KERR v. MARSHALL UNIV. BD. OF GOVERNORS, NO. 15-1473

Decided: May 24, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting Appellees’ motion to dismiss Kerr’s civil action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

After practicing law for more than fifteen years, Kerr enrolled in Marshall University’s Master of Arts in Teaching (“MAT”) program to obtain a West Virginia teaching license.  A student-teaching practicum is a required component of the MAT program.  In the fall of 2013, Kerr was a student in this practicum course.  A few weeks before the end of the semester, however, Kerr left her student-teaching post in protest over differences with her supervising teacher.  Kerr was unable to resolve these differences with the Marshall administration and did not return to her student-teaching post.  She was not awarded credit for the course, and she received neither her MAT nor her teaching license as a result.  On March 14, 2014, after unsuccessfully pursuing reconsideration through Marshall’s internal grade-appeals process, Kerr filed a complaint in the Southern District of West Virginia.  Appellees moved to dismiss Kerr’s action.  The district court referred the motion to a magistrate judge for the submission of proposed findings and recommendations.  The magistrate judge recommended that the district court grant Appellees’ motion to dismiss in its entirety.  The district court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss.

Kerr claimed on appeal that the district court erred by submitting her claim to a magistrate judge for proposed findings and recommendations, that the Marshall University Board of Governors (“MUBG”) was not entitled to sovereign immunity, and that her complaint plausibly alleged each of her seven claims.  28 U.S.C. § 636(b) permits a district court to assign any pretrial matter to a magistrate judge.  In arriving at its decision, the district court properly conducted an exhaustive review of the magistrate judge’s findings.  Therefore, the district court properly referred Appellees’ motion to dismiss to a magistrate judge, and the referral and review process did not prejudice Kerr in any way.  Kerr alleged that her equal protection rights were violated on the basis of her sexual orientation.  However, in her complaint, Kerr made no mention of Title IX as a basis for liability or relief, or as an exception to sovereign immunity.  The district court also properly found that Kerr did not plausibly allege each of her seven claims in her complaint.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s order by concluding that the district court properly determined both that sovereign immunity bars Kerr’s claim against the MUBG, and that the allegations in Kerr’s pro se complaint against the other Appellees failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Full Opinion

Katie E. Lowery

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