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Kant v. Columbia University

March 9, 2010

CHANDER KANT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul G. Gardephe, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Chander Kant's initial complaint was filed on August 25, 2008, and alleged that Columbia University breached an oral contract promising him a senior-level, full-time, tenure-track faculty position in its Economics Department. Plaintiff twice amended his complaint, pursuant to orders issued by Chief Judge Preska, who instructed Plaintiff to clarify whether the alleged oral contract met the requirements of New York's statute of frauds.*fn1 (Docket Nos. 2 & 4)

On December 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint ("SAC"), the version currently before this Court. (Docket No. 5) On May 20, 2009, Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the oral contract alleged in the SAC is unenforceable under the statute of frauds, because it could not by its own terms be performed within one year.*fn2 (Docket No. 12) In response to this motion, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. (Docket No. 15) Defendant opposes Plaintiff's motion on the grounds that the proposed alterations are futile and made in bad faith. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a third amended complaint is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

Kant has been employed as an Associate Professor of Economics at Seton Hall University since September 1, 1989. (SAC ¶ 6) In January 2001, Kant was designated a visiting scholar in the economics department at Columbia University. (SAC ¶ 9) This designation was for a term of one year, from January 26, 2001, through January 25, 2002. (SAC ¶ 10) Visiting scholars at Columbia typically receive no compensation and incur no obligations, but Columbia's library, technological, and other research resources are made available to them at no cost. (SAC ¶ 13)

Kant alleges that when he was appointed as a visiting scholar, the Economics Department chair, Professor Richard Clarida, promised Kant that subject to the approval of [the] department's senior faculty, he would be appointed to a senior-level full-time position in the department if he attended weekly research seminars regularly and participated in them. The appointment will be initially for one year. During this one year two things will happen: Kant will be considered for tenure, and he will be reappointed for a second year. If he is not granted tenure, he will be notified of this fact by December 15 of his second year of appointment at Columbia. (SAC ¶ 14) Kant argues that this alleged promise constituted an oral contract between him and Columbia University. (SAC ¶ 15) The SAC alleges that Kant attended the weekly research seminars for one year and made valuable contributions to the discussions held at each. (SAC ¶ 16)

The SAC further alleges that in January 2002, the new chair of the economics department, Professor Donald Davis, orally "renewed and restated" Professor Clarida's promises made in January of 2001 (SAC ¶ 17), thus forming a second contract between Columbia and the Defendant. (SAC ¶ 18)

During the same conversation in January 2002, Professor Davis informed Kant that reappointment to a visiting scholar position after an initial one-year term was rare, and that Kant would need a recommendation for such an extension from a senior faculty member before the request could be sent to the University Provost for consideration. (SAC ¶ 19) Professor Ronald Findlay, a chaired professor in the economics department, recommended Kant for reappointment through July 25, 2002, but not for a full second year. (Id.) On February 5, 2002, Columbia's Associate Provost reappointed Kant as a visiting scholar through July 25, 2002. (SAC ¶ 20)

Kant further alleges that in the spring of 2002, the senior faculty of the economics department voted in favor of hiring him to a senior-level position. (SAC ¶ 29) Despite advertised openings for new faculty in both the business school and economics department -- which Kant applied for -- and Kant's alleged superior qualifications (see SAC ¶¶ 23-25, 27), Professor Davis told Kant on June 6, 2002, that "[a]ll openings for the year have been filled [and that Kant] would not be a likely candidate for future openings." (SAC ¶ 34) On November 13, 2002, Kant learned that the advertised positions for which he had applied had not been filled and that in October 2002, the department had begun advertising again for senior-level positions in the Journal of Economics. (SAC ¶¶ 37-38)

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARD

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To meet this standard, the factual allegations must permit the Court, "draw[ing] on its judicial experience and common sense," "to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 1950. "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 808 (1996) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 235-236 (1974)). On a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all material facts alleged in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. See EEOC v. Staten Island Sav. Bank, 207 F.3d 144 (2d Cir. 2000); see also Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Krimstock v. Kelly, 306 F.3d 40, 47-48 (2d Cir. 2002). Courts may not, however, accept as true "conclusions of law or unwarranted deductions of fact." First Nationwide Bank v. Gelt Funding Corp., 27 F.3d 763, 771 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1079 (1995) (citations omitted).

Pro se complaints are reviewed under a more lenient standard than that applied to "formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); see also Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 860 (2d Cir. 1997). Pro se pleadings "must be read liberally and should be interpreted 'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)). Allegations made in a pro se plaintiff's accompanying memorandum of law, where they are consistent with those in the complaint, may also be considered. See Coakley v. 42nd PCT. Case 458, No. 08 Civ. 6202 (JSR), 2009 WL 3095529, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2009); Donahue v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 751 F. Supp. 45, 49 (S.D.N.Y. 1990). To avoid dismissal, however, a pro se plaintiff's pleadings must go beyond mere "[c]onclusory ...


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