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O'Driscoll v. Argosy University

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 25, 2014

KATE O'DRISCOLL, Plaintiff,
v.
ARGOSY UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

The Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts VI, VII, IX, and X of the Amended Complaint [44]. Joint status report with proposed dates going forward shall be filed by 3/12/14.

STATEMENT

On November 7, 2013, Plaintiff Kate O'Driscoll brought an Amended Complaint against Defendants Argosy University, Dr. Dale Septeowski, and Education Management Corporation alleging violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §701, et seq., as well as state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367(a). Before the Court is Defendants Argosy University's and Dr. Dale Septeowski's partial motion to dismiss Plaintiff's breach of express and implied contract claims in Counts VI and VII, Plaintiff's tortious interference with contractual relations claim in Count IX, and Plaintiff's tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claim in Count X pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendants' motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted." Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, a "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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true." Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013).

BACKGROUND

In 2008, Argosy University ("Argosy") accepted Plaintiff into the Masters in Community Counseling Program ("MACC"). (R. 42, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11.) Argosy set forth the MACC Degree requirements in the Argosy University Clinical Handbook ("Handbook"). ( Id., Ex. A.) Plaintiff alleges that Argosy wrongfully dismissed her from the MACC degree program in 2011. ( Id. ¶ 1.) In particular, Plaintiff contends that after she completed all of the degree requirements on or about February 7, 2011, Argosy referred her to the Student Conduct Committee because she allegedly failed to comply with remediation recommendations. ( Id. ¶¶ 16, 51.) On March 11, 2011, Argosy dismissed Plaintiff from the MACC program for failing to successfully complete the requirements for graduation. ( Id. ¶¶ 75, 77.)

Plaintiff further maintains that an express employment contract existed between herself and Argosy and the Handbook expressed the terms of the contract and other university policies and procedures. ( Id. ¶ 142.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that she completed the MACC degree requirements for graduation and paid all tuition due to Argosy. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 16.) Nevertheless, according to Plaintiff, Argosy breached the express contract by failing to follow provisions expressed in the Handbook. ( Id. ¶ 148.)

Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that in 2008, she visited Dr. Septeowski, the Chair of the Counselor Education Program, at his office, and Dr. Septeowski showed her sexually suggestive material and later made degrading remarks about women. ( Id. ¶¶ 5, 21-22.) Plaintiff also alleges that Argosy's Academic Catalog prohibits displaying sexually suggestive materials. ( Id. ¶ 185.) She further asserts that she objected to Dr. Septeowski's conduct and made verbal and written complaints regarding this alleged discrimination to numerous Argosy staff, including the Director of Student Services. ( Id. ¶¶ 22-25, 36.) In addition, Plaintiff contends that Dr. Septeowski later gave her a C- in his "Career and Lifestyle" class in 2009 in an act of retaliation. ( Id. ¶¶ 22-24.) Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Septeowski disseminated false statements concerning her reputation and her record with the University and that those statements caused Argosy to dismiss her from the University. ( Id. ¶ 187.)

After Argosy dismissed her, Plaintiff applied for therapist positions with prospective employers. ( Id. ¶¶ 79-81.) Plaintiff alleges that she had an expectation of full employment due to the interest shown by multiple employers, namely, Arlington Accounting Services, Davidson & Associates, KI Industries, and Institute for Motivational Development. ( Id. ¶¶ 194-95.) She further contends that one of these opportunities was contingent upon a review of her references and another required a counseling degree. ( Id. ¶ 195.) Based on these facts, Plaintiff alleges that Argosy and Dr. Septeowski caused her to lose multiple prospective employment opportunities. ( Id. ¶¶ 195-97.) Specifically, she asserts that Argosy misrepresented the dates that Plaintiff attended Argosy University and that the misrepresentations resulted in her failure to secure a position with Arlington Counseling Services. ( Id. ¶¶ 79-81, 195.) She also alleges that Dr. Septeowski's conduct was the reason Argosy dismissed her from the MACC program, and, consequently, the dismissal caused her to lose other employment opportunities. ( Id. ¶ 197.)

ANALYSIS

I. Breach of Express and Implied Contract - Counts VI and VII

In Counts VI and VII of her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants breached either an express or implied contract. "[A] college or university and its students have a contractual relationship, and the terms of the contract are generally set forth in the school's catalogs and bulletins." Raethz v. Aurora Univ., 346 Ill.App.3d 728, 732, 805 N.E.2d 696, 699, 282 Ill.Dec. 77, 80 (2d Dist. 2004). "An implied contract arises where the intention of the parties is not expressed but an agreement in fact creating an obligation is implied or presumed from their acts - in other words, where circumstances under common understanding show a mutual intent to contract." Brody v. Finch Univ. of Health Sciences/The Chicago Med. Sch., 298 Ill.App.3d 146, 154, 698 N.E.2d 257, 265, 232 Ill.Dec. 419, 427 (2d Dist. 1998). Nevertheless, "the relationship between a student and a private university is unique and cannot be strictly categorized or characterized in purely contractual terms." Raethz, 346 Ill.App.3d at 732; see also Seitz-Partridge v. Loyola Univ. of Chicago, 409 Ill.App.3d 76, 82-83, 948 N.E.2d 219, 22, 350 Ill.Dec. 150, 157 (1st Dist. 2011). "[I]n the student-university context, a student may have a remedy for breach of contract when it is alleged that an adverse academic decision has been made concerning the student but only if that decision was made arbitrarily, capriciously, or in bad faith." Raethz, 346 Ill.App.3d at 732. In other words, a "student has a valid cause of action against a school when it is alleged that an adverse decision against a student supposedly for academic deficiencies, was made arbitrarily, capriciously, and in bad faith.'" Seitz-Partridge, 409 Ill.App.3d at ...


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