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Roe v. Rutgers

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 6, 2014

JANE ROE and RICHARD ROE o/b/o JOHN ROE (fictitious names to protect the name of the victim, a legally incompetent individual), Plaintiffs,
RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY, ANNA STUBBLEFIELD and JOHN DOES 1-10 (fictitious names and unidentified parties and/or entities), Defendants.


SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.

Before the Court is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey's ("Rutgers") Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint ("Motion to Dismiss") of Jane Doe and Richard Doe, on behalf of John Doe, (collectively "Plaintiffs") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). This Court, having considered the parties' submissions, decides the Motion to Dismiss without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Rutgers's Motion to Dismiss.


This case involves allegations of sexual molestation of John Roe-a thirty-two year old male with cerebral palsy and mental retardation-by Anna Stubblefield ("Stubblefield")-a Philosophy professor at Rutgers. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-15, 111-14.) Stubblefield met with John Roe on multiple occasions to perform Facilitative Communication, "a technique which purportedly allows communicatively impaired and non-communicative individuals to communicate." (Id. ¶¶ 69, 77.) On or about May 25, 2011, Stubblefield informed Jane Roe and Richard Roe that she had sexual relations with John Roe. (Id. ¶¶ 111-12.) Plaintiffs allege that Stubblefield "sexually molested [ ] John Roe who was physically and legally incapable of consenting to such sexual conduct." (Id. ¶ 112.)

On July 9, 2013, this Court issued an Opinion in the instant matter dismissing the Complaint against Rutgers without prejudice. (See Dkt. 19.) As the July 9, 2013 Opinion included an extensive recital of the facts, this Court will only provide the more recent background.

On August 9, 2013, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint alleging the following causes of action against Rutgers: violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights (Counts I and II); negligence (Count IV); Law Against Discrimination (Count VI); and invasion of privacy (Count VII).[1] None of these causes of action are new; instead, Plaintiffs have added factual allegations in support of these claims.

According to the Amended Complaint, Rutgers receives grants from the National Institute for Health including funds to perform research on human test subjects. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-20.) In performing research on human subjects, Rutgers is required to comply with regulations enforced by the Office for Human Research Protections. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Pursuant to these regulations, Rutgers established an Institutional Review Board ("IRB") which "is responsible for protecting the rights of human research subjects regardless of the funding source." (Id. ¶¶ 24-26.)

Rutgers allegedly has two policies related to human research and testing-one which is "official" and the other which is "unofficial." (Id. ¶¶ 29-31.) The "official" policy requires a researcher to apply and receive permission from Rutgers to perform human research and testing. (Id. ¶¶ 33-35.) Additionally, "reasonable, necessary, appropriate and approved travel" related to the research is reimbursed by Rutgers. (Id. ¶¶ 39-42.) The "unofficial" policy of Rutgers is to "turn a blind eye to professors and/or researchers that conducted human research without applying for permission or complying with the official policy.'" (Id. ¶ 47.) Pursuant to the "unofficial" policy, Rutgers allegedly "d[oes] not require its staff, professors or researchers to request permission to conduct human research and/or testing;" avoids "policing itself" and does not report human research and testing; and uses the IRB as a "safe harbor of plausible deniability." (Id. ¶¶ 48-56.) Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that the IRB ignores illegal human research to avoid triggering an investigation that would jeopardize their funding. (Id. ¶¶ 57-63.) Plaintiffs claim that Stubblefield was aware of Rutgers's "unofficial" policy. (Id. ¶ 76.)

In 2010, Stubblefield attended conferences with John Roe to present papers and/or discuss her Facilitative Communication research relating to John Roe. (Id. ¶¶ 78-80, 96-99.) Rutgers reimbursed Stubblefield for expenses related to the conference. (Id. ¶¶ 81, 98.) Plaintiffs claim that Rutgers turned a blind eye to Stubblefield in failing to investigate her research, failing to question her controversial techniques, and paying for the expenses related to her research. (Id. ¶¶ 84-90, 99-103, 125-27.)

On September 27, 2013, Rutgers filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs responded on October 21, 2013[2] and Rutgers replied on November 12, 2013.


The adequacy of pleadings is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which requires that a complaint allege "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." This Rule "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted); see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that Rule 8 "requires a showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief").

In considering a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips , 515 F.3d at 231 (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd. , 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556, U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). If the "wellpleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, " the complaint should be dismissed for failing to "show[ ] that the pleader is entitled to relief" as required by Rule 8(a)(2). Id. at 1950.

According to the Supreme Court in Twombly, "[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his[/her] entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). The Third Circuit summarized the Twombly pleading standard as follows: "stating... a claim requires a complaint with ...

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