United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
DENNIS SAYLOR IV UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a dispute arising out of enrollment in an internet-based
education program. Defendant United States Sports Academy,
Inc. (“USSA”) is a private online educational
institution based in Alabama. Plaintiff Kuan Cheng enrolled
in a USSA program while living in Alabama. He then moved to
Massachusetts. Cheng alleges that when he attempted to
complete his degree from Massachusetts, USSA improperly
required him to re-enroll, and then informed him that the
degree requirements had changed.
complaint alleges that USSA engaged in unfair and deceptive
business practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A.
Specifically, it alleges that USSA misled Cheng about the
requirements for its degree program, and that Cheng relied on
those misrepresentations by continuing to pay tuition to
USSA. It further alleges that as a result of USSA's
actions, Cheng lost, among other things, years of work, his
ability to obtain a degree without starting from scratch,
tuition, and the loss of income associated with pursuing a
degree. The complaint also alleges common-law claims for
breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and fraudulent
has moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal
jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and for
forum non conveniens. For the following reasons, the
motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction will be
otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed or
presented as stated in the complaint.
United States Sports Academy, Inc. (“USSA”) is a
private online educational institution organized and
incorporated under the laws of Alabama. (Compl. ¶¶
2, 4; Rosandich Aff. ¶¶ 1-3). It is regionally
accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate,
master's, and doctoral degrees. (Rosandich Aff. ¶ 1;
Pl. Mem. Ex. 1).
offers a “Distance Learning Program” that enables
students to complete the entire curriculum for their degrees
away from campus. (Rosandich Aff. ¶ 3). Its website
touts the advantages of that program: “The
Academy's Distance Learning Program offers students the
flexibility to take courses and complete degrees without
leaving their homes or jobs. Students can complete their
courses ANY time, ANY place and at ANY pace.” (Pl. Mem.
Ex. 2). USSA provides that flexibility to its students by
“deliver[ing degrees] online in an asynchronous
environment. This means professors and students do not have
to be online at the same time for learning to take place or
assignments to be completed.” (Id.). Students
access all online courses through a website that offers them
24-hour access to their coursework. (Id.).
to USSA, its officers direct, control, and coordinate the
school's activities from its corporate headquarters and
administrative offices in Daphne, Alabama. (Rosandich Aff.
¶¶ 4, 10). USSA pays no taxes in Massachusetts, has
no registered agent in the state, and does not maintain a
Massachusetts telephone number or address. (Id.).
to USSA, it does not actively solicit business in
Massachusetts. (Rosandich Aff. ¶ 6; cf. Compl.
¶ 2). USSA also asserts that as of January 10, 2019, it
had only two Massachusetts-based students, neither of whom is
seeking a degree. (Rosandich Aff. ¶ 9).
Cheng is formerly a resident of Alabama, now living in
Massachusetts. (Compl. ¶ 1; Rosandich Aff. ¶ 8). In
2008, while in Alabama, Cheng enrolled in USSA's
doctorate program in the field of sports management. (Compl.
¶ 3; Rosandich Aff. ¶¶ 7-8). At the time of
his enrollment, that degree required, among other things,
passing a comprehensive examination. (Compl. ¶¶
6-7). He had ten years from his initial enrollment in which
to complete his degree requirements. (Id. ¶
2008 and 2010, Cheng completed 42 credits of coursework, most
of which while living in Alabama. (Compl. ¶ 10;
Rosandich Aff. ¶ 8).
2009, USSA changed the degree requirements for Cheng's
doctorate program. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-7). Accordingly, he
was given the option to change his degree requirement from a
comprehensive examination to a portfolio requirement.
(Id.). He accepted that offer by submitting a
catalog change request form, which was approved by the
admissions department on February 2, 2010. (Id.
¶ 7). The admissions department then enrolled him in the
2009 student cohort with a portfolio requirement and assigned
him a portfolio advisor. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9).
satisfy his portfolio requirement, Cheng was required, among
other things, to complete an experiential-education component
consisting of a “mentorship, ” essentially an
internship, in the field. (Compl. ¶ 11; Rosandich Aff.
¶ 8; see also Pl. Mem. Ex. 1). In March 2010, he
registered for that mentorship requirement, to be completed
at a church in New York. (Compl. ¶ 11; Rosandich Aff.
worked on his portfolio over the source of several years.
(Compl. ¶¶ 10-12). All of his progress was
submitted to and approved by his portfolio advisor, with the
exception of a few papers. (Id. ¶
time between 2010 and 2015, Cheng moved to Massachusetts, and
took a break from the doctorate program while earning a
master's degree in acupuncture there. (Id.
¶¶ 1, 15). He alleges that in 2016, he attempted to
resume work on his doctorate degree, because he was aware
that he would need to complete his program requirements
within ten years of his initial USSA enrollment.
(Id. ¶ 16). However, when he tried to log on to
USSA's online course management platform he was unable to
do so. (Id.). He contends that he immediately
contacted USSA about the issue, and was told that he had been
removed from enrollment, and that he would need to re-enroll
if he was still interested in pursuing his degree.
(Id. ¶ 17).
to Cheng, he submitted an application to re-enroll.
(Id.). He received an email from a USSA employee
confirming receipt of his re-enrollment application.
(Id. ¶ 18). That e-mail stated, among other
things, that he would be required to take a comprehensive
examination in order to complete his degree requirements.
(Id.). He responded to that e-mail explaining the
history of his degree requirements. (Id. ¶ 19).
The USSA employee agreed to look into the issue and get back
to him. (Id.).
February 17, 2016, Cheng received an acceptance of his
re-enrollment application from a USSA admissions counselor,
signed by the dean of academic affairs. (Id. ¶
20). That acceptance referred to USSA's 2008 course
catalog. (Id.). The admissions counselor later
clarified that Cheng was enrolled in the 2009, not 2008,
catalog, with its corresponding portfolio requirement.
alleges that in May 2017, he was again unable to access his
USSA online course management account. Upon investigation, he
learned that his ...