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Jones v. Grand Canyon University

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 7, 2017

Ronald David Jones, Plaintiff,
Grand Canyon University, et al., Defendants.


          David G. Campbell, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ronald David Jones filed this action against Defendant Grand Canyon University (“GCU”). Doc. 1. Plaintiff asserts violations of his constitutional, religious, and civil rights. Docs. 8, 10. Plaintiff has named the following individuals as additional Defendants: Paul Newman, Don Done, Andrew Sutherland, Kenneth Hood, Rose Shaw, Shakeisha Chambers, Casey Fetkenhier, Terry Bovinet, and Ted Rivera. Doc. 10. GCU has filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 19. Defendants Chambers and Done - the only individual Defendants who have appeared in this case - join GCU's motion to dismiss. Doc. 56. The motion is fully briefed (Docs. 59, 64), and no party has requested oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

         I. Background.

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's second amended complaint and are taken as true for the purposes of this motion. Defendant GCU is a private Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona. See Doc. 10 at 2; Doc. 19 at 3-6. All other Defendants reside in Arizona. Doc. 10 at 2-3. Plaintiff is a Florida resident and former student of GCU. See id., ¶¶ 2-11. Between February 2010 and April 2014, Plaintiff enrolled in several online courses at GCU seeking his master's degree in Christian Studies. Id.

         In February 2010, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Newman. Id., ¶ 2. At that time, Newman told Plaintiff that GCU “would find Plaintiff a job” and “promised Plaintiff [he would be] paid $1, 000 each semester if he maintained a B average.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that Newman was tasked with completing Plaintiff's orientation with GCU, but Newman failed to show Plaintiff how to enter responses to student posts in online classes or how to check grades. Id. “Plaintiff completed two eight week courses and received two C's because of Defendant Newman's actions or inactions during Plaintiff's orientation . . . . [Newman's actions] caused Plaintiff to lose $1000 a semester.” Id. “When Plaintiff finally pull [sic] grades up to a 3.0, Defendant Don Done went back and changed Plaintiff's A grade to a B causing Plaintiff's average to fall below 3.0.” Id., ¶3.

         In July 2010, Defendant Andrew Sutherland gave Plaintiff a failing grade without grading Plaintiff's completed assignments. Id., ¶ 4. Plaintiff asserts that Sutherland “refused to read [the] completed assignment[s] because of Plaintiff['s] perspective of the Bible being a Black Book.” Id.

         In April 2011, Defendant Kenneth Hood gave Plaintiff a C grade in an unnamed course. Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff asserts that this grade was improper because he “was grade[d] based on race Black [sic] while White student[s] [were] given better grades for work that was not as good as Plaintiff['s] work.” Id. Furthermore, “Hood was racist toward Plaintiff, ” “often times expressed his racist opinion when referring to Plaintiff['s] work[, ]” and “was encouraged by [GCU] to give Plaintiff [a] bad grade so that Plaintiff would not receive the $1000 promised to Plaintiff for keeping a 3.0 average.” Id.

         In August 2011, Defendant Rose Shaw “dropped Plaintiff out [of] a class and out of the university” while “Plaintiff had an A average in [] Ryan Hanning's class[.]” Id., ¶ 6. Plaintiff “had to take the class over again losing the money paid for the class.” Id.

         In March 2014, Defendant Shakeisha Chambers “gave Plaintiff a bad grade in [an] internship to force Plaintiff to work on a second master's degree.” Id., ¶ 7. Plaintiff had completed all course work for the internship and submitted all requested information to GCU. Id. When “[GCU] said they did not receive Plaintiff['s] information from Plaintiff['s] place of internship[, ]” Plaintiff “personally went back to place of internship” to check. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he checked with his place of internship “several times, ” and “every time was told that all information was submitted.” Id.

         In April 2014, Defendant Casey Fetkenhier “tried to encourage Plaintiff into going to place of internship and ‘make them email' Plaintiff's grades.” Id., ¶ 8. Plaintiff states that “[i]t sounded as if [Fetkenhier] wanted Plaintiff to break the law.” Id. Additionally, “Fetkenhier tried to bull[y] Plaintiff into working on a second master's degree” by “call[ing] Plaintiff on [his] cell phone . . . after being told not to call [that number].” Id. Ultimately, GCU “enrolled Plaintiff in a second degree program and now says that Plaintiff owes them money” and “cannot get [his first] Master's Degree until [he] complete[s] a second Master's Degree program.” Id.

         At some point during Plaintiff's time at GCU, Defendants Terry Bovient and Ted Rivera each, in apparently distinct and unrelated instances, “gave Plaintiff a grade of C while giving White students and females an A for work that was not as good as Plaintiff['s].” Id., ¶¶ 9-10. Furthermore, Plaintiff claims that he filed a complaint against GCU, its instructors and counselors, but the individual that took the complaint, Kenya King, never turned it in. Id., ¶ 11.

         Following each factual allegation described above, Plaintiff asserts that the relevant party engaged in the described conduct because of Plaintiff's race, sex, age, and religious beliefs. See, e.g., id., ¶ 12.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A successful motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must show either that the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or fails to allege facts sufficient to support its theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A complaint that sets forth a cognizable legal theory will survive a motion to dismiss as long as it contains “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) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 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.” Id., 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at ...

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