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Mikhail v. Manchester University, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 9, 2019

SUHA MIKHAIL, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 34], filed by Manchester University, Inc. The Defendant requests judgment as a matter of law on all claims a former student in the Doctor of Pharmacy program, Suha Mikhail, has asserted against it under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Defendant also seeks judgment as a matter of law on state law claims, but the Plaintiff has “voluntarily dismiss[ed] her state law claims” (Pl.'s Resp. 2, ECF No. 36), and presents no argument with respect to those claims (see generally Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n, ECF No. 37). Thus, the remaining issue is whether the Defendant's actions in connection with the Plaintiff's participation in the Pharmacy Program during the fall 2015 semester, including her eventual dismissal from the Program, violated the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act.


         A. Enrollment in the Doctor of Pharmacy Program Through Summer 2015

         Manchester University is an independent, liberal arts university with campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The University's Doctor of Pharmacy program is a four- year program located at the Fort Wayne campus. The Plaintiff entered the Pharmacy Program in fall 2012. She was placed on academic probation in fall 2012, May 2013, and December 2013. Each time, the Plaintiff successfully remediated her grades in accordance with the Defendant's policies. The Plaintiff was placed on academic probation a fourth time in May 2014 after she failed two classes. Because the Plaintiff did not successfully remediate the failed courses within the allotted time, she was disenrolled from all classes in fall 2014 so she could retake the courses in spring 2015. The Plaintiff passed the classes in the spring and was removed from academic probation.

         During this time, Bonnie O'Connell was the Director of Academic Support. The Defendant maintained a policy that required students to direct any requests for an accommodation due to a disability to O'Connell. The Plaintiff and O'Connell had collaborated to determine appropriate accommodations for the Plaintiff's Attention Deficit Disorder and severe social anxiety. O'Connell worked with the Plaintiff to arrive at the following accommodations: received extended time to complete quizzes and exams; took exams in a distraction-reduced environment, and; professors were only permitted to ask the Plaintiff questions during class if she had raised her hand to ask or answer a question. Prior to the fall 2015 semester, these accommodations were satisfactory to address the Plaintiff's disabilities.

         B. Fall 2015 Semester

         In summer 2015, the Plaintiff suffered a concussion in an automobile accident. According to the Plaintiff, medical professionals told her she might temporarily experience severe migraines and sciatic nerve pain, along with post-concussion syndrome. She “was also told that [her] anxiety disorder might be exacerbated by [her] injuries from the crash.” (Mikhail Aff. ¶ 12, ECF No. 36-1.)

         When the Plaintiff returned to school for the fall 2015 semester, she mentioned the accident to Dr. Jennifer Henriksen, the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for the Pharmacy Program. The Plaintiff did not request any additional accommodations related to the automobile accident. O'Connell also met with the Plaintiff at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester to review her accommodations and determine if any changes were necessary. The Plaintiff stated that she did not need any additional accommodations. At another meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with test anxiety, the Plaintiff did not mention a need for additional accommodations. Neither did the Plaintiff request any additional accommodations during a third meeting with O'Connell that fall.[1]

         On the morning of Tuesday, September 1, 2015, the Plaintiff developed a severe migraine. She was scheduled to take an exam that day in one of the four courses she was taking that semester-PHRM 551 IPT, Endocrine & Reproductive-taught by Dr. Sandra Hrometz. The exam was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. and end by 2:30 p.m., with additional time allotted to the Plaintiff as an accommodation for her disabilities. The Plaintiff did not attend class and missed the exam. At 2:41 p.m., she sent an email to Hrometz: “I had to miss the exam this afternoon because I felt I needed to see a doctor regarding how I am feeling.” (Sept. 1, 2015, email, ECF No. 35-3 at 16.) The Plaintiff requested to take the exam on September 3. Hrometz's response email asked the Plaintiff to meet with her and with Assistant Dean Henriksen on September 2 to discuss her absence and to review any medical documentation related to her absence. The course syllabus required all students to report absences for exams before the exam started, unless there was an emergency.

         During the September 2 meeting, the Plaintiff explained that she was absent because she decided, before the exam started, to get treatment at a local medical clinic to address a severe migraine and back pain that had worsened throughout the day. Henriksen and Hrometz asked the Plaintiff why she did not contact Hrometz before she left for the clinic. The Plaintiff said that she believed she would be done at the clinic in time to attend the exam. The Plaintiff also provided Henriksen and Hrometz with documentation from the clinic. Based on the times provided on the documentation, Henriksen and Hrometz concluded that the Plaintiff did not register at the clinic until 12:45 p.m., only fifteen minutes before the exam was scheduled to begin. They informed the Plaintiff that she should have contacted Hrometz prior to the start of the exam, as required by the course syllabus, because her health problems did not prevent her from doing so. The Plaintiff indicated that she was not aware, prior to their discussion that day, that her condition would not be considered an emergency. Henriksen and Hrometz told the Plaintiff that her failure to communicate prior to going to see the doctor could result in receiving no credit for the missed exam.

         Following the meeting with Plaintiff on September 2, Hrometz met with three professors whose material was included on the missed exam to determine whether the Plaintiff should be permitted to take the exam. The professors reviewed the syllabus for PHRM 551, the Plaintiff's September 1 medical documentation, the Plaintiff's September 1 email to Hrometz, and notes from the September 2 meeting. The four professors voted unanimously to consider the absence unexcused and to assess the Plaintiff a zero for the exam. Hrometz informed the Plaintiff of this decision in an email dated September 10. She noted the need to follow the policy documented in the syllabus “as a way of being consistent and ensuring fairness to all students enrolled in the course.” (Sept. 10, 2015, email, ECF No. 35-5 at 27.)

         Believing that she would need additional accommodations, the Plaintiff reached out to O'Connell. In a September 27 and 28, 2015, email exchange, the Plaintiff asked O'Connell when she was available to talk, and if she could provide a telephone number. O'Connell responded that she would be in Fort Wayne on October 8, and provided an office telephone number. O'Connell explained that she preferred to meet in person when possible. To schedule a meeting with O'Connell the Plaintiff was required to coordinate with Jeff Murphy (the Administrative Assistant for Student Affairs). The Plaintiff inquired whether there was another disability coordinator she could talk to before then, as it was important she speak to someone as soon as possible. O'Connell advised that there was no other coordinator, and the Plaintiff could call her office. The Plaintiff responded that she looked forward to meeting with O'Connell and “discussing disability.” (Sep. 28, 2015, email, ECF No. 35-3 at 33.)

         The Plaintiff did not meet with O'Connell on October 8, 2015, when O'Connell was on the Fort Wayne campus. After an exchange of emails on October 13 and 14, 2015, O'Connell advised that she would be on campus Thursday, October 22, and that the Plaintiff should coordinate with Jeff Murphy to schedule a meeting time.

         C. Dismissal From the Pharmacy Program

         On December 10, 2015, Henriksen, as the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, notified the Plaintiff by letter that she was being dismissed from future study in the Pharmacy Program because she had received a grade of less than seventy percent in four different courses that semester.[2] In accordance with the Pharmacy Program's academic policies on remediation, this required dismissal from the program. ...

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