Beaulieu v. Ashford Univ.

Decision Date29 March 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 20-cv-2117
Parties Thaddeus BEAULIEU, Plaintiff, v. ASHFORD UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Thaddeus Joseph Beaulieu, Aurora, IL, Pro Se.

Sarah Clouse, Todd Barry Tatelman, U.S. House of Representatives Office of General Counsel, Washington, DC, for Defendant Bill Foster.

Lisa T. Scruggs, R. Nicole R. Mirjanich, Duane Morris LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants Ashford University, LLC, Justin Harrison.

Kathleen M. Przywara, United States Attorney's Office, Chicago, IL, for Defendant United States of America.


Robert M. Dow, Jr., United States District Judge

Plaintiff Thaddeus Beaulieu, unhappy with the way instructors and administrators at Ashford University treated him and handled his complaints, sued the University and certain individual employees, plus a program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (and individual employees there), as well as U.S. Representative Bill Foster. Plaintiff seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for a variety of reasons.

For the reasons stated below, Defendants’ motions [5, 18, and 22] are granted, and Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff's motion to amend [28] is denied, as the proposed amended complaint [29] fails to correct the deficiencies in the original complaint. Plaintiff may file a new motion to amend with a new proposed amended complaintif he can do so consistent with the reasoning and instructions in this order—by April 26, 2021. If no motion for leave to amend is filed by that deadline, the Court will dismiss all claims with prejudice and enter a final judgment. If a motion for leave to amend is filed, then Defendants may file a response to the motion no later than May 10, 2021.

I. Background1

The complaint is light on facts and heavy on conclusions, but the Court summarizes the narrative to the best of its understanding. Plaintiff Thaddeus Beaulieu was enrolled as a student and taking online classes at Ashford University from July 2018 until July 2019. In connection with his schooling, Plaintiff was also involved with the "Chicago Vocational Rehab Office" or, more precisely, the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Division of the Chicago Regional Office of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA"). Plaintiff's exact involvement with the VA program, and its relationship with Ashford University, is not clear from the complaint.

Plaintiff, who is "partially of African American descent" and describes himself as a Christian, ran into problems with one or more of his instructors. [1-1 at 5.] He alleges that Ashford University instructors gave him lower grades because he refused "to accept [Ashford University's] anti-Christian opinions on morality [such as the practice of Islam, incest, and homosexuality]." [Id. ] An instructor also told Plaintiff not to mention Jesus Christ or God during class, apparently because other students found Plaintiff's remarks to be offensive. The instructor also allowed a Caucasian student to discuss " ‘black’ males liking gay porn," which Plaintiff found to be offensive. Other students were allowed to mention Jesus, Buddha, and Islam in class without reprimand.

Plaintiff's complaints about they way instructors had treated him somehow made their way to Justin Harrison, Ashford University's dean. Plaintiff alleged that his quizzes contained errors, and his instructors had admitted so, but Dean Harrison denied it. Relatedly (the Court assumes), Plaintiff claims that Ashford University staff "wrongfully accused" Plaintiff (of what, he does not say) to Dean Harrison, and that Dean Harrison slandered Plaintiff in emails (omitting to whom the emails were sent and what defamatory statements they contained).

Plaintiff then says that Ashford University made false allegations about him to the Chicago Vocational Rehab Office, causing the VA to suspend him from the vocational rehab program. Individual defendants at the VA, for whom the United States has been substituted as a defendant, [see 20], then failed to review all of the evidence, never spoke with Plaintiff about his side of the story, and reached a biased decision against him. The VA also declined to change the person handling Plaintiff's case or to transfer it to another office, despite his requests. At some point, the VA suspended Plaintiff from the vocational rehab program.

At one point, the VA2 had told Plaintiff that he could continue his online education while he was out of the country to see his family. After his suspension, the VA said that it was against its policy to allow any student to complete online schooling in another country out of an office in the United States, and Plaintiff would have to continue his education in a "brick and mortar" school.

Additionally, a "school admittance counselor"—it is not clear whether this person worked for the VA or Ashford University or somewhere else—led Plaintiff to believe that he would be awarded full-time vocational rehab benefits (over $900/month) because he would be a full-time student at Ashford University. However, upon beginning school, Plaintiff received only partial benefits (roughly $600/month), and no one ever told him that he would not receive full-time student pay.

