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Patrick Novak v. Board of Trustees of Southern

October 18, 2012

PATRICK NOVAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, LYNN SMITH, MARLA MALLETTE, SHARON SHROCK, JANET FULLER, AND PAUL ANGELIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 10) to which plaintiff, Patrick Novak, filed a response (Doc. 15). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 10).

Plaintiff brings this action against the defendants pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. His amended complaint alleges as follows. In Spring 2005, plaintiff, who had been diagnosed and treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was admitted to the doctoral program at defendant Southern Illinois University College of Education. The Southern Illinois University Graduate School informed plaintiff in Spring 2011 that he was "dropped" from the program. Defendants Lynn Smith, Marla Mallette, Sharon Shrock, Janet Fuller, and Paul Angelis were members of plaintiff's Ph.D. dissertation committee. Plaintiff contends that defendants were aware of his diagnosis and failed to give him the following accommodations:

1) retake of all assignments, tests, and measurements, where the grade and outcome did not reflect [plaintiff]'s historic performance; 2) review and explanation as to why grades were assigned; 3) additional time to complete, [sic] assignments, tests, and measurements; and 4) access to a tutor help [sic] [plaintiff] prepare for his preliminary examination and prospectus.

Doc. 4, p. 3. Plaintiff seeks multiple types of relief, including injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.

ANALYSIS

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must "construe [the complaint] in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in [the non-moving] party's favor." Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). The complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

1.Plaintiff has Pleaded Sufficient Facts

First, defendants allege that plaintiff's complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief under the ADA. The ADA provides that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

42 U.S.C. § 12132. Accordingly, to state a claim for a Title II violation, a plaintiff must allege: "(1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of some public entity's services, programs, or activities or was otherwise discriminated against; and (3) that such exclusion, denial of benefit or discrimination was by reason of his disability." Toledo v. Sanchez, 454 F.3d 24, 31 (1st Cir. 2006) (citing 42 USC § 12132).

Defendants compare plaintiff's complaint to a breach of contract case that the Seventh Circuit dismissed in Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599 (7th Cir. 2009). In Bissessur, the plaintiff alleged a breach of implied contract claim by stating as follows: "[(1) "an implied contract existed between Bissessur and [the university]; [(2)] [the university] breached the implied contract that existed between Bissessur and [the university]; and [(3)] [the university's] actions were arbitrary, capricious, and undertaken in bad faith." Id. at 602. The Seventh Circuit found that Bissessur failed to state a legally cognizable claim under the standards in Twombly, because the complaint alleged only "bare legal conclusions." Bissessur, 581 F.3d at 602.

Here, unlike Bissessur, plaintiff does more than state a threadbare recitation of an ADA claim. Plaintiff has stated he suffers from PTSD and "is disabled within the meaning of the ADA in that he suffers from a physical and mental impairment that substantially limits [his] ability to perform manual tasks and to learn." Doc. 2, p. 6. Further, plaintiff alleges that he was "dropped" from the Southern Illinois University Graduate School, defendants were aware of his diagnosis, and he "should have been given accommodations." Doc. 2., p. 2. Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants "refused to make reasonable accommodations for [p]laintiff's disability," and that "[t]he decision to dismiss [plaintiff] was based solely on [p]laintiff's disability." Doc. 2, p. 6. Accordingly, plaintiff's complaint states "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," and raises his "right to relief above the speculative level." See Bissessur, 581 F.3d at 602. Further, because the elements for claims arising under the Rehabilitation Act are substantially similar to the elements of an ADA claim, Silk v. City of Chicago, 194 F.3d 788, 798 n.7 (7th Cir. 1999), the Court finds that plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to state a claim under both the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.

2.Southern Illinois University College of Education Lacks the Capacity to be Sued

Next, defendant Southern Illinois University College of Education moves to dismiss all claims against it claiming it is not a legal entity with the capacity to sue or be sued. Plaintiff does not contest this argument. As the Court in Rittenhouse explained with regard to the Southern Illinois University School of Law, the Southern Illinois University College of Education "does not enjoy a separate legal existence independent of the university or, rather, from the Board, and, consequently, is not amenable to suit." Rittenhouse v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 628 F. Supp. 2d 887, 891 (S.D. Ill. 2008) (citing Williams v. Univ. of Ill., 945 F. Supp. 163, 165 (N.D. Ill. 1996); Ladien v. Bd. of Trs., Univ. of Ill., 1994 WL 395078, at *7 (N.D. Ill. 1994)). The Southern Illinois University Management Act specifically grants the Board the "power to enter into contracts, to sue and be sued[.]" 110 ILCS 520/7. Accordingly, because defendant Southern Illinois University College of Education is not a separate entity with the capacity to be sued, it is dismissed with prejudice.

3.Count I - Rehabilitation Act Claim

a.Defendants are not Immune from Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act Claim

Defendants allege that plaintiff's claims brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are barred under the Eleventh Amendment. By its own terms, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state by citizens of another state. U.S. Const. amend. XI. However, Eleventh Amendment immunity is not applicable where "Congress has abrogated the state's immunity from suit through an unequivocal expression of its intent to do so and pursuant to a valid exercise of its power"; the state has waived immunity; or the plaintiff seeks prospective relief for an ongoing federal constitutional or statutory violation. Marie O. v. Edgar, 131 F.3d 610, 615 (7th Cir. 1997). Illinois has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity for purposes of the Rehabilitation Act as a condition for its receipt of federal funds. See Jaros v. Ill. Dept. of Corrs., 684 F.3d 667, 672 n.5 (7th Cir. 2012); see also Stanley v. Litscher, 213 F.3d 340, 344 (7th Cir. 2000). Punitive damages, however, are not allowed under the Rehabilitation Act. Barnes v. ...


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