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Sung Park v. Indiana University School of Dentistry

August 30, 2012

SUNG PARK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:10-cv-01408-WTL-WGH--William T. Lawrence, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MARCH 26, 2012--

Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and BAUER and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

Sung Yeun Park had hoped to become a dental surgeon when she enrolled at the Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) in 2006. After one year at the school, however, Park began to experience a series of serious setbacks, including several failing grades and allegations of professional misconduct.

Eventually, the school concluded that she had to be dismissed from its program. Park appealed without success to various school committees and administrators to overturn this decision. This suit, alleging Equal Pro- tection and Due Process violations, as well as claims for state law breach of contract, represents her latest effort to win re-admittance. The district court dismissed all of Park's claims for failure to state a claim, and we affirm.

I

Park enrolled in IUSD's doctoral dental surgery program in 2006 and completed her first year of dental school without incident, but on the margin. At that point, her class rank was 95th out of 103. In her second year, she encountered even more severe academic set- backs. In one instance, because of her weak performance in a class, Park was required to take a remediation exam. She contacted the professor for that class (Dr. Haug) a few days before the deadline for completing the re-take, but she was unable to complete the exam in time, and so she received a failing grade. She also was charged with acting unprofessionally by failing to schedule the exam in a timely manner. In another class, Park allegedly "arriv[ed] late for and subsequently le[ft] early [from] . a remediation examination (without permission from the faculty)." Over the course of this year, Park was placed on academic probation twice; she eventually was required to repeat her entire second year of classes after spending one year away from the school.

As directed, Park recommenced her course of study in 2009. Although Park's academic performance im- proved somewhat, IUSD still was not satisfied with Park's professional development. She was reprimanded for breaching confidentiality rules, a violation of the IUSD Code of Conduct. Other charges, such as her failure to report a class absence, were determined not to be violations of IUSD's policies. Nevertheless, Park eventually was brought before IUSD's Faculty Profes- sional Conduct Committee, which recommended dis- missing Park for her "admitted inability to prioritize and accomplish competing tasks" and her "noncom- pliance [with] professional responsibilities." She ap- pealed this decision to the Faculty Council Appeals Committee and to the university-wide Graduate Office, but neither appeal was successful.

Unable to procure relief from the university, Park turned to the federal courts. She filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in November 2010, alleging a variety of federal and state law claims. The district court dismissed Park's complaint, and she now appeals.

II

Before examining the merits of Park's lawsuit, we take a moment to address a jurisdictional question that arose during oral argument. Park's lawsuit seeks damages from the Indiana University School of Dentistry, which is an arm of the State of Indiana. Thus, one might wonder why Indiana's sovereign immunity does not bar this suit. The answer is simple: sovereign immunity is a waivable affirmative defense, Board of Regents of Univ. of Wis. Sys. v. Phoenix Int'l Software, Inc., 653 F.3d 448, 463 (7th Cir. 2011), and in this case, Indiana has waived it. It never once raised the issue of immunity before the district court, and even when prompted by this court at argument, counsel for IUSD declined to argue that sovereign immunity defeats Park's case. IUSD has thus waived its sovereign immunity defense, and so we do not explore that question any further. See Wood v. Milyard, 132 S. Ct. 1826, 1835 (2012).

We review the district court's order granting IUSD's motion to dismiss de novo, "constru[ing] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff" and drawing all possible inferences in Park's favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). In any event, aside from several supplemental affidavits pre- sented by the defendants that go beyond the scope of our review at this stage of the litigation, the facts are not seriously contested by the parties. Rather, the main issue presented in this appeal is whether any legal con- sequences flow from the facts that Park has alleged.

A

Because Park's claim under Indiana contract law is closely connected to her federal due process claims, we begin with the contract theory. Park alleges that IUSD breached its contract with her by failing to follow the disciplinary procedures set out in IUSD's Student Hand- book and Codes of Conduct. For the purposes of this appeal, we assume that Park has pleaded the existence of an implied contract arising out of these documents between herself and IUSD. Bissessur v. Indiana Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 581 F.3d 599, 601 (7th Cir. 2009) ("[A] student may establish that an implied contract existed be- tween h[er]self and the university that entitled the student to a specific right ."); Gordon v. Purdue Univ., 862 N.E.2d 1244, 1251 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) ("'[T]he relationship between a student and an educational in- stitution is contractual in nature . . . .'" (quoting Neel v. Indiana Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 435 N.E.2d ...


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