Bell v. Ohio State University, 02-3293.

Decision Date09 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. 02-3293.,02-3293.
Citation351 F.3d 240
PartiesSheila J. BELL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Erik G. Chappell, (argued and briefed), Lyden, Liebenthal & Chappell, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellant.

Craig R. Carlson, (argued and briefed), David S. Bloomfield, Jr. (briefed), Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.


Erik G. Chappell, LYDEN, LIEBENTHAL & CHAPPELL, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellant.

Craig R. Carlson, David S. Bloomfield, Jr., PORTER, WRIGHT, MORRIS & ARTHUR, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: BATCHELDER and ROGERS, Circuit Judges; RUSSELL, District Judge.*



Sheila Bell appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment to the defendants in their individual capacities on Ms. Bell's claims, brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, that during her enrollment in, and ultimately her dismissal from, the Ohio State University College of Medicine, the defendants denied her due process and equal protection and discriminated against her because of her race and gender. The district court held that those claims which arose prior to July 6, 1996, were barred by the statute of limitations; that Ms. Bell had failed to present any evidence to support either a substantive or procedural due process claim; that Ms. Bell had neither stated an equal protection claim nor provided evidence to support such a claim; and that Ms. Bell had failed to make out a prima facie case of a violation of Section 1981, and, alternatively, that she had wholly failed to counter the defendants' evidence that she was dismissed from the College of Medicine for purely academic reasons. We affirm the judgment of the district court, although with different reasoning as to some of the claims.

Factual Background

Sheila Bell is an African-American woman, who was admitted to the Ohio State University College of Medicine ("the medical school") in the fall of 1987. Although the parties are not in complete agreement about Ms. Bell's performance with regard to completing the requirements of the first two years of medical school, the essential facts are not genuinely in dispute. Ms. Bell started out in the Independent Study Program ("ISP"), where she had considerable academic difficulty and was warned that she was in danger of failing "Med Coll 662," which she was required to pass in order to advance to the second year of medical school. She was advised to transfer into the more traditional Lecture and Discussion Program ("LDP"), but she refused to do so and was permitted to continue in the ISP. Ms. Bell failed "Med Coll 662" and was permitted to repeat that course work in the LDP program; she then successfully completed her first year and moved on to her second year in the LDP program. Ms. Bell continued to have academic difficulty, and ultimately she was required to retake her second year. In June of 1992, after successfully completing her second year course work, she retook Part 1 of the national medical licensing examination ("the Boards"), which she had taken but had not passed during her first year of medical school; she did not, however, have her scores from Part 1 sent to the medical school. In August 1992, the medical school instituted a new requirement that students pass Parts 1 and 2 of the Boards before advancing to the third year curriculum, but because that requirement had not been in place when she entered medical school, Ms. Bell asked for and was granted permission to proceed to her third year of study without passing Parts 1 and 2 of the Boards.

Ms. Bell's problems continued through her third year of medical school, and again, the material facts are not genuinely disputed. In July and August of 1993, Ms. Bell took an Internal Medicine rotation at the Cleveland Clinic. Ms. Bell did not appear for her final written and clinical examinations in the Internal Medicine program on August 27. Although Ms. Bell claimed at the time and continues to claim that she was too ill to take the exams, she does not dispute that she did not seek medical attention, or that she was not excused from appearing for the exams, either by anyone in the medical school in Columbus or at the Cleveland Clinic. Ms. Bell was not permitted to take the exams at a later date, but was told that she must repeat the two-month rotation before she would be allowed to take either the final written exam or the clinical exam; and she received an unsatisfactory grade for the rotation, in part because she failed to take the exams. She appealed her unsatisfactory grade to the Internal Medicine Evaluation Committee, which denied the appeal and required as remediation for the missed exams that Ms. Bell repeat one month — rather than two — of internal medicine rotation and take the clinical and written exams. Ms. Bell appealed this decision in turn to the Internal Medicine Appeals Committee, the Med III-IV Committee and the Student Progress Committee, each of which recommended that the appeal be denied.