Finally, Plaintiff alleges that U.S. Representative Bill Foster failed to take prompt action and to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter within a reasonable timeframe.

On February 8, 2020, Plaintiff filed a suit in Kane County Circuit Court against Ashford University, Dean Justin Harrison in his individual capacity, Congressman Bill Foster, the (Veterans Administration) Chicago Vocational Rehab Office, and several individual employees of the VA (Herbert Morris, Irvine Pasquier, Stephanie L. Sleister, and Pete Hardy). On April 3, 2020, the case was removed to this Court. [See 1.] On June 22, 2020, the United States was substituted as the defendant in place of Bill Foster, Herbert Morris, Irvine Pasquier, Stephanie L. Sleister, and Pete Hardy pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(1). [See 20.] The complaint now before the Court [1-1] contains 11 counts:

Count 1: Slander
Count 2: Conspiracy and harassment
Count 3: Racial discrimination
Count 4: Religious Discrimination
Count 5: Misrepresentation (Intentional Tort)
Count 6: Negligence I
Count 7: Negligence II
Count 7[sic]: Negligence III
Count 8: Conspiracy
Count 9: Conspiracy and Misrepresentation
Count 10: Misrepresentation (Intentional Tort)

Defendants moved to dismiss on various jurisdictional and substantive grounds. [See 5, 18, 22.] Plaintiff responded but also moved to file an amended complaint. [28, 29], which Ashford University and Dean Harrison opposed [32].

II. Legal Standards

DefendantsRule 12(b)(1) motions [5, 22] challenge Plaintiff's standing to bring this lawsuit. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(1) "provides for dismissal of a claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, including lack of standing." Stubenfield v. Chicago Housing Authority , 6 F.Supp.3d 779, 782 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (citing Retired Chicago Police Ass'n v. City of Chicago , 76 F.3d 856 (7th Cir. 1996) ). Typically, "[i]n ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, the district court must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor." Lee v. City of Chicago , 330 F.3d 456, 468 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Retired Chicago Police Ass'n, 76 F.3d at 862 ); see also Moore v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. , 908 F.3d 1050, 1057 (7th Cir. 2018) ; Browner v. American Eagle Bank , 355 F.Supp.3d 731, 732–33 (N.D. Ill. 2019). However, when "standing is challenged as a factual matter, the plaintiff must come forward with ‘competent proof’—that is a showing by a preponderance of the evidence—that standing exists." Lee , 330 F.3d at 468 ; see also Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. , 572 F.3d 440, 445 (7th Cir. 2009) (once evidence calling the plaintiff's standing into question is proffered, the presumption of correctness accorded to a complaint's allegations falls away, and the plaintiff bears the burden of coming forward with competent proof that standing exists).

Dean Harrison's motion to dismiss also argues that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over him, an inquiry that is governed by Rule 12(b)(2). [19 at 11.] A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2) challenges whether the Court has jurisdiction over a defendant. The party asserting jurisdiction has the burden of proof. See Tamburo v. Dworkin , 601 F.3d 693, 701 (7th Cir. 2010). The Court may consider affidavits and other competent evidence submitted by the parties. Purdue Rsch. Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A. , 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003). If the Court rules on the motion without a hearing, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. GCIU-Emp'r Ret. Fund v. Goldfarb Corp. , 565 F.3d 1018, 1023 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court will "read the complaint liberally, in its entirety, and with every inference drawn in favor of" the plaintiff. Cent. States, Se. & Sw. Areas Pension Fund v. Phencorp Reinsurance Co. , 440 F.3d 870, 878 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Textor v. Bd. of Regents of N. Ill. Univ. , 711 F.2d 1387, 1393 (7th Cir. 1983) ). "[O]nce the defendant has submitted affidavits or other evidence in opposition to the exercise of jurisdiction," however, "the plaintiff must go beyond the pleadings and submit affirmative evidence supporting the exercise of jurisdiction." Purdue , 338 F.3d at 783. Any dispute concerning relevant facts is resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 782–83.

DefendantsRule 12(b)(6) motions [5, 19, 22] challenge the sufficiency of the complaint. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a...

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