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Ferrell v. Howard Universtiy

December 2, 1999

TRENA FERRELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah A. Robinson United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending for determination by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge is Defendant Howard University's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 25). Plaintiff Trena Ferrell brings this action pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("the ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. As relief, plaintiff seeks to enjoin defendants from discriminating against her; an order requiring that she be reinstated in the College of Medicine; and compensatory as well as punitive damages. This case is before the undersigned for all purposes, including trial, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.1.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Trena Ferrell, enrolled in the Howard University College of Medicine in 1990. Compl. (Docket No. 1) at ¶ 4. After completing two years of coursework, Howard medical students are required to pass Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination ("USMLE" or "the exam") in order to be promoted to their third year of medical school. The USMLE is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners ("NBME"). However, students must be enrolled in medical school to sit for the USMLE. Howard's policy is to dismiss a student who fails the USMLE Step 1 exam three times, although the NBME allows students who are enrolled in medical school to sit for the exam six times. See Compl. at ¶ 8. After completing her first two years of coursework, plaintiff sat for the USMLE Step 1 but did not complete the exam. Compl. at ¶ 6. Plaintiff failed the exam on two subsequent occasions. Id. In August, 1995, the College of Medicine refused to "sponsor" plaintiff for further examinations, and dismissed her as a student. Plaintiff "then" sought medical intervention "to determine whether there was a physical or psychological explanation for her failures." Id.

In October, 1995 and October, 1996, plaintiff was diagnosed by a psychologist and a psychiatrist as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") and was prescribed medication. Compl. at ¶ 7. Plaintiff then advised Howard of her disability, and requested that the College of Medicine "sponsor" her for the licensing examination again with "appropriate accommodations for an individual with a disability." Compl. at ¶ 8. In December, 1996, Howard refused to grant plaintiff's request. Compl. at ¶ 9.

In January, 1997, plaintiff filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, alleging that Howard University and its College of Medicine violated the ADA. Compl. at ¶ 10. On May 9, 1997, plaintiff filed a complaint with the District of Columbia Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development, alleging that Howard University and its College of Medicine violated both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Compl. at ¶ 10. On April 22, 1998, plaintiff filed her complaint in this action (Docket No. 1).

On September 16, 1999, the defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot.")(Docket No. 25). Defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or alternatively, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. As grounds therefore, defendants submit that the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act because plaintiff failed to establish that she has a qualified disability, and that she petitioned the wrong entity for relief. See generally Defs.' Mot. Plaintiff, in her opposition, maintains that she has established that she has a qualified disability and that she has petitioned the correct entity because she must be in medical school in order to take the USMLE Step 1. See generally Pl.'s Resp. Defendants, in their reply, maintain that they have no obligation to accommodate a condition of which they had no notice. See generally Defs.' Reply.

Upon consideration of plaintiff's complaint, defendants' motion, and the memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto, plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. *fn1

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted does not test whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, but instead, whether the claimant has properly stated a claim. Price v. Crestar Sec. Corp., 44 F. Supp.2d 351, 353 (D.D.C. 1999)(citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). To prevail, a defendant must show "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of h[er] claim which would entitle h[er] to relief." E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)(citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); see also Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Atchinson v. D.C., 73 F.3d 418, 421 (D.C. Cir. 1996). In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the court may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which judicial notice may be taken. See St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d at 624. Furthermore, the court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also Maljack Prods. v. Motion Picture Ass'n, 52 F.3d 373, 375 (D.C. Cir. 1995). However, the court need not accept as true the plaintiff's legal conclusions. See Taylor v. F.D.I.C., 132 F.3d 753, 762 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

The ADA requires that:

[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to ...


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