Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 L 6506 Honorable Marcia Maras,Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cunningham
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Delort concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 This appeal arises from the October 19, 2011 order entered by the circuit court of Cook County granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Alan Wolfe (Dr. Wolfe), Adam Driks (Dr. Driks), Allen Frankfater (Dr. Frankfater), Gayatri Vedantam (Dr. Vedantam), and David Keating (Dr. Keating), and against the plaintiff, Jeanine Seitz-Partridge on a claim of defamation per se. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the circuit court erroneously granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor. On cross-appeal, the defendants argue that the circuit court erroneously struck certain statements from their supplemental affidavits for failing to disclose the information pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(f)(1) (eff. July 1, 2002). For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County as to the summary judgment ruling and find that the issue of the circuit court striking of the supplemental affidavits is moot.
¶ 3 This case has a long and complex factual and procedural
background, and thus, our recitation of the facts is limited to those
facts that are pertinent to our resolution of this appeal.*fn1
In 2000, the plaintiff, Jeanine Seitz-Partridge, was a
graduate student in the molecular biology program at Loyola University
of Chicago (Loyola). As part of the requirements to continue in the
program as a Ph.D. candidate, the plaintiff was given a preliminary
examination in 2002. The preliminary examination required the
plaintiff to write a grant proposal and present an oral defense of her
proposal to the preliminary examination committee (PEC). Members of
the PEC consisted of Drs. Wolfe, Driks, Vedantam, Keating, and
Frankfater, who was the chairperson of the PEC. At the conclusion of
the preliminary examination, the PEC directed the plaintiff to revise
a portion of her written grant proposal, known as "Aim 2." Thereafter,
the plaintiff revised the "Aim 2" section of her grant proposal and
resubmitted it to the PEC. Subsequently, however, Dr. Vedantam, as a
PEC member, accused the plaintiff of plagiarism and brought her
accusation to the attention of other PEC members. According to Dr.
Vedantam's affidavit, in reviewing the plaintiff's revised written
grant proposal, Dr. Vedantam noticed that "not merely phrases, but
substantial portions of paragraphs were copied from original
scientific articles without quotation marks and sometimes without
attribution." According to Dr. Frankfater, members of the PEC then met
and reviewed the plaintiff's revised written grant proposal "as
compared to original articles previously published in scientific
The PEC then concluded that plagiarism had occurred and that the plaintiff's conduct raised concerns as to whether the plaintiff actually understood the topic about which she had written; and they then determined that as a result, the plaintiff had failed the preliminary examination. However, the PEC did not determine whether the plaintiff's plagiarism was intentional.
¶ 4 In a letter dated October 17, 2002, Dr. Frankfater informed Manuel Diaz (Dr. Diaz), who was the chairperson of the molecular biology steering committee (the Steering Committee), of the PEC's decision to fail the plaintiff on her preliminary examination. Attached to the letter was a copy of the plaintiff's preliminary examination and the relevant articles used to compare her work, as well as a written critique prepared by Dr. Driks regarding the plaintiff's preliminary examination. The Steering Committee was responsible for reviewing academic misconduct and issues of academic probation, failure, and student discipline.
¶ 5 In a letter dated October 25, 2002 to Dr. Frankfater, following the Steering Committee's independent review of the information provided by the PEC, Dr. Diaz explained the Steering Committee's conclusion that the plaintiff's conduct constituted plagiarism, but that it could not ascertain whether the plaintiff committed plagiarism "with the intent to deceive." The letter also noted the Steering Committee's determination that the plaintiff had failed the preliminary examination and that the plaintiff should be afforded a second opportunity to take the preliminary examination on a different question to determine her eligibility to continue in the Ph.D. program.
¶ 6 In November 2002, the plaintiff took a second preliminary examination. After review, the PEC unanimously determined that the plaintiff failed both the written and oral portions of the second preliminary examination. The PEC then informed the Steering Committee of its decision to fail the plaintiff and submitted the PEC members' individual critiques of the plaintiff's second preliminary examination.
¶ 7 In March 2003, the Steering Committee agreed with the PEC's conclusions and recommended that the plaintiff be dismissed from the program. On March 27, 2003, associate dean of Loyola's graduate school, Frederick Wezeman (Associate Dean Wezeman), informed the plaintiff that she was dismissed from the Ph.D. program, effective April 1, 2003. The plaintiff then engaged in a three-tier appeal procedure to Loyola's hearing board; dean of Loyola's graduate school, William Yost (Dean Yost); and Loyola's vice president of health sciences, Dr. Anthony Barbato (Dr. Barbato)--all of whom upheld the decision to dismiss the plaintiff from the program.
¶ 8 In 2003, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Loyola and the members of the PEC-- Drs. Wolfe, Driks, Frankfater, Vedantam and Keating. The complaint was amended multiple times. In the fifth amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged causes of action for breach of express contract (count I), breach of implied-in-fact contract (count II), tortious interference with contractual relationship (count III); defamation per se against the individual PEC members (count IV), and defamation per quod (count V). Count IV of the fifth amended complaint specifically alleged that the defendants made false and defamatory statements in the October 17, 2002 letter by stating that the plaintiff had committed plagiarism; that those statements were published to the Steering Committee, faculty members, students and technicians at Loyola; that the defendants published a false and defamatory "[s]ecret [m]emorandum" for the purpose of destroying the plaintiff's professional reputation; that the defamatory statements "insinuate[d] that [the plaintiff] [was] dishonest, unethical, and professionally incompetent"; and that the false and defamatory statements destroyed the plaintiff's academic career, harmed her personal and professional reputation, and resulted in "lost present and future educational and economic opportunities, and lost substantial future income."
¶ 9 On February 10, 2006, the circuit court, presided over by Judge Allen Goldberg (Judge Goldberg), granted the defendants' motion to dismiss with prejudice, pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2008)), the plaintiff's claims for tortious interference with contractual relationship (count III) and defamation per se (count IV), as set forth in the fifth amended complaint. The circuit court also granted the defendants' motion to strike the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief. Subsequently, the plaintiff engaged in further discovery by deposing various Loyola professors. The plaintiff then filed a motion for partial summary judgment on her request for injunctive relief, a motion to reconsider the circuit court's order striking her request for injunctive relief, and a motion for leave to file a sixth amended complaint.
¶ 10 On December 8, 2009, six years after the plaintiff's initial complaint was filed, the circuit court, presided over by Judge Daniel Pierce (Judge Pierce), granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2008)) on the claims for breach of express contract (count I), breach of implied-in-fact contract (count II) and defamation per quod (count V) as alleged in the fifth amended complaint. The circuit court also denied, as moot, the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on her request for injunctive relief; denied, as moot, the plaintiff's motion to reconsider the circuit court's previous order striking her request for injunctive relief; and denied the plaintiff's request for leave to file a sixth amended complaint.
¶ 11 On appeal, this court affirmed the circuit court's 2009 decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants on counts I and II, to deny the plaintiff leave to file a sixth amended complaint and to deny the plaintiff's motion to reconsider her request for injunctive relief.*fn2 Seitz-Partridge, 409 Ill. App. 3d at 91, 948 N.E.2d at 233. However, this court reversed the circuit court's 2006 decision to dismiss the defamation per se (count IV) claim with prejudice, finding that the well-pled allegations of the claim sufficiently met the threshold to state a cause of action for defamation per se. Id. at 90-91, 948 N.E.2d at 233. This ...