Mccormick v. Miami Univ., Case No. 1:10-cv-345

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
Writing for the CourtChief Susan J. Dlott
PartiesRegina Ann McCormick, Plaintiff, v. Miami University, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 1:10-cv-345
Decision Date05 May 2011

Regina Ann McCormick, Plaintiff,
Miami University, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 1:10-cv-345


Dated: May 5, 2011

Chief Judge Susan J. Dlott


This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10.) On April 23, 2010, Plaintiff Regina McCormick, a former graduate student of Miami University, filed this lawsuit against the University, three named members of the University's faculty (Karen Maitland Schilling, Terri Messman-Moore, and Margaret Wright), and John and Jane Does.1 McCormick asserts the following claims: (1) Count 1-disability discrimination, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 121312 and Ohio Revised Code §§ 4112.02

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and 4112.99; (2) Count 2-retaliation, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Ohio Revised Code §§ 4112.02 and 4112.99; (3) Count 3-disability discrimination in violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act; (4) Count 4-discrimination on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Ohio Revised Code § 4112.99; (5) Count 5-breach of express contract; and (6) Count 6-breach of policy, practice, and/or procedure.

Defendants move to dismiss McCormick's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, Defendants argue that: McCormick's discrimination and retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 fail as a matter of law because such claims cannot be brought against state actors; McCormick's federal disability claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations that applies to Title II of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act; and McCormick's state law claims cannot be pursued in this Court because they are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and/or Ohio Revised Code §§ 9.86 and 2743.02.

For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10).


The facts set forth in McCormick's Complaint are as follows. On March 9, 2000, the Miami University Psychology Department admitted McCormick into its graduate program for

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the 2000 fall semester. On May 9, 2005, McCormick completed her Master's thesis. Approximately one year later, on April 28, 2006, Defendant Dr. Schilling, who was McCormick's advisor and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, presented the faculty with a vote to promote McCormick to doctoral status. McCormick's promotion was denied by a vote of seven to three. The alleged reason for denying McCormick advancement to doctoral status was that McCormick would take too long to complete her doctoral dissertation. However, the termination letter that McCormick later received contained no explanation for the faculty's decision not to allow her to continue with her studies.

McCormick alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of both race and disability during the course of her enrollment at Miami University. In 2002, McCormick was diagnosed with several medical conditions including plica syndrome, knee and wrist dysfunction, degenerative disc disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Regarding the general effect of her conditions on her graduate studies and the accommodations she requested, McCormick alleges that:

Her illnesses and treatment drastically slowed her progress in her graduate studies at Miami University. The faculty was well aware of Plaintiffs health issues and the fact that it was dramatically slowing progress in her studies.
As a direct and proximate cause of her illness, Plaintiff requested reasonable accommodation in the form of additional time within which to complete her Ph.D. program. The reasonable accommodation was required due to the treatment plaintiff was undergoing with regard to her disabilities. In all other respects, plaintiff was qualified and able to perform the functions required for completing the program at Miami University.

(Doc. 1 ¶¶ 15, 16.)

McCormick does not specifically allege when she first experienced symptoms or when the illnesses began to affect her performance. However, she suggests generally that her

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problems with the faculty began in 2001. During that year, Defendant Dr. Messman-Moore, one of McCormick's professors, agreed to give her a C+ in a course as a place-holder so she could retain her financial aid with the understanding that she would complete her course work at a later time. Thereafter, according to McCormick, Dr. Messman-Moore denied her the previously agreed-upon opportunity to complete the course work and instead required her to retake the course in its entirety.

In 2002, after receiving the medical diagnosis described above, McCormick reported her conditions to Dr. Schilling and requested accommodations. McCormick claims that notwithstanding her request, she continued to experience problems with the faculty. In or around 2002 to 2003, another professor, Dr. McConnell, 3 docked McCormick a full letter grade on a paper that she turned in late, resulting in a C grade. McCormick requested permission to do additional work to offset the grade, but Dr. McConnell denied the request.

In January 2003, McCormick received a letter from Dr. Len Mark on behalf of the faculty informing her that although she had earned two Cs, which normally would be grounds for dismissal from the program, the faculty wished to allow her to continue her studies. He warned, however, that she was unlikely to be promoted to doctoral status unless she made dramatic improvements in the quality of her work. The letter set time limits within which she was to complete certain tasks.

During that same month, McCormick was diagnosed with an arthritis-related condition in her left wrist that required surgery. McCormick elected to finish the school year before scheduling the surgery. She informed Dr. Schilling and some of her other professors of her

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condition and requested that they give her additional time to complete her assignments.

On May 7, 2003, Dr. Mark sent another letter to McCormick on behalf of the faculty. He expressed disappointment with her inability to timely complete the tasks that he had set forth for her in the January 2003 letter, and he warned that the likelihood of the faculty supporting her promotion to doctoral status was even less than it had been in January 2003. Nonetheless, the letter indicated that they would allow her to carry on with her work.

After receiving that letter, McCormick improved her performance, receiving a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) during several semesters. Upon completion of the course work for her Master's degree, she had a cumulative GPA of 3.72. In August 2005, she successfully defended her Master's thesis and received an A grade.

Prior to and upon completion of her Master's thesis, McCormick formed a "comps committee" for purposes of studying for and taking her comprehensive examination and proceeding with her doctoral proposal as outlined in the Miami University Policies and Procedures Manual. In or around 2003 and 2004, McCormick asked Defendant Wright to support her bid for promotion to the doctoral program and to assist her in collecting material for the comprehensive examination. Despite the fact that Wright previously had elicited McCormick's assistance in obtaining mastery on multicultural issues in psychology, Wright told McCormick that she was not supportive of McCormick's promotion to doctoral status and that she did not want to have anything to do with McCormick. McCormick reported Wright's conduct to Dr. Schilling, but no action was taken.

Dr. Schilling suggested that McCormick speak to Dr. Messman-Moore about her doctoral progress. McCormick alleges that during the meeting, Dr. Messman-Moore screamed at her and

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used inappropriate language. Once again, McCormick reported this matter to Dr. Schilling, but no formal action was taken.

McCormick also alleges that Dr. Schilling interrupted her attempt to prepare for advancement by requiring her to write two papers. Dr. Schilling represented that the papers would be submitted to the faculty who would decide McCormick's promotion to doctoral status. However, according to McCormick, Dr. Schilling never distributed those papers to the faculty.

The faculty ultimately voted to deny McCormick's promotion to doctoral status. McCormick claims that Dr. Schilling had repeatedly communicated to her that the time limits for the Ph.D. program were flexible. However, the reason given for denying her admission to the doctoral program is that the faculty believed, based on the amount of time that it took her to obtain her Master's degree, it would take too long for her to obtain a Ph.D. Plaintiff claims that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of disability and denied her a reasonable accommodation, specifically additional time within which to complete the Ph.D. program.

McCormick also alleges that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of race, and she claims that after the faculty's vote, Dr. Schilling spoke to McCormick's brother about the pervasiveness of racism within the Miami University Psychology department. Dr. Schilling stated that some people in the Psychology Department, including Dr. Schilling, may have...

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