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Castelino v. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

December 21, 2017

JUSTIN CASTELINO, Plaintiff,
v.
ROSE-HULMAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, Defendant.

          ENTRY REGARDING MOTION TO DISQUALIFY COUNSEL

          HON. WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on the Plaintiff's motion seeking to disqualify defense counsel (Dkt. No. 109). The motion is fully briefed and the Court, being duly advised, DENIES the motion for the reasons set forth below. The Court GRANTS the Plaintiff's unopposed Motion Under Local Rule 6-1(b)(1)(B)[1] to Accept as Timely (Dkt. No. 127).

         BACKGROUND

         In his motion, Plaintiff Justin Castelino seeks to disqualify attorney Holly Reedy and her law firm, Wilkinson, Goeller, Modesitt, Wilkinson & Drummy (“Wilkinson Goeller”), from representing Defendant Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (“Rose-Hulman”) in this case because one of her partners represented Castelino in another matter. The timeline of relevant facts are as follow:

. In May 2015, Castelino, a student at Rose-Hulman, was suspended by Rose-Hulman for one quarter for academic misconduct.
. On May 20, 2015, Castelino's landlord for his off-campus apartment in Terre Haute filed suit against Castelino and his mother seeking to evict Castelino and recover for alleged damage to the apartment. The landlord's complaint alleged as grounds for eviction: “smoking (illegal or other)” in the apartment; an additional person living in the apartment for more than four days; domestic violence; “other residents in area are threatened by [Castelino's] violence [and] police were called”; damage to the apartment; tampering with the electrical box; and verbal assaults and threats to others living nearby and the management team.
. On June 22, 2015, Castelino, through attorney Andrea Ciobanu, filed a discrimination complaint against Rose-Hulman with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (“ICRC”), alleging that Rose-Hulman engaged in unspecified retaliation and had failed to accommodate his disabilities, which he described as “ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder, which inhibits my ability to process verbal instructions and requires additional time to complete assignments.”
. The docket from the eviction suit indicates that on June 29, 2015, a hearing was held, the landlord was to take possession of the apartment by July 15, 2015, and a hearing as to damages was to be held on December 16, 2015.
. On July 22, 2015, David Friedrich, a partner in Wilkinson Goeller, entered his appearance on behalf of Castelino and his mother in the eviction suit.
. On July 28, 2015, Reedy, who is also a partner in Wilkinson Goeller, filed Rose-Hulman's response to Castelino's ICRC complaint. The response denied that Rose-Hulman had failed to accommodate Castelino and explained the findings of academic misconduct that had led to Castelino's suspension, which Rose-Hulman assumed was the alleged retaliation referenced in the complaint.
. The docket in the eviction suit indicates that the landlord's counsel reported to the court on December 16, 2015, that the case had settled.
. On February 19, 2016, Friedrich requested via email to Castelino's mother that she and Castelino sign and return a settlement agreement relating to the eviction suit. Castelino executed the document on February 28, 2016.
. On March 30, 2016, the eviction suit was dismissed upon the filing of a stipulation of dismissal.
. On June 10, 2016, Rose-Hulman conducted a hearing regarding Castelino's second application for readmission after his suspension. Reedy attended the hearing as Rose-Hulman's legal counsel. Rose-Hulman declined to readmit Castelino.
. On or about June 13, 2016, Friedrich sent a bill to Castelino's mother noting a balance that had been due for 61-90 days.
. On July 18, 2016, Ciobanu filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), alleging that Rose-Hulman had retaliated against Castelino for filing a complaint with the state agency by denying him readmission. By letter dated July 29, 2016, the OCR notified Rose-Hulman that it was opening an investigation into Castelino's complaint.
. Reedy filed a response with the OCR. In that response, she set forth the alleged reasons Rose-Hulman decided not to readmit Castelino after his suspension for academic misconduct, including the fact that two months after his suspension he was arrested in Connecticut and charged with a variety of drug-related crimes and the fact that Rose-Hulman faculty had reported numerous instances of Castelino behaving in an aggressive, disrespectful, and disruptive manner toward faculty and students. Reedy also noted that Rose-Hulman had learned that Castelino had a criminal record prior to attending Rose-Hulman.
. On December 13, 2016, Ciobanu “discovered Wilkinson Goeller's role in [Castelino's] eviction proceeding and addressed an ethics complaint to Ms. Reedy by email.” Dkt. No. 114 at 3. That same day, Ciobanu sent an email to Castelino with the subject line “Please advise: Filing ethics complaint re: Holly Reedy.” Dkt No 111-1.
. This case was filed on March 28, 2017. Reedy filed her appearance on behalf of Rose-Hulman on April 12, 2017.
. On May 4, 2017, Rose-Hulman filed its answer in this case, in which it asserts in one of its affirmative defenses that it is not required to permit Castelino to return to the school because Castelino “is a direct threat to the Rose-Hulman campus community and poses a threat to the safety of the members of the campus community.” Dkt. No. 23 at 24.
. Also on May 4, 2017, Plaintiffs counsel in this case, John Thrasher, raised in an email to Reedy the issue of a conflict of interest based on Friedrich's representation of Castelino in the eviction suit. In her reply, Reedy explained her position that there was no conflict because Castelino was a former client of Friedrich and the subject matter of the two cases did not overlap. She stated that when she learned of the issue late the previous year, she had sought guidance from the Indiana Disciplinary Commission, which had referred her to two attorneys, both of whom had opined that there was no conflict.
. On July 7-8, 2017, Reedy deposed Castelino. During the deposition, Reedy questioned Castelino about the fact that, while he was a student at Rose-Hulman, he had been banned from a fraternity house. The fraternity told Castelino he was banned because he had been involved in a physical altercation with a guest after he was asked to leave a party at the fraternity house. Castelino denied that a physical altercation occurred. Reedy also asked Castelino about his marijuana use while he was a ...

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