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DiPerna v. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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

March 8, 2017



          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, which was granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff filed a partial Motion to Reconsider [108], asking to reconsider the ruling on the claim related to plagiarism. Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider [108] is denied.


         Plaintiff is currently a resident of Ohio and is a former student of Defendant. 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. Plaintiff was seeking a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Defendant.

         In January 2015, Plaintiff attended a required Seminar course with Dr. Kristin Davisson, an adjunct professor. A main part of the course is the Clinical Competency Examination (“CCE”), which must be drafted in compliance with Defendant's plagiarism policy. Davisson believed one portion of Plaintiff's CCE was plagiarized and ran it through a web-based program designed to detect plagiarism, The conceptualization portion was marked by as 92 percent plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution, and the entire CCE was marked as 10 percent plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution. Davisson reported the plagiarism to Dr. Luke Mudd, Associate Department Chair, who then mandated referral to the Student Affairs Committee (“SAC”). On March 25, 2015, Plaintiff met with Davisson and Mudd to discuss the plagiarism accusations.

         On May 12, 2015, Plaintiff had an SAC hearing in regards to the plagiarism charges. At the hearing, Plaintiff complained about Davisson's unprofessional breach of protocol, unfair selective treatment, and retaliation from this litigation. On May 13, 2015, Plaintiff was notified of the SAC's decision to dismiss her from the program. The referral to the SAC resulted in Plaintiff's dismissal from Defendant.


         “Motions for reconsideration serve a limited function: to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996). A manifest error “is not demonstrated by the disappointment of the losing party”; it is the “wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to recognize controlling precedent.” Oto v. Metropolitan Life Ins., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).


         A college and its students have a contractual relationship, and the terms of that relationship are generally set forth in the school's catalogues and bulletins. Raethz v. Aurora Univ., 805 N.E.2d 696, 699 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004). A student has a remedy for breach of contract when there has been an adverse academic decision only where that decision was made arbitrarily, capriciously, or in bad faith. Id. (citing Frederick v. Northwestern University Dental School, 617 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ill.App.Ct. 1993)). A college or university is not liable for exercising “its academic judgment unwisely.” Id. at 700. To constitute a breach of contract, a dismissal must be made without any rational basis. Frederick, 617 N.E.2d at 387. A court may not override the academic decision of a university “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.” Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985).

         Plaintiff alleged that the decision to dismiss her for plagiarism in her CCE was arbitrary and capricious. Plagiarism is defined by the Handbook as:

Plagiarism is intentionally or unintentionally representing words, ideas, or data from any source as one's own original work. The use or reproduction of another's work without appropriate attribution in the form of complete, accurate, and properly formatted citations constitutes plagiarism. Examples of plagiarism, (sic) include but are not limited to, copying the work of another verbatim without using quotation marks, revising the work of another by making only minor word changes without explanation, attribution, and citation, paraphrasing the work of another without the appropriate citation. Students are expected to produce original work in all papers, coursework, dissertation, and other academic projects (including case studies from internship or practicum sites) and to follow appropriate rules governing attribution that apply to the work product.
Carelessness, or failure to properly follow appropriate rules governing source attribution (for example, those contained in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association), can be construed to be plagiarism when multiple mistakes in formatting citations are made in the same paper. Further, a single example of failing to use quotation marks appropriately may be considered plagiarism.

         (DSOF ¶ 17.) All suspected plagiarism must be immediately referred to the Department Chair/Lead Faculty or designee, ...

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