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Heldmann v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 18, 2019

STATE OF OKLAHOMA, DR. DAVID RALPH, individually, DR. JAMES SOUTH, individually, and DR. TIFFANY KESSLER, individually, Defendants.


          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI Chief United States District Judge

         Before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendant State of Oklahoma (“Defendant State”) [Doc. No. 15] and Defendants Dr. David Ralph (“Ralph”), Dr. James South (“South”), and Dr. Tiffany Kessler (“Kessler”) (hereinafter, collectively, “Individual Defendants”) [Doc. No. 14]. Both seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 11] for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6). The Motions are fully briefed and at issue. The Court will herein address all related filings.


         At the time of the alleged events, Plaintiff was a student at Southwestern Oklahoma State University's College of Pharmacy (“SWOSU”). First Amended Complaint at 1, ¶ 1. On May 7, 2018, Plaintiff was placed on academic suspension following events that transpired during the fall semester of 2017 and continued into the spring semester of 2018. Id. at ¶ 5.

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with ADHD and Panic Disorder with symptoms of PTSD. Id. at 3, ¶ 7. During the fall semester of 2017, Plaintiff's grandfather entered hospice care. Id. at ¶ 13. The news of her grandfather's impending death exacerbated Plaintiff's preexisting condition. Id. at 4, ¶ 14. Plaintiff's medical conditions had previously been manageable, and she had been a good student. Id. at ¶ 16. The added stressors proved too much, however, and Plaintiff's grades suffered. Id.

         Kessler, South, and Ralph are employed by SWOSU and were allegedly the decision makers as to the conduct at issue. Id. at 2, ¶ 4. Plaintiff avers to have met with faculty, including Kessler, throughout the semester to express her concerns and difficulties. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff allegedly told Kessler she was on Adderall and Xanax. Id. Plaintiff further alleges her concerns were seemingly reduced to slipping grades based on family issues without further consideration of Plaintiff's medical conditions. Id. at 4-5, ¶ 17.

         Plaintiff failed three classes during the 2017 fall semester. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff requested accommodations in the form of a withdrawal, and SWOSU denied that request. Id. During the 2018 spring semester, Plaintiff experienced a debilitating panic attack during a final examination. Plaintiff fled the exam room before she could complete the test. Id. at 6, ¶ 22. Due to Plaintiff's failing grades, she was placed on academic probation pursuant to the College of Pharmacy Student Handbook: “A student who has a total of four course failure [sic] in at least two different courses shall be suspended.” Id. ¶ 23. The suspension was officially communicated through a letter from Ralph. Id. at ¶ 24.

         Plaintiff submitted documentation notifying the administration of her intent to appeal, and was contacted by Cindy Dougherty, Dean of Students (“Dougherty”). Id. at ¶ 25. Allegedly, Dougherty notified Plaintiff that her disability had been formally documented and that she would receive prospective accommodations. Id. at ¶ 26. Kessler responded to the appeal by noting that while prior accommodations had been made for Plaintiff on other exams, Plaintiff did not contact Kessler to tell her she was ill before the one she failed. Id. at 7, ¶ 27. Further Plaintiff did not notify the room proctor of the panic attack. Id. On May 21, 2018, Dougherty entered medical withdrawals for Plaintiff's failed courses. Id. at 8, ¶ 28. Despite entry of the hardship withdrawals, Plaintiff was placed on academic probation as SWOSU's “policy [was] strictly applied.” Id. at ¶ 29. SWOSU granted Plaintiff readmission on May 8, 2019.

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges Defendant State violated § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. and asserts a state law breach of contract claim against Defendant State. Plaintiff asserts Individual Defendants were in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


         Rule 12(b)(6) Failure to State a Claim

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough facts that, when accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008). A claim has facial plausibility when the court can draw “the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In § 1983 cases, it is particularly important “that the complaint make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her.” See Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1249-50 (emphasis in original); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1104 (10th Cir. 2009).


         I. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint fails to state a due process claim- either substantive or ...

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