Salehpour v. University of Tennessee, 97-5468

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Citation159 F.3d 199
Docket NumberNo. 97-5468,97-5468
Parties130 Ed. Law Rep. 418 Samad SALEHPOUR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date27 August 1998

Page 199

159 F.3d 199
130 Ed. Law Rep. 418
Samad SALEHPOUR, Plaintiff-Appellant,
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
No. 97-5468.
United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.
Argued April 30, 1998.
Decided Aug. 27, 1998. *
Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied Oct. 29, 1998.

Page 200

Connie K. Westbrook (argued and briefed), Memphis, TN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Catherine S. Mizell (briefed), The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, Odell Horton, Jr. (argued and briefed), University of Tennessee, Office of General Counsel and Secretary, Memphis, TN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: NELSON, BOGGS, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.


CLAY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, Samad Salehpour, appeals from the order entered by the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granting Defendant, the University of Tennessee's, et al. 1 , motion for summary judgment in this case arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d; § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and ancillary state law claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. For the reasons stated herein, the district court's order is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff (who was forty-three years old at the time he filed this appeal) is a native of Iran and has been a citizen of the United States since 1979. Because of his Iranian

Page 201

ethnicity, Plaintiff is dark complected and speaks with an accent. Plaintiff was admitted to the College of Dentistry ("College") at the University of Tennessee ("University") as a first-year dental student on August 12, 1994, after a twelve-year career as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry.

Dr. William F. Bowles (Chair of the Department of Prosthodontics, Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics, and a Member of the Academic Status Committee (the "Committee") at the University), as well as Dr. Victor A. Fletcher (Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University), have a policy of barring first-year dental students from sitting in the last row of their classrooms. Dr. Bowles informed Plaintiff and his classmates on the first day of class of this policy. On January 31, 1995, Dr. Bowles and Dr. Lynch (Associate Dean of the College and a Professor in the Department of Orthodontics at the University) met with Plaintiff, at his request, regarding the "last row rule" and other matters of concern, such as Dr. Bowles classroom dress code. At the meeting, Dr. Lynch informed Plaintiff that Dr. Bowles had every right to tell his students where he wished them to sit in his classroom, and that by accepting admission into the College, Plaintiff agreed to abide by all of the rules, not just the ones that suited his temperament.

Less than one week later, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Dr. Bowles reiterating the same concerns addressed at the meeting, including Plaintiff's displeasure with the "last row rule." The next day, February 7, 1995, Plaintiff sat in the last row of Dr. Bowles' class. Dr. Bowles allowed Plaintiff to remain seated in the last row, so as not to disturb the class. However, in a letter dated February 9, 1995, addressed to Plaintiff, Dr. Bowles expressed his displeasure with Plaintiff's decision to sit in the last row (despite the numerous requests not to do so), and warned Plaintiff that he would be instructed to leave the classroom if he violated the "last row rule" again.

On February 13, 1995, Plaintiff sat in the last row of Dr. Fletcher's class (the other professor who had a policy against such conduct), in the presence of a guest lecturer, Dr. John Dean. Dr. Fletcher requested that Plaintiff move from the last row to another seat; however, Plaintiff replied that he was comfortable where he was sitting and did not wish to move. Dr. Fletcher informed Plaintiff that if he did not move to another seat, he would have to leave the class. Dr. Dean intervened and urged Plaintiff to move because of the importance of the lecture. Plaintiff chose to leave the class, an action to which Dr. Dean allegedly took great offense. In response to this incident, Dr. Fletcher wrote a letter to Dr. Lynch, describing Plaintiff's disruptive conduct as being below the standards required of students of the College, and in violation of the professional ethics set forth in the College's Center Scope guidance manual. Dr. Fletcher also stated that he supported the initiation of disciplinary action against Plaintiff due to Plaintiff's misconduct and failure to maintain the proper level of professional standards. On February 14, 1995, Plaintiff sat in the last row of Dr. Bowles' class, and was asked to leave.

