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Haddad v. Bryant University

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

July 15, 2019

ALEXANDRA HADDAD, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYANT UNIVERSITY, a non-profit Corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Alexandra Haddad entered the Physician's Assistant Program ("PA Program") at Bryant University in January 2016. Unable to meet the academic requirements throughout, Bryant placed her on Academic Probation during her first term and dismissed her from the PA Program twice. Successful appeals of these dismissals and the flexibility Bryant showed her in applying its policies allowed her to continue her studies albeit through a plan of remedial assessments and rotations. But after continuing to struggle despite the adjustments made to her academic progression, Ms. Haddad was dismissed from the program for the third and final time in December 2018.

         Ms. Haddad challenges her final dismissal through this action's breach of contract and misrepresentation claims. She alleges that a February 1, 2017 letter from Program Director Jay Amrien setting forth a remediation progress plan created a new implied-in-fact contract that Bryant breached by dismissing her from the PA Program even though she complied with the terms of the letter. Because the Court finds that the February 1, 2017 letter was not a contract governing the relationship between Ms. Haddad and Bryant, there is no legal or factual basis for her contract or misrepresentation claims against Bryant. The Court therefore grants judgment to Bryant.

         FACTS

         Bryant's policies, procedures, and academic requirements are contained in the Student Manual and Academic Policies and Procedures ("Academic Policies") documents. ECF No. 18-1 at 3. The PA Program has two phases: a didactic phase, which largely consists of one year of classroom learning, and a clinical rotations phase, where students spend fifteen months working in various medical fields. Id. at ¶ 4. The didactic year is divided into four terms and each term builds on the previous term's work. Id. at ¶ 5. Students must get a minimum passing grade of a 75 and maintain an overall Grade Point Average ("GPA") of 3.0 for each term in the didactic year, Id. at ¶ 6.

         If a student fails a course, Bryant will place her on Academic Probation, and she must take a remediation exam. Id. at ¶ 7. If the student passes the remediation exam, she will receive a 75% and will progress to the next term, but will remain on Academic Probation. Id. at ¶ 8. Failure to maintain a 3.0 GPA per term during the didactic phase will result in Academic Probation; the student must then "demonstrate continual improvement to remain in the program as defined as an improving GPA." Id. at ¶ 9. "Students who fail to improve their overall GPA from the previous term will be referred to the [Academic Support and Remediation Committee] for recommended dismissal." Id. at ¶ 9. To progress from the didactic phase into the clinical rotations phase, a student must have at least a 3.0 GPA. During the clinical phase, students must achieve an 83% or above to pass each rotation. Id. at ¶ 10. Students were required to achieve an overall 3.0 GPA in order to graduate. Id. at ¶ 2.

         Ms. Haddad reviewed Bryant's Academic Policies and understood that she would have to achieve a cumulative 3, 0 GPA to be considered for graduation. Id. at ¶ 18. She had a meeting on her first day of classes where she discussed all aspects of the program, including academic and non-academic standards, graduation requirements, and program policies. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Ms. Haddad failed two classes during the first didactic term but took and earned a 75% on the remediation assignment and exam. Id. at ¶¶ 21, 22. She still did not have the required 3.0 GPA, so Bryant put her on Academic Probation. Id. at ¶ 23. During her second term, she failed four tests and her GPA remained below a 3.0 though it did not improve from the previous term. Id. at ¶ 25. Her GPA dropped during her third term after she failed eight tests. Id. at ¶ 26. Because Ms. Haddad did not have the required 3.0 GPA, Bryant dismissed her from the PA Program. Id. at ¶ 27. She appealed her dismissal and was reinstated with the provision that she raise her GPA to the required 3.0 by the end of the fourth term. Id. at ¶¶ 28-29. She did not and was dismissed for the second time. Id., at ¶ 31.

         Ms. Haddad appealed, and Bryant allowed her to go through a remedial process that included taking a summative exam and a PACKRAT[1] test. Id., at ¶ 32. She failed both exams. Id. at ¶ 34. Program Director Amrien sent Ms, Haddad a letter, dismissing her for the third time from the PA Program effective January 1, 2017. Id. at 1| 35. Ms. Haddad appealed again, writing to the Provost outlining the basis for her appeal and pledging to improve her academic performance and detailing how she intended to so improve. Id. at ¶ 36. The Provost decided to defer her dismissal and allow her to get back on track by doing a remedial clinical rotation; she met with Christopher Ferreira, Director of Clinical Education, to discuss a plan.[2] Id. at ¶ 38.

         Mr. Amrien wrote to Ms. Haddad on February 1, 2017, laying out the parameters of the Remedial Rotation she discussed with Mr. Ferreira that would allow her to progress from the didactic program to the clinical program. Bryant expected her to complete a remedial clinical rotation with a passing preceptor evaluation score of her performance, to get a passing score on the Family Medicine End-Of-Rotation Exam, to take an additional PACKRAT exam and receive a score equal to or greater than 379, and to complete at least 250 Rosh Review Questions. Id. at ¶ 41. Ms. Haddad was told that if she completed this remedial clinical rotation, she still needed to complete all twelve clinical rotations in the PA Program. The letter also noted that this appeal was final and if she failed to pass any clinical rotation, she would be dismissed. Id. at ¶ 41. She testified that she believed that the February 1st letter set forth her personal graduation requirement and she was not told that she still needed to achieve an overall 3.0 GPA to graduate. Id. at ¶ 44.

         Mr. Ferreira met with Ms. Haddad again in March to discuss her progress through the Remedial Rotation. Id. at ¶ 42. Again, the parties dispute whether Mr. Ferreira told her that she still had to achieve an overall 3.0 GPA to graduate," he testified that he did and noted that in the Student Encounter Form and she denies this. Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. While she met the four requirements set forth in the February 1st letter, Ms. Haddad failed to attain the 3.0 GPA that she would need to graduate and was dismissed for a third and final time in December. Id. at ¶¶ 48-50. She appealed this decision based on her understanding that she did not need a 3.0 GPA to graduate, but Bryant denied her, relying on the requirement as set forth in the Academic Policies. Id. at ¶¶ 51-52.

         Ms. Haddad filed this suit against Bryant for breach of contract and fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation. Now Bryant moves for summary judgment (ECF No. 16), which Ms. Haddad opposes (ECF No. 18).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must look to the record and view all the facts and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Continental Cas. Co. v. Canadian Univ. Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir. 1991). Once this is done, Rule 56(c) requires that summary judgment be granted if there is no issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A material fact is one affecting ...


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