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Smith v. Maryville University of Saint Louis

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 12, 2019

Aimee L. Smith, Plaintiff,
v.
Maryville University of Saint Louis, Defendant.

          Joel D. Van Nurden, Esq. and Van Nurden Law, PLLC, counsel for plaintiff.

          Michael Thomas Raupp, Esq. and Husch Blackwell, LLP, and Peter D. Stiteler and Fox Rothschild LLP, counsel for defendant.

          ORDER

          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon the motion to dismiss by defendant Maryville University of Saint Louis (Maryville). Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         BACKGOUND

         This dispute arises out of an alleged breach of contract between Maryville and plaintiff Aimee L. Smith. Maryville is a Missouri non-profit corporation with its registered offices and campus located in St. Louis, Missouri. Compl. ¶ 2; see Smith Decl. ¶ 6. Maryville provides a 100% online nursing program for off- campus students, which it advertises via both Google and its website. Smith Decl. Exs. 1, 2. The four-year course is conducted through the Canvas Learning Management Platform (Canvas), an online platform where professors and students communicate and engage in real-time learning sessions. Smith Decl. ¶ 8. Maryville provides its online students with a unique password and username to access information on Canvas. Id. ¶ 7.

         In late 2014 or early 2015, Smith, a Minnesota resident, contacted Maryville via its website to inquire about its Master of Nursing Program. Id. ¶ 2. Smith subsequently enrolled in the program, and successfully completed the first five semesters of the six-semester program. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5. In her final semester, Smith was required to take a practicum so she could gain hands-on experience and for which she would log her hours via Canvas. See id. ¶¶ 6-9. At the end of the practicum, the supervising practitioner would validate Smith's hours and provide Maryville with an evaluation of her work. Id. ¶ 9.

         In late April 2018, on finishing the semester, Smith sent the practitioner a link to approve her hours and provide an evaluation. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Although it appears the practitioner approved some of Smith's hours, he did not provide an evaluation of her work. Id. ¶¶ 14-17. Shortly thereafter, Smith held a Skype meeting with two of her professors to discuss alleged discrepancies between the hours approved by the practitioner and those Smith logged via Canvas. Id. ¶ 18. After the meeting, Smith received a letter from one of Maryville's academic deans informing her that she would receive a failing grade for her practicum. Id. ¶ 19. The letter informed Smith that she could appeal the failing grade, which she promptly did. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         In late May 2018, the academic dean emailed Smith to inform her that her appeal was denied and instructed her to contact Maryville's associate academic vice president if she believed she had evidence to support her appeal. Id. ¶ 21. Smith contacted the vice president to request an appeal, and received a letter back affirming the failing grade for her practicum. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. That same day, Smith received a letter from the director of her program informing her that she was dismissed from the program for falsifying her hours in violation of Maryville's academic integrity policy. Id. ¶ 24. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Smith communicated via email with various Maryville staff members in order to challenge her dismissal. Id. ¶ 25.

         On its website, Maryville provides a student handbook that contains a policy regarding academic integrity. Id. ¶ 33; Smith Decl. ¶ 9. The handbook provides procedures for both students and Maryville to follow in the event a student is accused of violating the academic integrity policy. Compl. ¶ 33. In June 2019, Smith filed suit against Maryville in Minnesota state court, alleging that the handbook forms a contract between Maryville and its students, and that Maryville breached the contract by not following the procedures laid out in the handbook when it dismissed her for violating the academic integrity policy. Id. ¶¶ 34-38. Maryville timely removed to federal court, and now moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case that the forum state has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. See Stevens v. Redwing, 146 F.3d 538, 543 (8th Cir. 1998). In the absence of an evidentiary hearing, a court “must look at the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of that party.” Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear, Inc., 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). The court may look to affidavits, declarations, and exhibits to determine whether personal jurisdiction exists. Romak USA, Inc. v. Rich, 384 F.3d 979, 983 (8th Cir. 2004).

         A federal court may assume jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant “only to the extent permitted by the long-arm statute of the forum state and by the Due Process Clause.” Romak, 384 F.3d at 984 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Because the Minnesota long-arm statute “confers jurisdiction to the fullest extent permitted by the Due Process Clause, ” the court need ...


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