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DiPerna v. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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

November 28, 2016



          JOHN W. DARRAH United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff, Jennifer DiPerna, filed a Second Amended Complaint against Defendant, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, alleging breach of contract and negligence. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [93] on all counts. For the reasons set forth more fully below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [93] is granted in part and denied in part.

         LOCAL RULE 56.1

         Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the moving party to provide “a statement of material facts as to which the party contends there is no genuine issue for trial.” Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004). Local Rule 56.1(b)(3) requires the nonmoving party to admit or deny every factual statement proffered by the moving party and to concisely designate any material facts that establish a genuine dispute for trial. See Schrott v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 403 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2005). A nonmovant's “mere disagreement with the movant's asserted facts is inadequate if made without reference to specific supporting material.” Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). In the case of any disagreement, the nonmoving party must reference affidavits, parts of the record, and other materials that support his stance. Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B). To the extent that a response to a statement of material fact provides only extraneous or argumentative information, this response will not constitute a proper denial of the fact, and the fact is admitted. See Graziano v. Vill. of Oak Park, 401 F.Supp.2d 918, 936 (N.D. Ill. 2005). Similarly, to the extent that a statement of fact contains a legal conclusion or otherwise unsupported statement, including a fact that relies upon inadmissible hearsay, such a fact is disregarded. Eisenstadt v. Centel Corp., 113 F.3d 738, 742 (7th Cir. 1997). Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C), the nonmovant may submit additional statements of material facts that “require the denial of summary judgment.”

         A district court is entitled to expect strict compliance with Rule 56.1; substantial compliance is not enough. Ammons, 368 F.3d at 817. “When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by the rule, those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion.” Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009)).


         The following facts are taken from the parties' statements of undisputed material facts submitted in accordance with Local Rule 56.1.

         Plaintiff is currently a resident of Ohio and is a former student of Defendant. (DSOF ¶¶ 1, 3.) Defendant is a nonprofit private institution that operated under the policies, procedures, rules, and regulations set out in the Academic Catalogue and Student Handbook (the “Handbook”) during the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff was seeking a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Defendant. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         In January 2013, Plaintiff took “Diversity in Clinical Practice” with Dr. Patricia Perez, an adjunct faculty member. (Id.) As part of the class, student groups, selected by Dr. Perez, participated in an “Immersion Project” where those groups examined a race, ethnicity, or other characteristic different than those of the group member. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff, who is white, was put into a group with two African-American women, Shakira and Catherine. (Id. ¶ 26.) As part of the project, the group examined the LGBT community and went to see a drag show on April 7, 2013. (Id. ¶ 27.) After that outing, Shakira e-mailed Dr. Perez and expressed concerns about Plaintiff's ability to work with clients of a diverse background based on a discussion the group had about privileged status, based on race, during the outing. (Id. ¶ 29.) Sometime between April 7 and April 15, 2013, Plaintiff met with Dr. Perez privately about what had happened at the outing. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         On April 16, 2013, Dr. Perez had meetings with each Immersion Project group. (Id. ¶ 32.) During that meeting, the issue of privilege was raised; and Plaintiff and Catherine had a disagreement. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) Dr. Perez encouraged the students to speak to each other so they could work out differences within the group. (Id. ¶ 35.) Plainitff went to see the Associate Department Chair, Dr. Maureen Keeshin, to express her concerns because her advisor was out of town. (Id. ¶ 36.) Dr. Keeshin told Plaintiff to speak to her advisor when she returned but said that Plaintiff should see Dr. Maria Yapondjian, who oversaw adjunct faculty, in the meantime. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff met with Dr. Yapondjian on April 17, 2013, and said that she did not want to be in the class anymore because she was not comfortable with Dr. Perez or Shakira. (Id. ¶ 38.) Dr. Yapondjian told Plaintiff that she would have to remain in the class because there were only two class sessions left. (Id. ¶ 39.) On April 18, 2013, after hearing from Dr. Yapondjian, Dr. Perez told Plaintiff that she could present her Immersion Project Findings individually. (Id. ¶ 40.) On April 23, 2013, Plaintiff met with Dr. Perez and told her that people were calling her color blind, making comments, and pointing at her when those people were with Shakira. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         On July 15, 2013, two African-American students who were not involved in the Immersion Project reported to an adjunct professor that Plaintiff had posted a photograph with Paula Deen using a racial slur on Plaintiff's Instagram account and asked the adjunct professor to forward their concerns to Defendant's administration. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.) Towards the end of that summer, those two students reiterated their concerns about the posting with Dr. Keeshin, who was then Plaintiff's advisor and Associate Department Chair, and Dr. Virginia Quiňonez, then-Department Chair. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 47.)

