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HOWELL v. NORTH CENTRAL COLLEGE

August 17, 2004.

DANIELLE HOWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTH CENTRAL COLLEGE, THE TRUSTEES OF NORTH CENTRAL COLLEGE, BY AND THROUGH ITS CHAIRMAN, RICHARD NORENBERG, WALTER JOHNSON, LINDA OLSON, and KAREN SEREMET, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORTON DENLOW, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Danielle Howell asks this Court to alter or amend the decision of June 2, 2004, in which Magistrate Judge Edward A. Bobrick denied her motion to amend her complaint, and dismissed her complaint sua sponte. For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's motion to alter or amend Magistrate Judge Bobrick's June 2, 2004 decision is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff attended North Central College from September of 1998, until June of 2003, and played on the women's basketball team for a little more than two seasons. During her time with the team, she claims she was targeted for harassment because she is a heterosexual. She filed her original four-count complaint on October 4, 2002, which charged the college and the other defendants with sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., violation of her due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. On January 27, 2003, Judge Suzanne B. Conlon dismissed plaintiff's Title IX claims against the individual defendants, her § 1983 claims against all defendants, and all her claims against defendant Richard Norenberg.

  On March 15, 2004, the day discovery closed, plaintiff sought leave to file an amended complaint to add a claim of retaliation in violation of Title IX and a claim for breach of contract. Plaintiff's proposed retaliation claim alleges that the defendants took adverse action against her after her parents wrote a letter to the college's athletic director complaining about the treatment she received from her coaches. The plaintiff's proposed breach of contract claim alleges that the defendants breached a contract with plaintiff that was set out in certain student handbooks, which prohibited discrimination in college programs. In a Memorandum Order dated June 2, 2004, Judge Bobrick denied plaintiff leave to add these claims to her complaint, and dismissed her complaint sua sponte. Howell v. North Central College, 320 F.Supp.2d 717 (N.D.Ill. 2004).

  Assessing the plaintiff's proposed retaliation claim, the court acknowledged that Title IX protects persons from retaliation for complaining about discrimination, but explained that the "`complaint must involve discrimination that is prohibited by [the statute].'" 320 F.Supp.2d at 720 (quoting Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. and Health Care Center, 224 F.3d 701, 707 (7th Cir. 2000). The court examined plaintiff's allegations regarding the nature of the discrimination she opposed, and concluded that her complaint involved discrimination, or harassment, based on her sexual orientation as a heterosexual. After reviewing analogous Title VII case law, the court determined that Title IX did not proscribe discrimination or harassment based on one's sexual preference. 320 F.Supp.2d at 721-24. Accordingly, Judge Bobrick denied plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint as futile, finding her proposed retaliation claim would not survive a motion to dismiss. 320 F.Supp.2d at 724.

  Plaintiff's motion to add a retaliation claim necessitated an examination by Judge Bobrick of her original Title IX claim. That examination revealed that plaintiff's original Title IX claim did not state a cause of action because it was based on sexual orientation. Satisfied that the parties had already sufficiently argued the issue of the nature of the plaintiff's original Title IX claim in connection with plaintiff's proposed retaliation claim, the court dismissed the original claim sua sponte. 320 F.Supp.2d at 724-25. With the basis for federal jurisdiction gone, the court denied plaintiff leave to add her breach of contract claim and relinquished jurisdiction over her state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). 320 F.Supp.2d at 725-26.

  On June 24, 2004, this matter was reassigned to this Court pursuant to Local Rule 40.1(f), following Judge Bobrick's retirement from the bench. That same day, plaintiff filed a "Motion of Plaintiff for this Court to Alter or Amend its Sua Sponte Decision to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Title IX Retaliation Claim Without First Granting Plaintiff Leave to Amend Her Complaint and without Consideration of the Letter Written to School Administrators Complaining that the Defendants had Sexually Harassed and Sexually Discriminated Against Plaintiff." ("Plaintiff's Motion"). The motion included the letter to which the prolix title referred, and asked the court to vacate Judge Bobrick's ruling and to grant her leave to amend her complaint.

  Following briefing of this motion, on August 4, 2004, the Court heard oral argument. During the course of that argument, it became clear that plaintiff's original Title IX claim was, as Judge Bobrick had concluded, exclusively concerned with discrimination and harassment motivated by plaintiff's sexual orientation. Admitting this, and conceding that sexual orientation is not protected under Title IX, plaintiff's counsel voluntarily dismissed the original Title IX claim — Count I of the complaint — with prejudice. With the sua sponte dismissal of the plaintiff's original Title IX claim no longer an issue, the question becomes whether Judge Bobrick properly denied plaintiff leave to add a retaliation claim and a breach of contract claim. After reviewing that decision and considering all of plaintiff's arguments and additional case citations, this Court agrees with Judge Bobrick and once again denies plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint because her retaliation claim does not state a cause of action and would be futile.

  II. ANALYSIS

  A. STANDARD FOR AMENDING A COMPLAINT

  Plaintiff submits that, in considering her motion to amend her complaint, it was improper for the court to question whether her allegations demonstrated that her complaint involved discrimination that Title IX prohibited. (Plaintiff's Motion, at 3). Operating under a misapprehension as to the law applicable to a motion under Rule 15(a), the plaintiff argues that the court ought to have confined its ruling to whether the defendant would suffer undue prejudice if she were allowed to amend her complaint. (Plaintiff's Motion, at 3). As the court indicated in its Memorandum Order, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) instructs that leave to amend a complaint be freely given when justice so requires, but does not mandate that leave be granted in every case. 320 F.Supp.2d at 719-20. While undue prejudice is one factor the court must consider in evaluating a motion to amend, the court must also consider whether the proposed amendment would be futile; that is, whether the amendment would withstand a motion to dismiss. Park, 297 F.2 at 612-13; Vargas-Harrison v. Racine Unified School Dist., 272 F.3d 964, 974 (7th Cir. 2001).

  B. THE PROPOSED RETALIATION CLAIM IS FUTILE

  In his evaluation of plaintiff's proposed retaliation claim under Title IX, Judge Bobrick relied fairly extensively on Hamm v. Weyauwega Milk Products, Inc., 332 F.3d 1058 (7th Cir. 2003) and Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. and Health Care Center, 224 F.3d 701 (7th Cir. 2000). The court acknowledged that, under Title IX, an individual is protected not only from discrimination on the basis of sex, but from retaliation for complaining about the type of discrimination the statute prohibits. 320 F.Supp.2d at 720. The court allowed that a retaliation claim might be valid even if the discrimination or harassment at issue were not sufficiently severe to implicate Title IX's protections, but emphasized that "`the complaint must involve discrimination that is prohibited by [the statute].'" 320 F.Supp.2d at 720 (quoting Hamner, 224 F.3d at 707). When Judge Bobrick examined plaintiff's allegations, it became evident that, as the plaintiff now concedes, the complaint involved discrimination that Title IX did not proscribe: discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation. 320 F.Supp.2d at 723-25. In both Hamm and Hamner, the Seventh Circuit held that a plaintiff could not ...


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