123 F.3d 446 (7th Cir. 1997), 96-2901, Rothman v. Emory University

Docket Nº:96-2901.
Citation:123 F.3d 446
Party Name:Richard R. ROTHMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. EMORY UNIVERSITY and Richard W. Riley, Secretary of the Department of Education, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 23, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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123 F.3d 446 (7th Cir. 1997)

Richard R. ROTHMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,


EMORY UNIVERSITY and Richard W. Riley, Secretary of the

Department of Education, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 96-2901.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 23, 1997

Argued March 31, 1997.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Richard B. Rothman (argued), Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Robert A. Kezelis (argued), Algimantas P. Kezelis, Shawna Lemberg, French, Kezelis & Kominiarek, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee Emory University.

Jonathan C. Haile, Jack Donatelli (argued), Office of the United States Attorney, Civil Division, Chicago, IL, Judith Winston, Department of Education, Office of the General Counsel, Washington, DC, for Defendant-Appellee Richard W. Riley, Secretary of the Department of Education.

Before BAUER, FLAUM and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

Richard Rothman graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1992, and he now practices law in Illinois. Mr. Rothman also suffers from epilepsy. He alleges that Emory discriminated against him throughout law school solely based on his epileptic condition, and he therefore brought this action under the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Emory filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, seeking to force Rothman to repay the student loans he refused to pay once this litigation commenced. Rothman also sued the Secretary of the Department of Education ("DOE"), alleging that the DOE improperly failed to investigate his administrative complaint regarding Emory's discrimination. Rothman raises a number of arguments on appeal seeking to reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment for Emory on the discrimination and breach of contract claims, as well as the court's dismissal of his claim against the DOE. Rothman also challenges the district court's imposition of sanctions against him for violating a discovery order. None of Rothman's arguments contain any merit, and therefore we affirm the district court's determinations.


Richard Rothman has had a seizure disorder for almost 25 years, and he has been treated for epilepsy for nearly 20 years. Rothman entered Emory University School of Law in the fall of 1989, and he graduated in May 1992. He subsequently passed the Illinois Bar Exam and was admitted to practice in Illinois in November 1992.

This action revolves around Rothman's allegations that Emory discriminated against him throughout his law school career solely because of his epilepsy. Although only certain instances of the alleged discriminatory events are actionable under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act due to various time limitations, we briefly recount some of Rothman's claims that span beyond the limitations period in order to provide a more general account of Rothman's contentions.

The lion's share of Rothman's allegations can be classified as a general assertion that Emory's discriminatory conduct created a hostile environment for him due to his epilepsy. Many of Rothman's complaints involve his numerous meetings with Susan Sockwell, the dean of students at the law school. Dean Sockwell met with Rothman over 75 times during Rothman's tenure at Emory, with Rothman requesting about half of those meetings.

Many of the meetings involved discussions of Rothman's classroom and exam-taking difficulties. During his first semester at Emory, Rothman failed one class and earned mediocre grades in his other classes. At one point, Dean Sockwell suggested that Rothman take a leave of absence. Before his second semester exams, however, Rothman informed Dean Sockwell of his epilepsy, provided the school with a physician's letter reporting his condition, and requested additional time to take his exams. The physician's letter, which was dated December 21, 1987, explained that Rothman had intractable epilepsy, that he at times had weekly seizures lasting from 15 to 90 seconds, that those seizures could cause momentary disorientation

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followed by drowsiness, and that his medications had a detrimental effect on his higher cortical function and thus could potentially limit his academic performance. Dean Sockwell reported Rothman's epilepsy to his professors, and all but one of them accommodated his request by granting him an additional hour of exam time. One professor initially refused to accommodate Rothman because Rothman had been habitually unprepared for his class, but that professor eventually gave Rothman an extra half-hour to take his exam. At the end of his first year, Rothman again met with Dean Sockwell who informed him that he finished the year in good academic standing, suggested that they further discuss his approach to law school, and asked him to submit an updated physician's letter regarding the effects of his medication and his need for future testing accommodations. Rothman sought no accommodations in his second year and his grades improved significantly.

In addition to the discussions about Rothman's exam problems, Rothman and Dean Sockwell also discussed Rothman's hostility towards others at the law school. In one such exchange, Dean Sockwell expressed her concern over Rothman's threat of filing an honor code charge against one of his classmates involving an apparent personal dispute. In this regard, Dean Sockwell suggested that Rothman seek psychological counseling so he could better deal with his problems, manage his stress, and improve his interpersonal skills. During the remainder of Rothman's time at Emory, he continued to meet with Dean Sockwell regarding various matters at the law school.

In addition to the meetings with Dean Sockwell, Rothman asserts that other incidents also illustrate the hostile environment created by Emory. Specifically, Rothman claims that Emory's discriminatory animus was evidenced by some comments made by Howard Hunter, the dean of the law school, to Rothman at a law school "Town Meeting"; by Dean Hunter's and Dean Sockwell's failure to review the student-run moot court program's decision to deny admission to Rothman; and by the school's alleged maintenance of multiple files on him.

In addition to these alleged "hostile environment" incidents, Rothman also asserts that Dean Hunter discriminated against him by reporting his epileptic condition to the Illinois Board of Bar Examiners in a two-page letter on June 15, 1992. This letter supplies the primary (and perhaps only) vehicle for Rothman's discrimination claims under both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

All candidates seeking admission to the Illinois bar must submit a certification form completed by the dean of the candidate's law school. This form seeks proof of the candidate's legal education, asks for information regarding the candidate's honesty and integrity, and further requests any information regarding the candidate's fitness for the practice of law. Dean Hunter declined to comment on whether he could recommend Rothman for a position of trust and confidence, but he stated that he had no records or information showing anything adverse to Rothman's honesty or integrity. In response to questions about Rothman's general conduct or anything else that might reflect adversely on his reputation or character, however, Dean Hunter attached a two-page confidential letter describing some of Rothman's troubles while at Emory. Specifically, the letter provided:

Mr. Rothman exhibited open hostility at various times toward some of his peers and toward various people in positions of authority. He was chronically unprepared for one class and only began to take part after the instructor threatened him with an involuntary withdrawal. I mention these points to make full disclosure to your inquiries, but I hasten to add that Mr. Rothman responded to the counseling he received and completed his course of study creditably and without serious incident.

To all appearances the problems he had in law school related to his chronic epilepsy and the medications he must take to keep it under control.

As a result of the letter, the Bar Examiners required Rothman to undergo a character and fitness interview, a procedure he argues was above and beyond the typical paper review

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of an applicant's character and fitness. 1 The interviewer ultimately supported Rothman's admission, Rothman became a member of the Illinois bar in November 1992, and Rothman has admitted that he suffered no harm or injury as a result of the interview.

On February 26, 1993, Rothman filed the present discrimination action against Emory. His original complaint alleged causes of action under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), and various other federal and state causes of action. The district court dismissed all of Rothman's claims other than those pursuant to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Rothman subsequently amended his complaint again alleging violations of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other state-law causes of action. Rothman also added the DOE as a defendant, alleging that the DOE violated the Rehabilitation Act by failing to investigate his administrative complaint against Emory.

On October 27, 1993, the district court again dismissed the claims against Emory except for the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act claims that fell within the applicable limitation periods. The court also dismissed all claims against the DOE because Rothman's administrative complaint was not timely filed. On July 17, 1995, the district court granted summary judgment for Emory on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims.

During this litigation, Rothman refused to make payments on the student loan debts he incurred while at Emory. On May 31, 1994, Emory therefore filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, seeking to...

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