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Straw v. American Bar Association

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

February 11, 2015

ANDREW U. D. STRAW, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS M. DURKIN, District Judge.

Andrew Straw, a person who has "mental and physical disabilities, " R. 53 ¶ 2, alleges that the American Bar Association (the "Bar Association") discriminates against him based on his disabilities by failing to collect information from the law schools it accredits regarding the number of students with disabilities the schools admit. See R. 53. Straw alleges that the Bar Association's failure to collect this information and make it publicly available violates the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by preventing him from making an informed decision regarding what law schools admit would be most accommodating to his desire to attend law school to write a Ph.D dissertation about disability discrimination in law school admissions. Id. The Bar Association has moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Straw lacks standing and has failed to state a claim. R. 60.[1] For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes the Court to dismiss any claim over which the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction "at any time." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). "Facial challenges [to subject matter jurisdiction] require only that the court look to the complaint and see if the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction." Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2009) (emphasis in original); see, e.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992) ("At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice, for on a motion to dismiss we presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support a claim."). "The party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating its existence." Farnik v. F.D.I.C., 707 F.3d 717, 721 (7th Cir. 2013).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with "fair notice" of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While "detailed factual allegations" are not required, "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877.

Background

Straw is an attorney who practices disability rights law. R. 53 ¶ 4. He earned his J.D. from Indiana University in 1997. Id. ¶ 8. He suffers from bipolar disorder and injuries from being hit by a car. Id. ¶ 2. He has brought a number of actions challenging disability discrimination in state and federal courts and administrative agencies. Id. ¶ 6.

Straw alleges that "[d]iscrimination in law school admissions is universal." Id. ¶ 13. In support of this allegation, Straw cites a "consent agreement" the Law School Admissions Council-the entity responsible for administering the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT-signed with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding "flagging" of LSAT scores for people with disabilities. Id. Straw "wish[es] to write a dissertation and obtain a Ph.D. with [the] topic to be: discrimination on the basis of disability in law school admissions and state supreme court rules of admission and discipline, to cover all 50 states." Id. ¶ 10. Straw originally sued "the top 50 law schools, [as determined by] U.S. News & World Report, " id. ¶ 15, but voluntarily dismissed them from the lawsuit (after several schools had filed and briefed motions to dismiss), because "[i]f the [Bar Association] mandates" that the schools provide the information Straw seeks "it will be unnecessary to get injunctions against individual schools." Id. ¶ 40.

The Bar Association is a voluntary professional membership organization. The Bar Association's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (the "Council") has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education as the national agency for the accreditation of programs that confer the J.D. degree. The Council promulgates Standards that provide "the requirements a law school must meet to obtain and retain [the Bar Association's] approval." R. 61-1 at ix. Standard 509, in particular, requires law schools to "publicly disclose on its website... admissions data." Id. at 35; R. 53 ¶ 22. Standard 509 does not require law schools to collect or disclose information about students' disabilities. R. 53 ¶ 23.

Straw alleges that he "sought to know which law school was admitting the highest percentage of its class with disabilities, because [his] work is very sensitive and [he] wanted a school that is not discriminating as much as the others." Id. ¶ 14. Straw alleges further that because Standard 509 does not require law schools to collect information about students' disabilities, "it affected [his] ability to choose a school that discriminates less, " which was important to him because he has "mental and physical disabilities... and [he is] studying this phenomenon." Id. ¶ 21. Straw alleges that he "asked" the Bar Association "to adjust its 509 form to include disability statistics in class information, " and the Bar Association refused. Id. ¶ 24. According to Straw, the "refusal injured [him], since [he] seek[s] to do [his] Ph.D. at a school that publishes this information to reduce the chance of discrimination to [himself] and others." Id. ¶ 25. Straw "believe[s] that not providing the information [he] requested creates an information barrier to admissions for [himself] and to [his] doctoral work." Id. ¶ 31 (emphasis in original). Straw seeks "injunctive relief to mandate that the [Bar Association] will immediately include disability statistics about law students classes on its Standard Form 509. [The Bar Association's] mandatory reporting system makes it a private entity serving very public purposes, and the civil rights information is absolutely vital going forward." Id. ¶ 50.

Straw argues that the Bar Association's failure to require law schools to report how many people with disabilities they admit violates Title III of the ADA which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in providing access to "public accommodations." See 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). The Bar Association argues that Straw's complaint should be dismissed for three reasons: (1) Straw has suffered no injury and lacks standing; (2) the Bar Association is not a "public accommodation"; and (3) the Bar Association is not discriminating against Straw. See R. 61 at 2.

Analysis

I. Standing

The Bar Association contends that Straw alleges that "he wishes to obtain a Ph.D. degree, that he wishes to research issues related to discrimination against disabled students in law school admissions as part of his Ph.D. studies, and that he seeks information so that he can determine what school would be most favorable for this research." R. 61 at 5. The Bar Association argues ...


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