On February 15, 1995, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Dr. Lynch acknowledging his violation of the "last row rule" and complaining about being asked to leave Dr. Fletcher and Dr. Bowles' classes. The next day, Dr. Lynch responded to Plaintiff's letter with written notice that, in his opinion, Plaintiff's actions "represent[ed] misconduct and unethical and unprofessional behavior, as defined in Centerscope 1994-95, page 74" and, for that reason, he had asked Dr. Robbins (Chair of the Academic Status Committee) to convene the committee to determine whether Plaintiff's conduct warranted appropriate disciplinary action and penalties. Dr. Lynch also stated that he would inform Plaintiff of when and where the Academic Status Committee was going to meet to address the issue of Plaintiff's conduct, and that he would also inform Plaintiff of his rights and responsibilities attendant to the meeting.

A meeting of the Academic Status Committee was scheduled for March 1, 1995, for the purpose of conducting a hearing on Plaintiff's behavior in violating the "last row rule," and Plaintiff was given notice of this meeting via a letter sent by Dr. Robbins on February 21, 1995. Thereafter, in a letter dated February

Page 202

27, 1995, addressed to Dr. Fletcher and indicating that a copy had been sent to Dr. Bowles, Plaintiff acknowledged that he was aware of the scheduled meeting, and agreed, under protest, to move forward one row in the classroom until the meeting. Plaintiff also stated in this letter that the reason he wished to sit in the last row was because he could see better and had fewer distractions which increased his concentration and enhanced his learning.

The minutes from the March 1, 1995, meeting of the Academic Status Committee indicate that Plaintiff was given an opportunity to be heard, was fully aware of the charges against him, and was allowed to fully respond. Plaintiff alleged that he desired to sit in the last row because he could see and hear better in that location, and that he found sitting elsewhere to be disruptive to his thinking process. Plaintiff stated that he perceived the dispute over his decision to sit in the last row as a "power struggle" between him and the professors, and refused to comply with rule, especially since he had informed the professors how he felt about the issue. Plaintiff was allowed to make his assertions out of the presence of Dr. Lynch and Dr. Bowles.

The minutes also indicate that Dr. Lynch stated that, because Plaintiff had been informed on numerous occasions that he was obligated to follow the rules of the College and yet chose to disregard them, he felt that Plaintiff's actions rose to the level of a knowing, premeditated decision to defy rules and regulations of the College. In addition, the minutes indicate that Dan Pence (a member of the Academic Status Committee by virtue of his office as President of the first-year dental class), informed the Committee that Plaintiff had been a mild distraction to the class, and that "he ha[d] communicated to Mr. Salehpour that the class, as a whole, d[id] not agree with his pursuit of this."

The minutes then indicate that:

It was pointed out that Mr. Salehpour is an older student and might find certain rules restrictive and inappropriate. He is an engineer who has decided on dentistry as a profession. However, concern was expressed that if this was Mr. Salehpour's reaction to sitting in the back row of a classroom, how will he react in the clinic with patients under more restrictive and stressful situations.

(J.A. at 219.) With this and the other testimony in mind, the Committee consensus was that Plaintiff was guilty of misconduct, and unprofessional and unethical behavior. The Committee decided that a letter of severe reprimand would be sent to Plaintiff and that the letter would be incorporated into his academic record. In addition, it was decided that Plaintiff would be required to apologize in a timely fashion to his professors and classmates for the disruptive episodes during educational periods. Finally, it was decided that Plaintiff would be placed on disciplinary probation for the entirety of his matriculation at the College, and warned that he would be dismissed if found guilty of other academic infractions.

Thereafter, in a letter dated March 7, 1995, sent to Dr. Bowles, Plaintiff stated that he would not sit in the last row at least until such time that a final decision could be rendered regarding the Committee's recommendations, and any appeal that may be necessary could be heard. Plaintiff explained that his actions were still under protest, and that he desired to sit in the back row so that he could see and hear better, which ultimately enhanced his learning.

On March 17, 1995, Dr. William Slagle (Dean of the College of Dentistry) accepted the Committee's recommendations, and sent a letter to Plaintiff forming him of the Committee's final decision as well as his right to an appeal. Plaintiff requested an appeal of the final decision to the Ad Hoc Appeals Committee. Dr. Slagle granted the request for the appeal, urged Plaintiff...

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