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Greenfield v. Newman University, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

September 30, 2019

NEWMAN UNIVERSITY, INC. et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the court on defendant Newman University Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Doc. 8. Defendant moves to dismiss two Counts in plaintiff Mandy Greenfield’s First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) (Doc. 5): Count IV (Defamation) and Count V (Invasion of Privacy). Id. Plaintiff has filed a Response. Doc. 15. And defendant has filed a Reply. Doc. 21. For the reasons explained below, the court grants defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Counts IV and V of plaintiff’s Complaint.

         I. Facts

         The following facts come from plaintiff’s Complaint and the court views them in the light most favorable to her. S.E.C. v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014) (“We accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the [plaintiff].” (citation and internal quotations marks omitted)).

         This lawsuit arises from plaintiff’s termination as Newman University’s Director of Human Resources in January 2018. Much of the Complaint details events surrounding plaintiff’s Title IX investigation of Newman’s Athletic Director & Vice President for Student Affairs, Victor Trilli. But the court need only consider the following facts to decide this Motion to Dismiss.

         On November 23, 2017, at about 5:00 p.m., plaintiff entered Newman University’s Human Resources office and believed that someone had broken into the office. Doc. 5 at 10 (Compl. ¶ 61). She found her office door and desk drawers unlocked. Id. Someone had moved or knocked her computer mouse and tape dispenser to the floor. Id. Also, she noticed a folder lying open on an assistant’s desk. Id. The drawers on both Human Resources assistants’ desks were unlocked. Id. And, there was a key in the filing cabinet and the classroom door behind plaintiff’s office was unlocked. Id.

         Plaintiff reported the break-in to Newman Director of Security and to the Wichita Police Department. Id. at 10 (Compl. ¶ 62). Plaintiff then notified her Human Resources employees of the incident and asked them to keep the information confidential. Id. at 11 (Compl. ¶ 63). On November 26, 2017, plaintiff spoke by phone with Newman President Noreen Carocci about the break-in and about a breach of confidentiality issue with a Human Resources employee. Id. at 11 (Compl. ¶ 66). The next day, plaintiff met with Ms. Carocci and Vice President for Finance and Administration Jennifer Gantz about the same issues. Id. at 11 (Compl. ¶ 68). Ms. Carocci “suggested that it may have been the HR employee who was behind the break-in, which [p]laintiff refuted and stated she did not believe the HR employee was involved with the break-in.” Id.

         On November 28, 2017, Ms. Gantz told plaintiff that Newman’s Executive Board recommended that the termination of the Human Resources employee wait until after the Title IX investigation had concluded.[1] Id. at 12 (Compl. ¶ 73). But later the same morning, Ms. Gantz told plaintiff that she and Ms. Carocci agreed with plaintiff’s recommendation to terminate the employee. Id. (Compl. ¶ 74). Plaintiff did so. Id. (Compl. ¶ 75). Then, Ms. Gantz and Ms. Carocci “disregarded procedure and made contact with the terminated employee, who was then reinstated to her position . . . .” Id.

         On December 1, 2017, plaintiff “was locked out of her computer, for the alleged reason that [she] had been terminated for terminating her HR employee.” Id. at 13 (Compl. ¶ 80). That afternoon, Jeremy Schrag, an attorney from the law firm Lewis Brisbois, [2] arrived at plaintiff’s office. Id. (Compl. ¶ 81). Newman Board Chair Teresa Hall Bartels joined the meeting by phone. Id. (Compl. ¶ 82). Mr. Schrag told plaintiff that Lewis Brisbois was taking over Title IX investigations. Id. (Compl. ¶ 81). Also, Ms. Bartels placed plaintiff on administrative leave. Id. (Compl. ¶ 82). Ms. Bartels said “the leave was not a disciplinary action” and asked plaintiff to assist the Lewis Brisbois attorneys with the investigation. Id. Mr. Schrag gave plaintiff a letter from Ms. Bartels placing her on administrative leave, effective immediately. Id. (Compl. ¶ 84). Mr. Schrag told plaintiff to gather her things and leave. Id.

         On December 5, 2017, Newman University emailed meeting minutes to the “Newman community which contained notice of [p]laintiff’s administrative leave, contrary to the protocol not to publish personnel actions regarding employees being placed on leave or suspended.” Id. at 14 (Compl. ¶ 87). Then, on December 7, 2017, the Newman University newspaper printed a front-page story about plaintiff’ that “linked her leave to the criminal break-in of the HR offices.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 88). The article reported, “Newman University’s Director of Human Resources, Mandy Greenfield, was put on administrative leave this week – less than two weeks after she reported a trespassing incident in her department to the Wichita Police Department.” Id.

         On January 31, 2018, plaintiff received an email from Ms. Gantz terminating plaintiff’s employment, effective immediately. Id. at 15 (Compl. ¶ 99). On February 22, 2018, the Newman University newspaper published an article about plaintiff’s termination. Id. (Compl. ¶ 100).

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant may move to dismiss for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive such a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint need not include “‘detailed factual allegations, ’” but must offer more than “‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action’” which, as the Supreme Court explained, “‘will not do.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Essentially, “the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). This plausibility standard reflects the requirement in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 that pleadings must provide defendants with fair notice of the nature of the claims as well as the grounds upon which each claim rests. See Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191–92 (10th Cir. 2012); see also Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [a] short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .”).

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, but need not extend this presumption to any legal conclusions it asserts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Viewing the complaint in this fashion, a court must decide whether plaintiff’s allegations give rise to more than speculative possibilities. See Id . (“The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”). If the allegations in the complaint allow a district court “to draw the reasonable inference that defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” the claim has facial plausibility and the court should not dismiss it under Rule 12(b)(6). Davenport v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 14–CV–2124–JAR–JPO, 2014 WL 3361729, at *2 (D. Kan. July 9, 2014). But, if the allegations in the complaint at issue are “so general that they ...

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