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Khalid Bazzi v. Antioch University

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


January 13, 2012

KHALID BAZZI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANTIOCH UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Docket No. 21]

Presently before the court is Defendant Antioch University's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). Having reviewed the parties' moving papers, the court grants the Motion and adopts the following Order.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Khalid Bazzi ("Plaintiff") applied for admission to Defendant Antioch University ("Antioch") on December 4, 2006.*fn1

(Decl. of Tex Boggs in Supp. of Mot. ("Boggs Decl."), Ex. F.) On December 7, 2006, Antioch admitted Plaintiff to its "Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology child studies Program" ("Psychology Program"). (Id., Ex. G.) Plaintiff started attending Antioch in January 2007. On October 15, 2007, Plaintiff entered into a Clinical Training Agreement ("CTA") with Antioch and a third-party clinical training site and supervisor. (Decl. of Jonathan S. Longino in Supp. of Mot. ("Longino Decl."), Ex. C at 25-37.) As required by California law, the CTA governed the site-based clinical training for which Plaintiff had registered as part of his studies. See Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 4980.42.

On November 15, 2007, Plaintiff received a letter from Antioch, informing him that he had been dismissed from Antioch's Psychology Program. Antioch stated that it had made the decision following a performance review by the Program's faculty, prompted by Plaintiff's termination from his clinical training. (Longino Decl., Ex. C at 38.) Plaintiff disputes that this was the true basis for his dismissal. (Opp'n at 1-3.) From December 2007 to March 2008, Plaintiff appealed his dismissal, which Antioch upheld in various decisions. (Declaration of Susan Nero in Supp. of Mot., Exs. I & M; Longino Decl., Exs. Q & R.) On March 25, 2008, Plaintiff sent a letter to Antioch stating that he would proceed with a lawsuit within one week unless he were reinstated. (Boggs Decl., Ex. H at 17.) Antioch did not respond.

Plaintiff ultimately filed a Complaint against Antioch for breach of contract on October 12, 2010, in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Antioch removed the action to this court on January 14, 2011, based on diversity jurisdiction. On December 6, 2011, Antioch filed this Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's claim is barred by California's two-year statute of limitations for oral and implied contracts. In response, Plaintiff contends that his claim is based upon an express written contract, and therefore not time-barred. As evidence of the alleged written contract, Plaintiff points to: 1) his initial application and Antioch's admission letter; 2) Antioch's 2006 to 2008 "General Catalog"; and 3) the Clinical Training Agreement. The court finds, however, that none of these documents constitute a written contract that can support Plaintiff's breach of contract claim. Plaintiff's action is therefore time-barred, and Defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

A genuine issue exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," and material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248. No genuine issue of fact exists "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party."

Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

It is not enough for a party opposing summary judgment to "rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleadings." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 259. Instead, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of the nonmoving party's claim is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge [when he or she] is ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. at 255.

III. DISCUSSION

Under California law, an action for breach of a "contract, obligation or liability founded upon an instrument in writing" is typically subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 337. An action for breach of an oral or implied-in-fact contract is instead subject to a two-year limitation period. See id. § 339. Because Plaintiff filed his Complaint more than two years after the last incident potentially relevant to any breach, there is no dispute that Plaintiff's claim is time-barred unless it is based on an express written contract.

"[F]or an action to be based upon an instrument in writing, the writing must express the obligation sued upon." Murphy v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 177 Cal. App. 2d 539, 543 (1960). Here, Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that he entered into a contract with Antioch on December 13, 2006. According to Plaintiff, the contract provided that he would pay Antioch $42,000 in tuition, in exchange for Antioch "educating [P]laintiff and awarding him a master's degree in clinical psychology at the conclusion of his training." Plaintiff contends that he performed his obligations, but that Antioch breached the contract by falsely accusing him of program violations, failing to provide him with fair process to challenge the accusations, dismissing him from the program, and failing to refund his tuition. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-8.)

As evidence that the alleged contract was in writing, Plaintiff first points to his application and letter of admission to Antioch. Although neither document expresses any obligation material to Plaintiff's claim, Plaintiff further contends that the alleged contract incorporates relevant policies and procedures set forth in Antioch's General Catalog. The court disagrees. Neither document makes any reference to the General Catalog. Nor does Antioch state in the Catalog or elsewhere that it intends to be bound by any of the statements therein. See Kashmiri v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 156 Cal. App. 4th 809, 828-29 (2007). Accordingly, "such statements become part of the enrollment agreement only if they are 'implied-in-fact' contract provisions." Id. But here, there is no need to make this determination, since any claim based on such implied provisions would be time-barred, as discussed.

Plaintiff also argues in his Opposition that the Clinical Training Agreement evidences an express written contract. Although Plaintiff may be right, the alleged contract does not express any obligation that he is suing upon. As discussed, Plaintiff alleges that Antioch breached its contract to provide him with an education and a degree, by unjustifiably dismissing him from the Psychology Program. The CTA, however, addresses only Plaintiff's site-based clinical training with a third party. It makes no mention of any conditions of Plaintiff's enrollment at or dismissal from Antioch. Thus, the CTA is not a written contract material to Plaintiff's claim. See McCarthy v. Mt. Tecarte Land & Water Co., 111 Cal. 328, 340 (1896) ("In order to be founded upon an instrument in writing, the instrument must, itself, contain a contract to do the thing for the nonperformance of which the action is brought.").

IV. CONCLUSION

For all of these reasons, the court grants Antioch's Motion for Summary Judgment.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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