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Hill v. George Fox University

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 11, 2017

DARLENE HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE FOX UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN Chief United States District Judge.

         Defendant George Fox University (“George Fox”) filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [17], arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment claims made by Plaintiff Darlene Hill. I held oral argument on February 6, 2017. At the hearing, I GRANTED summary judgment in favor of George Fox on Ms. Hill's claims for negligence, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also asked the parties to provide additional briefing on several questions related to Ms. Hill's remaining two claims for violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and breach of contract. This opinion addresses those remaining two claims, and for the reasons stated below, George Fox's Motion for Summary Judgment [17] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         When Ms. Hill was sixteen, she was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving her with some cognitive impairments. Despite these impairments, Ms. Hill has endeavored to complete a graduate education. In September 2012, she applied to George Fox's graduate program in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling, and she began taking courses in the Spring 2013 term. Before classes began, Ms. Hill claims that George Fox said it would grant her accommodations for her disabilities, including allowing her to record lectures, receiving copies of overhead and lecture notes, receiving help with notetaking, using a computer for exams, receiving extra time for tests, and taking tests in a quiet location. But Ms. Hill claims she was never actually provided any of the accommodations by any professor at George Fox.

         In April 2013, Ms. Hill inquired about transferring into George Fox's psychology program. Although the timing is unclear from the record, Ms. Hill was ultimately accepted into the program. However, before and after entering the program, a series of events transpired that Ms. Hill argues show she was being forced out of the program because of her disability. She was required, for example, to take an ad hoc assessment of her reading, speech/fluency, and written expression, even though other students were not given a similar assessment. She also claims the program director contacted other faculty members about her residual memory issues, and asked their opinions about her ability to complete a graduate program and function as a professional. In addition, the program director asked for a Student Progress Review on Ms. Hill, which she asserts was not required for other students.

         After several meetings with faculty and after talking with the Dean of Learning Support Services, the program director met with Ms. Hill and suggested that he did not want her to invest time and financial resources in a program that might not work out for her. She claims he indicated that she would not be able to complete an internship and, therefore, would not be able to graduate from the program. As a result, Ms. Hill left George Fox.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The initial burden for a motion for summary judgment is on the moving party to identify the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once that burden is satisfied, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate, through the production of evidence listed in Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1), that there remains a “genuine issue for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-moving party may not rely upon the pleading allegations. Brinson v. Linda Rose Joint Venture, 53 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). All reasonable doubts and inferences to be drawn from the facts are to be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         DISCUSSION

         George Fox argues it is entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Hill's claims for violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and breach of contract. For the reasons stated below, I DENY summary judgment on both claims, but I limit the scope of each claim.

         I. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

         Ms. Hill's second claim alleges George Fox violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when it deliberately refused to provide her with accommodations. As a result, she claims she suffered emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, stress, and fear. In addition, she suffered the loss of her graduate education.

         Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals who participate in federally funded programs and activities. 29 U.S.C. § 794. To prevail on a Section 504 claim and receive compensatory damages, a plaintiff must prove:

(1) she is disabled under the Act;
(2) she is otherwise qualified to remain in the program with or without accommodation;
(3) she was dismissed from the program solely because of her disability;
(4) the program receives federal funding; and
(5) the program intentionally discriminated against her or acted with ...

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