         On August 1, 2013, Dr. Quiňonez and Dr. Luke Mudd, Associate Department Chair, met with Plaintiff for a counseling session regarding the Instagram post. (Id. ¶ 48.) Plaintiff admitted posting the picture and stated that she saw nothing wrong with it, as it was posted on her private Instagram account and was meant to be humorous. (Id.) Dr. Quiňonez and Dr. Mudd did not tell Plaintiff who the reporting students were. (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff reiterated her prior issues with Shakira to Dr. Quiňonez and Dr. Mudd and contended that Shakira's Instagram posts, which used similar racial slurs, should be treated in the same manner. (Id. ¶ 49.) In early August 2013, shortly after their meeting, Dr. Quiňonez provided Plaintiff with a link to a complaint procedure to look at with respect to her bullying complaints. (Id. ¶ 53.) Dr. Quiňonez also told Plaintiff to follow up with her advisor about any other concerns. (Id. ¶ 54.)

         Dr. Quiňonez and Dr. Mudd, in consultation with Dr. Keeshin, referred Plaintiff to the Student Affairs Committee (“SAC”). (Id. ¶¶ 13, 55.) A student may be referred to the SAC for issues relating to academic integrity and comportment, where “‘[p]ossible interventions and sanction[s] may include, but are not limited to, implementing an Academic Development Plan [“ADP”], placing a student on academic warning/probation or dismissing a student' with respect to academic integrity matters such as plagiarism.” (Id. ¶ 13.) After SAC hearings, the SAC delayed her required program internship and gave her an ADP, which she successfully completed. (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff did not appeal the ADP or the delay in her internship. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         In September 2013, Plaintiff spoke with Dr. Keeshin and told Dr. Keeshin that she was being bullied. (Id. ¶ 43.) Dr. Keeshin told Plaintiff that she could file a grievance. (Id. ¶ 44.)

         In January 2015, Plaintiff took a required Seminar course with Dr. Kristin Davisson, an adjunct professor. (Id. ¶ 61.) A main part of the course is the Clinical Competency Examination (“CCE”). (Id. ¶ 62.) Successfully completing the CCE establishes that a student has met the program's requirements to graduate. (Id. ¶ 63.) A student drafts the CCE based on their concurrent clinical internship experience. (Id. ¶ 64.) The CCE must be drafted in compliance with Defendant's plagiarism policy. (Id. ¶ 65.) One part of the CCE is the conceptualization, or case formulation, section, which requires a student to use a specific theory they have learned and apply it to their client and that client's symptoms. (Id. ¶ 66.) Dr. Davisson believed that the conceptualization portion of Plaintiff's paper was plagiarized and ran Plaintiff's paper through a web-based program designed to detect plagiarism, (Id. ¶¶ 71, 72.) The conceptualization portion was marked by as 92% plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution, and the entire CCE was marked as 10% plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution. (Id.) Dr. Davisson reported the plagiarism to Dr. Mudd, who then mandated referral to the SAC. (Id. ¶ 74.) On March 25, 2015, Plaintiff met with Dr. Davisson and Dr. Mudd to discuss the plagiarism accusations. (PSOF, ¶ 22.)

         On May 12, 2015, Plaintiff had her SAC hearing in regards to the plagiarism charges. (Id. ¶ 23.) At the hearing, Plaintiff complained about Dr. Davisson's unprofessional breach of protocol, unfair selective treatment, and retaliation from this litigation. (Id. ¶ 24.) On May 13, 2015, Plaintiff was notified of the SAC's decision to dismiss her from the program. (Id. ...

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