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Skinner v. Reynolds

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 4, 2014

DANIEL E. SKINNER, Plaintiff,
v.
SUZANNE REYNOLDS, BLAKE MORANT, NATHAN HATCH, JAMES REID MORGAN, WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY, and WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, Defendants

Heard in the Court of Appeals September 11, 2014

Daniel E. Skinner, Pro se.

Bell, Davis & Pitt, P.A., by William K. Davis, and Stephen M. Russell, Sr., for defendant-appellees.

STEELMAN, Judge. Judges HUNTER and GEER concur.

Page 653

Appeal by plaintiff fro order entered 12 July 2013 by Judge A. Moses Massey in

Page 654

Forsyth County Superior Court, No. 13 CVS 2948

OPINION

STEELMAN, Judge.

Plaintiff's complaint was properly dismissed under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6) because it failed to state a claim for defamation based on libel per se or libel per quod. Plaintiff's claims for negligent supervision were properly dismissed as derivative of his substantive claims.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Daniel Skinner (plaintiff) was enrolled at Wake Forest University School of Law, beginning in the fall of 2009. Plaintiff, who had received merit scholarships, was informed in June 2011 that the amount of his scholarships would be reduced by half because he had failed to remain in the top two-thirds of his law school class. Plaintiff disputed the reduction of his scholarships, arguing that the class rank requirement did not apply to certain scholarships. He pursued his challenge to the scholarship reduction over the following year. He first met with Melanie Nutt, then the school's Director of Admissions, who informed him that the condition applied to his entire financial aid award. He then appealed to Jay Shively, the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, who wrote to plaintiff in August 2011 informing plaintiff that all of his scholarships were subject to the requirement that he remain in the top two-thirds of his class. Plaintiff next submitted a grievance to Ann Gibbs, Associate Dean for Administrative and Student Services, who consulted with the law school's legal counsel. In September 2011 Dean Gibbs notified plaintiff that she and the school's legal counsel concluded that all of his scholarships were subject to the class rank requirement. Plaintiff's contentions were then reviewed by Law School Dean Blake Morant, who wrote to plaintiff on 21 November 2011 " comprehensively addressing" his arguments and reiterating that the condition applied to all of his scholarships. In April 2012, plaintiff met in person with Dean Morant and Suzanne Reynolds, the Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Dean Reynolds also held a second meeting with plaintiff to discuss the terms of his scholarships.

On 10 May 2012 Dean Reynolds hand-delivered a letter to plaintiff, in which she stated that she had " two purposes in this letter. One is to set out our position about your scholarship award. The other is to remind you of the code of conduct expected of students." The letter first reviewed the events surrounding plaintiff's challenge to the reduction of his scholarship, and responded to plaintiff's assertion that the law school's review of plaintiff's grievance did not comply with the requirements of the American Bar Association. The second part of the letter discussed plaintiff's behavior during his challenge to the reduction of his scholarships, stated her opinion that plaintiff tended to react with suspicion to those who disagreed with him, and reminded plaintiff of the need to comply with the university's code of conduct. Dean Reynolds provided Dean Morant and Associate Dean Gibbs with copies of her letter to plaintiff.

On 9 May 2013 plaintiff filed this lawsuit, asserting claims of defamation against Dean Reynolds, Wake Forest University, and Wake Forest School of Law; and claims of negligent supervision against Dean Morant and against Nathan Hatch and James Reid Morgan, the president and senior vice president of Wake Forest University. Plaintiff alleged that certain statements in the second part of Dean Reynolds's letter constituted libel per se and libel per quod, that the university and law school were vicariously liable for Dean Reynolds's libel, and that the other defendants were liable for failure to properly supervise Dean Reynolds.

On 24 May 2013 defendants filed an answer denying the material allegations of the complaint and moving for dismissal of plaintiff's suit under N.C. Gen. Stat. ยง 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6). On 12 July 2013 the trial court entered an order ...


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