Cesca v. W. Ill. Univ. Bd. of Trs. & President Guiyou Huang

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
PartiesCHRISTOPHER CESCA, Plaintiff, v. WESTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES & PRESIDENT GUIYOU HUANG, in both their Individual and Official Capacities, Defendants.
Decision Date15 January 2024
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of Illinois
Docket Number4:23-cv-04043-SLD-JEH



WESTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES & PRESIDENT GUIYOU HUANG, in both their Individual and Official Capacities, Defendants.

No. 4:23-cv-04043-SLD-JEH

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

January 15, 2024



Plaintiff Christopher Cesca is a student with disabilities pursuing undergraduate degrees from Western Illinois University (“WIU”) in Law Enforcement & Justice Administration (“LEJA”) and Economics. See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 22, 46-67, 296, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff was last enrolled for classes at WIU during the Spring 2022 semester but is precluded from reenrolling due to outstanding debts, which Plaintiff argues were unfairly assessed. E.g., id. ¶¶ 52-53, 10708. Plaintiff hopes to reenroll at WIU and take classes during the Spring 2024 semester, which begins on January 16, 2024. Pl.'s Am. Mot. Prelim. Inj. 2, ECF No. 24. Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction against WIU's Board of Trustees (“Board”) and WIU's President, Dr. Guiyou Huang (collectively “Defendants”), in their individual and official capacities. Id. at 1.

Plaintiff's requested injunction would mandate many actions. As relevant to the counts for which Plaintiff argues he has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction that: (1) mandates that Defendants allow Plaintiff to retake certain classes-at no cost or penalty to Plaintiff-and requires his preferred accommodations for those classes, (2) makes various adjustments to Plaintiff's transcript and grades, (3) gives Plaintiff


financial aid packages and grants and orders reimbursement of certain “illegal payments,” all with statutory interest and (4) appoints a Special Master to monitor ongoing compliance with such an order. Am. Proposed Order Prelim. Inj. 6-9, ECF No. 24-2; see also Compl. 107-116 (specifying the injunctive relief originally sought by Plaintiff). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED.


Both Plaintiff's complaint and preliminary injunction motion are detailed and sprawling, and the Court summarizes only those factual allegations relevant to how Plaintiff justifies his requested injunction.[2] The Court starts by listing Plaintiff's disabilities. Next, the Court details WIU's procedures for granting students with disabilities reasonable accommodations as well as Plaintiff's dissatisfaction with those procedures and his approach to requesting accommodations and appealing the denial of those accommodations. The Court then describes accommodations Plaintiff did receive from WIU before turning to the litany of accommodations which Plaintiff


did not receive, detailing some of the incidents stemming from such denials. Plaintiff's complaints about the LEJA department are discussed. The Court concludes this section by listing the causes of action in Plaintiff's complaint.

I. Plaintiff's Disabilities

Plaintiff is 36 years old and has disabilities, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), a learning disability which “manifests as a severe reading comprehension deficit,” executive functioning disorder, anxiety, and depression. E.g., Compl. ¶¶ 46, 55-59; Feb. 22, 2021 Letter from Larry S. Wexler to Guiyou Huang, Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1 at 1-2; Accommodation Request Form Disability Resource Center (DRC), Compl. Ex. 7, ECF No. 1-1 at 24-40. Plaintiff has been further diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, Compl. ¶ 59; Decl. Chris Cesca 2, Pl.'s Am. Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. 27, ECF No. 24-1 at 1-24, and sleep apnea, Compl. ¶ 61. Stemming from an incident at a library, Plaintiff also has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Id. ¶¶ 37, 379, 387. These disabilities limit Plaintiff's ability to read, learn, socialize, focus, and communicate, amongst other major life activities. E.g., Decl. Chris Cesca 2; Compl. ¶¶ 50, 57-61. Plaintiff struggled academically in the past, and he did not receive his ADHD diagnosis until he was 28 years old. Compl. ¶¶ 54-55; see also Sept. 30, 2019 Email from Chris Cesca to Martin Abraham 18, Compl. Ex. 15, ECF No. 1-2 at 18-21.[3] Plaintiff also struggles with deadlines and discerning important dates and tasks from written communications. E.g., Compl. ¶ 162-65, 444. Although not a disability, Plaintiff is a low-income student, and his poverty is exacerbated by his inability to reenroll for classes and receive financial aid packages and grants. E.g., id. ¶¶ 62-71.


