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Rittenhouse v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University

May 21, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


Plaintiff, Lisa Rittenhouse, brings this action against the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University School of Law and Peter C. Alexander pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983; 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Americans with Disabilities Act); and 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Rehabilitation Act).*fn1 The amended complaint, filed November 8, 2007, alleges as follows.

Since the age of five years old, Rittenhouse has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") and dyslexia. At age thirteen, she was diagnosed with type II bipolar disorder. In August, 2006, Rittenhouse was admitted as a first-year student at Southern Illinois University School of Law ("School of Law"). In her first semester of law school, Rittenhouse attained a grade point average ("GPA") of 1.694; in her spring semester, she attained a GPA of 2.220, for a combined average of 1.948. Pursuant to School of Law rules, only students who had attained a 1.95 GPA were given an unconditional right to proceed with their third semester of school. Consequently, in the summer of 2007, the School of Law informed Rittenhouse that she had not attained the grades necessary to proceed to her second year of law school. Rittenhouse filed a timely petition for readmission. Defendant Alexander, Dean of the School of Law, referred her petition to the Academic Standards Committee, where it was denied.

Five other students applied for readmission, none of whom were handicapped and four of whom were members of racial minorities. Two of the students who were members of racial minorities did not have a sufficient GPA to apply for readmission under the School of Law's rules. To accommodate those students' petitions, Rittenhouse further alleges, the School of Law effected a change in the students' grades solely for the purpose of permitting them to file a petition with the design and purpose of granting the students' petitions for readmission.

Of the six students who sought readmission, only Rittenhouse's petition was denied. Of the petitioners, Rittenhouse had the highest GPA and claims that she had demonstrated her capacity to earn a 2.0 GPA. Alexander affirmed the findings of the committee, and the School of Law's faculty declined to hear her appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Rittenhouse seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages. Defendants have moved to dismiss Rittenhouse's amended complaint (Doc. 22). The matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

II. Applicable Legal Standards

FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true, and construes all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof. Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). As the Supreme Court recently explained inBell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007), "... it is not enough for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible bases for relief; it must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, id. at 1968-69, by providing allegations that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level." E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

Under the liberal notice pleading requirements of the federal rules, all that is required to state a claim "is a short statement, in plain . . . English, of the legal claim." Kirksey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 1039, 1041 (7th Cir. 1999); FED.R.CIV.P.8(a)(2). "A full narrative is unnecessary." Id.; see also, e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002); McDonald v. Household International, Inc., 425 F.3d 424, 427-28 (7th Cir. 2005); Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1077-78 (7th Cir. 1992). Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal should be denied "if any facts that might be established within [a plaintiff's] allegations would permit a judgment for the plaintiff." Duda v. Board of Education of Franklin Park Public School District No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1057 (7th Cir. 1998).

III. Analysis

A. Defendant School of Law

The School of Law moves to dismiss all claims against it because it is a subdivision of Southern Illinois University ("SIU") and operates under the direction and control of the SIU Board of Trustees ("the Board"). As a result, the School of Law is not a separate legal entity but an integrated division of SIU and may not be sued separately from the Board.

The Court has carefully reviewed Rittenhouse's response and finds that she does not contest the School of Law's argument. Indeed, that argument is not available to her because the School of Law does not enjoy a separate legal existence independent of the university or, rather, from the Board, and, consequently, is not amenable to suit. See, e. g., Williams v. University of Ill., 945 F.Supp. 163, 165 (N.D.Ill. 1996); Ladien v. Bd. of Trustees, Univ. of Ill., 1994 WL 395078, at *7 (N.D.Ill. 1994). As Defendants state, the capacity of SIU to sue and be sued is granted to the Board in the Southern Illinois University Management Act, 110 ILCS 520/7 ("The Board shall have power to enter into contracts, to sue and be sued[.]"). The Act grants the Board the authority to govern and manage SIU and its branches. 110 ILCS 520/8(1). Under this authority, the Board employs all necessary deans and professors, prescribes the course of study to be followed, and issues, "upon the recommendation of the faculty, diplomas to such persons as have satisfactorily completed the required studies."Id. at subparts 2-4.

Because the School of Law is not a legal separate entity but is a division of the University, subject to the Board's governing authority, it is not a proper party to ...

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