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Yates v. John Marshall Law School

September 22, 2008

FRANCINE YATES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE JOHN MARSHALL LAW SCHOOL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before us is Plaintiff Francine Yates' application to proceed in forma pauperis with her multi-count complaint against the John Marshall Law School ("the School"). She alleges that the School violated various civil rights provisions by denying her admission. As set forth below, we grant Plaintiff's application but dismiss several counts of her Complaint.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Before granting leave to file in forma pauperis, we must first determine whether or not Plaintiff is indigent. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). We must also conduct an initial review of Plaintiff's complaint and dismiss the action if we find that (1) it is frivolous or malicious; (2) it fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (3) it seeks damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). As to the second factor, failure to state a claim, we apply the test for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), which requires "that a complaint contain 'enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Moore v. F.B.I., No. 07-1294, 2008 WL 2521089, at *1 (7th Cir. June 25, 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007)); see also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 2007). Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, we have a responsibility to construe her complaint liberally. Donald v. Cook Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 95 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1996). It is the "well established duty of the trial court to ensure that the claims of a pro se litigant are given a fair and meaningful consideration." Palmer v. City of Decatur, 814 F.2d 426, 428-29 (7th Cir. 1987).

ANALYSIS

A. Indigence

In support of her allegation of poverty, Plaintiff submitted the required financial affidavit. She states that she earns a few hundred dollars per month in her new job, a summer position with Convention Connection Center. Specifically, she states that she earned $272.25 in June and $752.50 in July. (IFP Applic. ¶ 2.) She further declares that neither she, nor anyone in her household, has additional sources of income, assets, or bank accounts containing more than $200. (Id. ¶¶ 3-7.) Even if we assume that Plaintiff earns $750 a month, her annual income would total $9,000, placing her under the poverty guideline for a single-person household. (See Health & Human Services 2008 Poverty Guidelines, setting the guideline at $10,400 for a single person.) We find Plaintiff's allegation of poverty to be true and thus briefly consider whether she has stated any valid claims for relief against the School.

B. Sufficiency of Allegations under Rule 12(b)(6)

According to the Complaint, the School rejected Plaintiff's 2008 applications for enrollment on the basis of her mental disability (depression and anxiety), race (African-American), sex (female) and religion (Christian). (Compl. at 3-19, 27-30 (Charges A-D & F).) The School, through its employees, also allegedly harassed her because of her sex, disability, religion and whistle-blowing activities with respect to her prior employer. (Id. at 19-26 (Charges D-E, G-H).) Plaintiff further alleges that School officials retaliated against her because of her disability, religion and whistle-blowing activities by denying her application and her request for a refund of her application fee, refusing to meet with her, and initially refusing to provide her with copies of her application materials. (Id. at 22-24, 30, 33, 38 (Charges E, G-H).) In addition to these alleged violations of federal and state statutes, Plaintiff contends that the School committed various state-law torts, including defamation (Charge I), intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Charge J), and fraud (Charge K). (Id. at 40-51.) As a remedy for these unlawful actions, Plaintiff asks that we find in her favor "with no appeals granted on behalf of" the School, disbar the transgressors and terminate their employment with the School,*fn1 require the School to admit her and reimburse all fees associated with her legal education, and award her compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 52.)

1. Discrimination and Harassment Claims

Plaintiff's discrimination and harassment claims appear based on the School's alleged violations of: the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), the Illinois Constitution, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA")*fn2, the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code ("MHDDC"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("§ 504"). (See id., Charges A-H.) We address each briefly below.

a. Claims of Discrimination under the IHRA and Illinois Constitution

Plaintiff's claims under the IHRA fail as a matter of law because she has not exhausted her remedies before the state tribunal, the Illinois Human Rights Commission ("IHRC"). See 775 ILCS 5/8-111(c). "[I]n order to seek redress under state law for . . . harassment and discrimination, a complainant must proceed under the IHRA. More importantly, a complainant must exhaust administrative remedies under that Act, then seek review of the administrative decision in state court." Kosiarek v. Vill. of Villa Park, No. 86 C 1502, 1987 WL 14118, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 1987). Interpreting the IHRA, federal and state courts in Illinois consistently rule that "[c]courts have no jurisdiction to hear independent actions for civil rights violations." Mein v. Masonite Corp., 109 Ill. 2d 1, 6, 485 N.E.2d 312, 314 (Ill. 1985); see Flaherty v. Gas Research Inst., 31 F.3d 451, 458 (7th Cir. 1994) ("Judicial review is [ ] available under the IHRA only after the [IHRC] has issued a final order on a complaint."); McCraven v. City of Chi., 18 F. Supp. 2d 877, 882 (N.D. Ill. 1998) ("Under Illinois law, the [IHRC] has exclusive authority over claims arising under the IHRA."). While the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense, it seems implausible that Plaintiff could have exhausted a claim before the IHRC, given the short time span between the School's alleged conduct -- occurring primarily in May and June of 2008 -- and the filing of the complaint on July 21, 2008. See, e.g., 56 Ill. Admin. Code. Pt. 2520 ("Procedures of the Department of Human Rights"). Accordingly, we dismiss her claims under the IHRA.*fn3

Plaintiff's failure to proceed before the IHRC also dooms her claims based on violations of the Illinois Constitution. In Charges A through H, Plaintiffs cites to various provisions in the Illinois Constitution's Bill of Rights as support for her claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation. (See Compl. Charges A-H.) Specifically, Plaintiff refers to Article I, sections 18 through 20, which make certain forms of discrimination unlawful. See Ill. Const., art. I, ยงยง 18-20. Section 18, for example, provides that "[t]he equal ...


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