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Dr. Richard E. Matland v. Loyola University of Chicago

November 27, 2012

DR. RICHARD E. MATLAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Richard E. Matland has sued his employer, defendant Loyola University Chicago, for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Counts I -- II), and for claims alleging promissory estoppel (Count III) and fraudulent misrepresentations (Count IV). Defendant has moved to dismiss Counts III and IV of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons state below, I grant defendant's motion.

I.

Plaintiff was a tenured professor at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas, when he was actively recruited by defendant. In January 2006, he accepted defendant's offer of an appointment as the Rigali Professor ("Rigali Chair"). At the time the offer was made, defendant's agent orally represented to plaintiff that the Rigali Chair "was to be permanent in nature" subject to a "retention review." (Compl., at ¶ 39). Ultimately, defendant sent a written offer of employment dated February 16, 2006, which plaintiff countersigned on that same day.

The resulting employment contract explains that plaintiff's appointment to the Rigali Chair was for a five-year renewable term, beginning with the 2006-2007 academic year and continuing through 2010-2011. The contract details the standards by which defendant would decide whether it was going to renew plaintiff's appointment to the Chair. Specifically, the contract states that

[c]riteria to determine possible reappointment as the Rigali Professor may include a sustained record of excellence in research and teaching, continued recognition for a record of excellence in research and teaching, continued recognition for a record of excellence in research and scholarship internal and external to the University, and an ongoing contribution to your field of learning and to the University. The appointment carries the academic rank of Professor and includes, subject to the approval of faculty committees, tenure.

Additionally, the employment contract explains that should plaintiff's appointment to the Rigali Chair come to an end, he could remain on the faculty and assume full-time teaching and research responsibilities.

After beginning to work for defendant as the Rigali Chair, plaintiff began to experience health problems and was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease in 2007. Plaintiff underwent extensive medical treatments, and these treatments continued through subsequent years. In May 2010, defendant informed plaintiff that his review for renewal of the Rigali Chair would take place in the fall of 2010. Plaintiff submitted the required materials in June 2010. During the review process, four nationally recognized scholars at top universities evaluated plaintiff's materials and wrote letters in support of his reappointment to the Rigali Chair. Still, at the close of the review defendant advised plaintiff that his appointment to the Rigali Chair would not be renewed.

Plaintiff appealed the decision utilizing defendant's internal procedures. Initially, plaintiff's appeal was rejected, but subsequently, the relevant committee concluded that the review process had failed to adequately account for plaintiff's health and medical condition. The committee recommended that the review process be redone. Despite this decision, defendant's president, Michael Garanzini, overturned the committee's decision and again advised plaintiff that he was not to be retained as the Rigali Chair. Plaintiff continues to be employed by defendant.

II.

A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the claims, not their merit. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). I must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favour. McCann v. Neilsen, 466 F.3d 619, 622 (7th Cir. 2006). Dismissal is warranted only if the factual material in the complaint fails plausibly to suggest that defendant is entitled to relief. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

As a general rule, I may consider only the pleadings at the motion to dismiss stage. Rosenblum v. Travelbybus.com Ltd., 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002). Defendant has attached the employment contract (i.e. the executed offer letter) to its motion to dismiss, though plaintiff did not attach it to his complaint. For purposes of a 12(b)(6) motion, a document attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss is considered part of the pleadings only if it is "referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and [is] central to her claim." Venture Associates Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff refers to the offer in his complaint and even alleges that in accepting the offer there was a binding contract between the parties. (Compl., at ¶ 40). While plaintiff does not assert a breach of contract claim, the employment contract is at the core of the parties' relationship and is central to plaintiff's claims for promissory estoppel and fraudulent inducement. See Midway Home Entm't, Inc. v. Atwood Richards, Inc., 1998 WL 774123, at *1 (N.D. Ill. 1998) (concluding that contract not attached to the complaint but submitted by the defendant with a motion to dismiss was "central to plaintiffs' claims that they were fraudulent misrepresented and induced into entering into this contract"). I also note that plaintiff does not dispute that the employment contract attached to defendant's motion is the document that governs the parties' contractual relationship. As a result of the foregoing, the employment contract is considered to be part of the pleadings and I may consider it in deciding defendant's motion to dismiss. Moreover, to the extent that the terms of the employment contract conflict with the allegations in the complaint, the employment contract prevails. Centers v. Centennial Mortg., Inc., 398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005).

III. A. Promissory Estoppel

Promissory estoppel provides a cause of action "where a promise has been made which was relied upon by the promisee to his detriment in such a manner as to make it a fraud or injustice not to enforce the promise." Newton Tractor Sales, Inc. v. Kubota Tractor Corp., 906 N.E.2d 520, 526 (Ill. 2009) (quoting R. Brazener, Annotation, Promissory Estoppel as Basis for Avoidance of Statute of Frauds, 56 A.L.R.3d 1037, 1042 (1974)). To state a claim for promissory estoppel, plaintiff must allege that "(1) defendant made an unambiguous promise to plaintiff, (2) plaintiff relied on such promise, (3) plaintiff's reliance was expected and foreseeable by defendant[], and (4) plaintiff relied on the promise ...


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