II. WIU's Procedures for Accommodations and Plaintiff's Approach

WIU has a system for students with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations. Students register with the Student Development and Success Center (“SDSC”)-formerly known as the Disability Resource Center (“DRC”)-and the SDSC is charged with “work[ing] with students through an interactive process to determine disability and hear requests for reasonable accommodations.” Compl. ¶¶ 109-10, 110 n.17 (quoting Disability Resources Overview, Western Illinois University, https://www.wiu.edu/studentsuccess/disabilityresources (last visited Jan. 11, 2024) (emphasis omitted)). Students submit an Accommodation Request form and once appropriate accommodations have been determined, the SDSC trains students “on how to notify faculty of their accommodations.” Students: Accommodation Process, Western Illinois University, https://www.wiu.edu/studentsuccess/disabilityresources/students.php (last visited Jan. 11, 2024). SDSC notifies students that certain “professors have been notified of [the student's] accommodations requests” and instruct students to “communicate with [their] professors to discuss accommodation arrangements.” Sept. 23, 2021 Email from SDSC to Chris Cesca 37, Pl.'s Am. Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. 32, ECF No. 24-1 at 37.

Plaintiff initially worked within the DRC/SDSC process for requesting accommodations. See Accommodation Request Form Disability Resource Center (DRC) (documenting Plaintiff's disabilities and some of Plaintiff's requests for reasonable accommodations); Pl.'s Am. Mot. Prelim. Inj. 4 n.44 (noting that “Plaintiff submitted to the multiple meetings the DRC/SDSC had him attend, and he was provided some minimal information”). He also frequently worked with Angela LaFrance, Coordinator of SDSC, on accommodations but this relationship soured. Compare Meeting with WIU President Dr. Martin Abraham: Opening Thoughts 6, Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-1 at 3-11 (“Ms. LaFrance is not only intimately familiar with the law, but she also


exhibits a standard of integrity that is beyond reproach, which arguably exalts her as a rare exception at this university.”), with Decl. Chris Cesca 7 (“While Ms. LaFrance had been very cordial and friendly with me, this delayed my realization until much later when she became unhelpful, unfriendly, & hostile. She may know the law but does not follow it, apparently due to pressures from the higher powers within WIU.”).

Plaintiff describes WIU's reasonable accommodation process as not centralized in the DRC/SDSC but rather as an ad-hoc, teacher-by-teacher system. Compl. ¶¶ 35, 109-20, 397 402.[4] Plaintiff says that reasonable accommodations are subject to DRC/SDSC's “staff's subjective notions of acceptability.” Id. ¶ 110. Plaintiff started going outside DRC/SDSC once he realized that DRC/SDSC did not have ultimate control over whether his preferred accommodations would be strictly enforced or that SDSC staffers might side with the instructors and professors on issues of reasonableness. See, e.g., Decl. Chris Cesca 8. Plaintiff's approach was to make verbal requests for reasonable accommodations to professors and teaching assistants, and if that proved unsuccessful, appeal up the “chain of command” of department chairs, administrators, and WIU presidents. Compl. ¶¶ 124-29; see also Decl. Chris Cesca 22 (“At no time did either President, Ms. LaFrance, or anyone from DRC tell me I could not request accommodations from Instructors or other WIU program officials, and they all seemed to accept


my pattern of requesting, then being denied accommodations, from those individuals.”). Plaintiff says this ad-hoc system results in “effectively discriminatory criteria and methods of administration being applied to [Plaintiff's reasonable accommodation] requests without institutional controls.” Compl. ¶ 113.

Relatedly, WIU utilizes the Council on Admissions, Graduation, and Academic Standards (“CAGAS”) to process appeals on several topics, including “Grade Appeals and Academic Integrity Appeals.” Id. ¶ 18 n.5 (quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff has been directed by WIU officials, including Dr. Huang, to submit appeals to CAGAS so that WIU may address Plaintiff's issues with his incomplete and withdrawn classes. E.g., June 7, 2021 Email from Guiyou Huang to Chris Cesca 36, Pl.'s Am. Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. 31, ECF No. 24-1 at 36 (noting it “would undermine our shared governance model, the integrity of grades, and the larger principles of our University community for me to simply change your grades as the President and allow you to retake the courses without the appropriate appeal made to do so”).

Plaintiff views appeals via CAGAS as futile. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 18 n.5 (stating CAGAS has no authority over reasonable accommodations, “making appeals of matters requiring [reasonable accommodations] for their full resolution quite futile there”). Plaintiff similarly states that his “very lengthy appeals to the institutional chain of command shows it is futile to appeal since his appeals have proven the process is arbitrary & capricious.” Id. ¶ 305; see also Decl. Chris Cesca 20 (“I have attempted to use WIU's appeal process beyond the point of futility, but I have found that WIU appeals processes are fatally flawed and that I am prevented from being made whole by them.”). Plaintiff repeatedly claims that WIU officials failed...

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