Kagan Stern Secures Dismissal with Prejudice of Adjunct Professor's Claims Against a Local University

April 17, 2023

     In March, the attorneys at Kagan Stern secured final dismissal, with prejudice, of all claims against a local D.C. university that had been filed by a former adjunct assistant professor. This latest decision by the Circuit Court for Alexandria City, Virginia, represented the third time the firm had successfully defeated the plaintiff’s claims against the university over a total of 15 months.

     After serving several years as a lecturer, the plaintiff was appointed as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in August 2019 for a one-year term which, unless renewed or extended by the university, was set to expire automatically in August 2020.  After receiving complaints regarding certain social media posts by the plaintiff in May 2020, the university suspended him from teaching pending an investigation.  After investigating the complaints, the university decided and notified him in June 2020 that his appointment as an adjunct would not be renewed or extended, although it paid him all compensation through the end of the one-year term.

     The lawsuits began in January 2022 when the adjunct professor sued the university in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleging federal claims for violation of free speech under the U.S. Constitution (and other federal guidelines) and violation of Constitutional due process rights, as well as a claim for breach of contract under state law. In total, the plaintiff sought more than $300,000 in alleged damages.  Through an early, pre-discovery motion to dismiss and at oral argument before the Honorable Patricia Tolliver Giles in March 2022, firm attorneys persuaded the court that the plaintiff’s Constitutional challenges failed to state viable claims for relief and that the federal court therefore lacked jurisdiction. The court agreed by dismissing the federal Constitutional claims as a matter of law and declining to exercise jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s state law claim for breach of contract claim.

     In September 2022, the adjunct professor plaintiff then turned to the state courts. In the Circuit Court for Alexandria City, he initially alleged six claims for breach of contract under various different theories, again seeking more than $300,000.  Kagan Stern immediately filed multiple motions once again seeking dismissal of all claims arguing that they failed to state viable claims for relief and/or were precluded by the federal court’s findings and disposition. Following a hearing in December 2022 before the Honorable James Clark, the court granted the university’s motions, dismissed two counts with prejudice, and gave the plaintiff an opportunity to amend the remaining claims in order to revive the case.

     The plaintiff filed an amended complaint in January 2023, this time alleging three breach of contract claims.  For a third time, Kagan Stern moved to dismiss all claims on behalf of the university on the grounds that they still failed to state viable claims for relief, and after a second hearing before Judge Clark, succeeded in obtaining the dismissal of all claims with prejudice, thereby resulting in a final judgment in favor of the university.

     Partner Michael Marinello served as lead counsel on the case and was assisted by associate Shannon Hayden.  Because the actions in this matter were filed in Virginia, Mr. Marinello was admitted pro hac vice under Stephen Stern, the firm’s Virginia-barred partner.

     Claims against institutions of higher education can invoke unique and challenging aspects of both federal and state law.  As demonstrated by the representation in this case, Kagan Stern’s attorneys are highly qualified and adept at successfully assisting clients in the higher education industry and litigating on their behalf.  You can learn more about the legal services Kagan Stern provides here.