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Diperna v. Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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

January 27, 2015

JENNIFER DIPERNA, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL OF PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Jennifer DiPerna, filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology (the "Chicago School"), alleging breach of contract and negligence. Chicago School filed a Motion to Dismiss [33] under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

BACKGROUND

The following is taken from the Amended Complaint, which is assumed to be true for the purposes of a motion to dismiss. Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). Jennifer DiPerna is a Caucasian, female student at the Chicago School in the Masters of Arts Counseling program. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 7, 9.) During a class on April 7, 2013, Plaintiff participated in a project with other classmates, including an African-American student named Shakira. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) During that project, Shakira and another African-American student began harassing DiPerna. ( Id. at ¶ 9.) The other African-American student told DiPerna that she did not like white people. ( Id. ) DiPerna then stated that she did not judge anyone based on race and saw all races as equal. ( Id. ) Shakira then accused DiPerna of being "racist" and "color blind" and stated, "[W]e are not equal." ( Id. at ¶ 10.) After this event, Shakira and her friend wrote an e-mail to the professor of the class, Patricia Perez, falsely accusing DiPerna of being a racist. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10.) The two then began to bully, harass, slander, and defame DiPerna. ( Id. at ¶ 10.)

On April 15, 2013, Perez called DiPerna, Shakira, and another African-American student into a meeting. ( Id. at ¶ 11.) DiPerna told Perez that she was uncomfortable and did not want to attend, but Perez told DiPerna she would be written up if she did not attend. ( Id. ) During the meeting, DiPerna was harassed, bullied, and called a racist; but Perez did not intervene. ( Id. ) DiPerna reported this meeting to a faculty member, Maria Yapondjian, on April 17, 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 12.) DiPerna expressed that she felt uncomfortable around Perez and the two classmates and wanted to change classes. ( Id. ) Yapondjian and Perez did not take any action regarding the bullying and harassment and forced DiPerna to remain in the course. ( Id. )

DiPerna again informed Perez that she was being bullied and harassed on April 23, 2013. ( Id. at ¶13.) On April 30, 2013, DiPerna told Perez, other professors, and board members that the bullying and harassment was occurring. ( Id. ) On May 1, 2013, Perez told DiPerna that she informed her supervisor about DiPerna's concerns with Shakira. ( Id. at ¶ 14.) The bullying, harassment, and slander continued, without any action by the Chicago School. ( Id. )

On July 15, 2013, DiPerna posted a picture of Paula Deen on her private Instagram account. ( Id. at ¶ 15.) Shakira reported the Instagram posting to Chicago School officials. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) DiPerna received an e-mail from Associate Department Chair Luke Mudd, stating that an issue had come to his attention and asking DiPerna to contact him immediately to set up a meeting. ( Id. at ¶ 17.) On August 1, 2013, DiPerna met with Mudd and Department Chair Virginia Quinonez. ( Id. at ¶ 18.) Mudd and Quinonez informed DiPerna they believed the Paula Deen posting was inappropriate and contained a derogatory racial slur. ( Id. ) DiPerna stated that the posting was a joke meant to insult Paula Deen and her alleged beliefs. ( Id. ) At this meeting, DiPerna again reported the harassment and bullying and discussed the prior reports. ( Id. at ¶ 19.) Mudd and Quinonez ignored her complaints and told her to let it go. ( Id. ) DiPerna also reported that Shakira and other students had similar offensive Instagram posts. ( Id. at ¶ 20.) Quinonez told DiPerna that students could not report other students. ( Id. )

The next day, DiPerna was informed she would not be allowed to enter into her internship placement and would be referred to the Student Affairs Committee/Professional Comportment Committee (the "Committee") due to her Instagram post. ( Id. at ¶ 21.) DiPerna met with the Committee on September 17, 2013, and was placed in an Academic Development Plan and suspended from engaging in the internship search process. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) DiPerna was removed from the Chicago School and prevented from completing her internship, which rendered her unable to complete her program for at least one year. ( Id. at ¶ 24.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) permits a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must allege enough facts to support a claim that is "plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). Facial plausibility exists when the court can "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). All well-pleaded allegations are presumed to be true, and all inferences are read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Lavalais v. Village of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013). This presumption is not extended to legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.' Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009)). The complaint must provide a defendant "with fair notice' of the claim and its basis." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

ANALYSIS

Count I - Breach of Contract

In Count I, DiPerna alleges that Defendant arbitrarily and capriciously breached the contract established by the Academic Catalogue and Student Handbook (the "Handbook"). The Seventh Circuit has held that a student may have "an entitlement not to be suspended without good cause" that is a reviewable matter of contract. Williams v. Wendler, 530 F.3d 584, 589 (7th Cir. 2008). Courts can review whether school authorities acted arbitrarily or capriciously in their treatment of a student. Harris v. Adler Sch. of Prof'l Psychology, 723 N.E.2d 717, 720 (Ill.App.Ct. 1999). A court may not overrule the academic decision of a private school unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment.' Raethz v. Aurora Univ., 805 N.E.2d 696, 699 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004) (quoting Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985)). Under Illinois law, a private university or college and its students have a contractual relationship, and "the terms of their contract are generally set forth in the [school's] catalogs and manuals." Holert v. Univ. of Chicago, 751 F.Supp. 1294, 1300 (N.D. Ill. 1990). A procedure that violates the Handbook is not per se arbitrary and capricious conduct. See Raethz, 805 N.E.2d at 700.

DiPerna alleges that Defendant did not involve DiPerna, her advisor, and the Department Chair/Lead Faculty or designee in developing her Academic Development Plan (the "Plan"), in violation of the Handbook. DiPerna also alleges that Defendant failed to lay out various requirements ...


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