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Turpin v. Koropchak

June 11, 2008

CHRISTI TURPIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN KOROPCHAK, DAVID L. WILSON, AND NANCY MUNDSCHENK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for Lack of Jurisdiction (Doc. 17), which has been fully briefed by the parties (Docs. 17 - 22). Plaintiff's suit is based on diversity jurisdiction, seeking injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief against defendants John Koropchak, the Dean of the Graduate School at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale ("SIU"); David Wilson, the Associate Dean and Director of the SIU Graduate School; and Nancy Mundschenk, an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology & Special Education at SIU. Defendants assert that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. Although Plaintiff sued Defendants in their individual capacities, they argue that SIU is the true Defendant here, as it is the entity that will be liable and responsible for any damages that may stem from this suit. In other words, Defendants believe that Plaintiff's claims should have been brought against them in their official, rather than individual, capacity. Defendants note that the Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over claims against the State, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. Further, Defendants assert that SIU, as a state university, is considered a state agency. Therefore, proper jurisdiction of this matter lies exclusively with the Illinois Court of Claims and the case should be dismissed from this Court. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court agrees with Defendants.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was enrolled as a student at SIU's Graduate School to earn her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. She alleges that in March 1999, she completed her dissertation and defended it in front of a four-person committee, including her Ph.D. advisor and three others -- one of whom was defendant Mundschenk. She further alleges she completed all of her requisite coursework prior to March 1999. Allegedly, all four members signed Plaintiff's Dissertation Approval Form (see Amended Complaint, Doc. 14, Ex. A). Therefore, all that Plaintiff needed to have her Ph.D. posted by SIU was for the Head of the Department to sign the form and have it filed with the Graduate School. Plaintiff believes the Head of the Department did sign the form and it was filed, but that the Graduate School either lost or misplaced it. Nevertheless, she alleges, SIU represented to third parties that she had earned her Ph.D.

Plaintiff listed on her resume that she had earned a Ph.D. from SIU in 1999. She was subsequently employed by Parkway School District in St. Louis, Missouri ("Parkway"), in January 2003. However, when Parkway attempted to confirm that Plaintiff had, in fact, earned her Ph.D., it was unable to do so. Plaintiff alleges that she contacted defendant Wilson, who wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Parkway, explaining that although Plaintiff had completed all the requirements for her Ph.D., there was some misplaced paperwork concerning her dissertation that erroneously led to her degree not being posted, but that the error would be corrected (Doc. 14, Ex. B). Relying on Wilson's letter, Plaintiff continued to represent that she had earned a Ph.D. from SIU in 1999.

Later, Plaintiff was employed by McCarthy Building Companies of St. Louis ("McCarthy"), in the summer of 2007, with an annual salary of approximately $160,000. As Parkway had done previously, McCarthy attempted to verify Plaintiff had earned her Ph.D. from SIU in 1999. Plaintiff alleges that this time, defendant Wilson declined to confirm that Plaintiff had earned her Ph.D., despite her repeated requests. She further alleges Wilson went so far as to inform McCarthy that Plaintiff had not earned her Ph.D., despite her allegation that he had conducted a full investigation on the matter in 2003 and knew Plaintiff had earned the degree. Plaintiff states that to date, defendant Wilson still refuses to confirm she earned her Ph.D. "although he has no factual basis to support his claim and despite the fact that he either knows that it was earned or he is acting in deliberate disregard of the truth" (Doc. 14, ¶ 23).

Plaintiff alleges that defendant Koropchak also refused to confirm Plaintiff had earned a Ph.D. despite repeated requests to do so made by McCarthy and then Plaintiff herself. She alleges that Koropchak spoke to McCarthy employees and told them Plaintiff had not earned a Ph.D. from SIU. When Plaintiff forwarded him a copy of her Dissertation Approval Form and revised Ph.D. thesis, Koropchak still allegedly refused to withdraw his prior statements made to McCarthy, despite the fact that he was aware that Plaintiff may not be discharged from her employment if he did so. Plaintiff alleges that Koropchak knew she had completed all the prerequisites needed to post her Ph.D. but continued to refuse to confirm this fact, even though he allegedly possessed a statement from Plaintiff's Ph.D. advisor (unnamed in the Complaint) to Plaintiff stating, "there is no reason that I am aware of that keeps SIU from posting your Ph.D. to the spring semester of 1999" (Doc. 14, Ex. C). Plaintiff asserts that Koropchak has no factual basis to support his claim that she has not earned a Ph.D. from SIU and either knows this or is acting in deliberate disregard of the truth.

On October 30, 2007, Plaintiff alleges that a meeting was held and attended by defendant Mundschenk and members of Plaintiff's Ph.D. committee, other professors and legal counsel, in order to resolve all issues concerning her Ph.D. Plaintiff alleges that at this meeting, Mundschenk stated that she had served on Plaintiff's Ph.D. committee and had never signed off on the Dissertation Approval Form because Plaintiff had further revisions to make on her Ph.D. before it could be posted. Again, Plaintiff alleges Mundschenk either knew her statements to be untrue or made them "in wanton disregard of the truth," having no factual basis to support such statements. Plaintiff believes that but for Mundscheck's false statements, SIU would have posted Plaintiff's Ph.D., effective the spring semester of 1999. Plaintiff also alleges that at the October 20, 2007 meeting, defendant Koropchak concealed from the Committee members both the contents of and the actual signed copy of Plaintiff's Dissertation Approval Form (Doc. 14, Ex. A).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 14), states two Counts: Count I is a claim seeking a mandatory injunction, specific performance and incidental damages against defendant Koropchak; Count II is a claim for tortious interference with a business expectancy against defendants Koropchak, Wilson and Mundschenk. Plaintiff seeks a Mandatory Injunction Order directing Koropchak to post her Ph.D. effective as of the spring semester of 1999. Plaintiff believes Koropchak, as Dean of the Graduate School, has the discretion to order SIU to post her Ph.D. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks damages, including punitives, against Defendants, jointly and severally, for tortious interference with her employment relationship with McCarthy. In sum, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions caused McCarthy to terminate her employment and adversely affected her ability to find future employment because she cannot represent that she has earned a Ph.D. from SIU. Ultimately, Plaintiff believes the actions taken by Defendants in representing to third parties that she had not, in fact, earned a Ph.D. from SIU in 1999 were not authorized, wrongful and illegal because: (1) Defendants had a duty to refrain from representing that Plaintiff had not earned her Ph.D. when, in fact, they knew she had earned it; (2) Defendants had a duty to refrain from undertaking any actions that prevented the posting of Plaintiff's Ph.D. when, in fact, they knew that she had earned it; and (3) Defendants had a duty to affirmatively represent and take such actions to confirm Plaintiff had earned her Ph.D. when they knew she had earned it.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants have moved to dismiss this case (Doc. 17), asserting that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the suit as Plaintiff's claims are essentially made against Defendants in their official capacity as agents of SIU, rather than in their individual capacity. SIU, Defendants assert, is the true defendant in this case, as it is the entity that will be liable and responsible for any damages Plaintiff may be awarded. Thus, Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Court of Claims (Doc. 18, p. 2).

A. Legal ...


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