While these appeals were pending, Ms. Bell was advised that she had received an "incomplete" for a rotation in Clinical Pediatrics in September and October of 1993, and that she would have six months to rewrite and resubmit her paper for that course. Also during this time period, Ms. Bell requested and received permission from the administrative assistant to the Med III-IV Committee to schedule a one-month internal medicine rotation at Mt. Carmel Hospital. She did not, however, advise the assistant that she intended this rotation to fulfill the remediation requirement for internal medicine. After she had completed the rotation in April 1994 Ms. Bell learned that because the medical school required that the remediation rotation be a "core" rotation at an Ohio State University Hospital, rather than an "elective" rotation at another hospital, the Mt. Carmel rotation did not satisfy the remediation requirement.

On May 25, 1994, the Clinical Academic Standing Committee sent Ms. Bell a letter advising her that she would not be permitted to graduate in June 1994. That letter further advised:

The following issues must be resolved before you can be reconsidered for certification for graduation:

1. Successful passage and release of scores for USMLE, Step 2.

2. Release of scores for USMLE, Step 1.

3. Successful remediation of the core Internal Medicine rotation and exams as outlined by the department.

4. Successful resolution of Anesthesia elective or completion of another clinical rotation (awaiting grade).

The earliest date you would be eligible to graduate would be at the end of Autumn Quarter.

At some point during May 1994, in response to Ms. Bell's inquiry, the administrative assistant to the Med III-IV Committee told Ms. Bell that although she would not be eligible to participate in the June graduation ceremony, she would be permitted to participate in the convocation ceremony. Ms. Bell was not, however, permitted to participate in the convocation, although she apparently did not receive the letter from the medical school advising her of that until after the ceremony.

During the summer of 1994, Ms. Bell complained to various officials at the Ohio State University, including the University Provost, that the College had not properly handled her appeals with regard to the internal medicine rotation requirement. On September 2, 1994, the Provost issued his report, stating first that his office did not have the authority to review the appeals, but nonetheless advising Ms. Bell that his review of her case resulted in his conclusion that the review process within the Medical College had been "fair and forthright." He further noted that her complaint had been "reviewed by faculty committees at several levels and the outcome has always been the same." Ms. Bell did not pursue any further attempt to complete the requirements for graduation during the summer of 1994, and from September 1994 until June 1995, she was in Africa doing missionary work. During that period, she learned that she had been withdrawn from the medical school, but that she could apply for reinstatement. She did so, and on May 28, 1996, the medical school sent her a letter advising that her petition for reinstatement had been granted and further advising that:

Your readmission is subject to the following conditions:

1) You must meet the current cognitive and non-cognitive standards of the College of Medicine, including passage of Step 1 and Step 2 of the USMLE.

2) You must meet all curricular requirements established by the Clinical Academic Standing Committee.

3) You will be granted an exemption from the College's Six-Year Rule until 7/31/97.

4) You must meet all the above requirements by July 31, 1997 or be subject to final dismissal from the College of Medicine.

This letter also instructed Ms. Bell to contact the Associate Dean for Student Affairs in order to resume her studies. Ms. Bell contacted the Associate Dean, but was unhappy with his instruction that she would need to complete at least one month of an internal medicine rotation. Ms. Bell expressed her dissatisfaction in a letter to the Dean of the Medical College, dated June 14, 1996, complaining that she had been denied due process during the 1994 appeals process, that she had satisfied the internal medicine rotation requirement, that but for the "lack of due process, general unfairness and harassment," she would have received her medical degree long since, and that unless the medical school corrected the problem, she would have no choice but to file a lawsuit.

Ms. Bell's threat of litigation did not have the desired effect, and the Clinical Academic Standing Committee advised her on September 9, 1996, that, if she wanted to...

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