soueidan began following the plan and enrolled in coursework.

         Soueidan attempted to find a Ph.D. advisor to supervise his graduate studies, but he was unable to find anyone willing and able to accept new graduate students. One professor even told Soueidan that he "should not be in this program." Compl. at 2, ¶ 10, Soueidan v. St. Louis Univ., No. 4:17-cv-02777 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 27, 2017), ECF No. 1. As a result, Soueidan completed his first three semesters without an advisor.

         In December 2013, Professor Raymond Lebeau agreed to serve as Soueidan's advisor. Lebeau indicated that he could get Soueidan through the program in two more years, even though Lebeau had no research or funding for Soueidan. Lebeau was uncertain about the requisite qualifying examination for Soueidan. As a result, Soueidan referred to the SLU Graduate Student Handbook ("Handbook") for guidance. But Lebeau advised Soueidan to disregard the Handbook's guidelines. Lebeau told Soueidan that they would "do it our way" and that Soueidan was "a guinea pig for this program." Compl. at 3, ¶ 13.

         In August 2014, the graduate coordinator, graduate programs assistant, department chair, and several professors in the department simultaneously left SLU. By August 2015, the graduate programs assistant[3] and the Dean of the College of Engineering left their positions. By that time, Soueidan had completed ten graduate-level courses toward satisfying the course credits requirement for his Ph.D. in accordance with the Handbook.

         In June 2015, Lebeau advised Soueidan that he needed to attend a conference to prepare for the qualifying examination. In January 2016, they attended the AIAA SciTech 2016 conference in San Diego, California. At that conference, Soueidan presented his thesis work. Soueidan paid for all of his conference expenses.

         In May 2016, Soueidan met with Lebeau and the graduate coordinator to discuss the timing of Soueidan's qualifying examination. Thereafter, Lebeau recommended that Soueidan do a practice exam in preparation for the actual exam. Following Soueidan's practice examination, Lebeau told Soueidan that two of the committee members said Soueidan would not pass his examination. But, Lebeau noted, a third committee member said he would have passed Soueidan. Lebeau relayed this information to Soueidan before the actual exam so "bullets wouldn't go flying." Id. at 4, ¶ 16.

         In August 2016, at the start of his fifth year at SLU, Soueidan took the qualifying examination. One committee member informed Soueidan prior to the examination that Soueidan did not follow the guidelines for writing his paper and questioned his preparedness for the examination. After the examination, Lebeau told Soueidan that he "should not have been let in here" because Lebeau was "not interested in new ideas" and was "afraid of putting Mr. Soueidan out there because Mr. Leabeau didn't know what Mr. Lebeau was doing and didn't want to bear that responsibility." Id. at 4, ¶ 17 (brackets omitted).

         After not passing the qualifying examination, Soueidan was instructed to take another written examination and perform additional course work. Notably, Soueidan had suggested to Lebeau years prior that he take this same written exam. The exam is normally taken within the first year of Ph.D. studies. Soueidan did enroll in the recommended additional course. He also met an additional time with the graduate coordinator and Lebeau to discuss his progress.

         In the fall of 2016, after over four years, Soueidan left the Ph.D. program and downgraded to a Master's degree. But, in a final attempt to obtain his Ph.D., Soueidan spoke with the SLU Provost of Academic Affairs about his situation. The Provost initially advised Soueidan to leave SLU to join a new program and that the Provost would help him get his dissertation credits refunded. Later, after speaking with the Dean of the ...

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