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CHANDAMURI v. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

July 22, 2003

Babi CHANDAMURI, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE LAMBERTH, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before this Court on a Motion to Dismiss [3]. Plaintiff submitted a Memorandum in Opposition [7], and the defendant subsequently filed a Reply to Plaintiffs Opposition [10]. Upon consideration of the parties' filings and the applicable law, this Court finds that the defendant's motion to dismiss [3] should be granted.

  I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Babi Chandamuri ("Chandamuri") brought suit alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of national origin and retaliation against Georgetown University ("Georgetown") under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977, as amended December 2000, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01, 2-1402.01 and 2-1402.41, .61, and .68 (hereinafter "DCHRA") and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d as amended ("Title VI").

  This suit was brought following Chandamuri's sanction for plagiarism during the second semester of his senior year, the 2001-2002 academic year. Chandamuri is an American citizen of Indian descent. In the Spring of 2002, Chandamuri enrolled in Chemistry 420, Advanced Biochemistry, under the instruction of Dr. Paul Roepe ("Roepe"). Prior to his Spring 2002 course, Chandamuri took an independent research course at Georgetown Hospital in Fall semester 2000; Dr. Roepe was the faculty member overseeing Chandamuri's research. At the conclusion of the Fall 2000 semester, Dr. Roepe gave Chandamuri a grade of B. Chandamuri contested the grade by raising the matter with the Chair of the Chemistry Department, Dr. Kertesz, claiming that Dr. Roepe had treated him unfairly and differently than other "similarly situated" students in Dr. Roepe's class. Chandamuri's basis for this perceived unfair treatment was that other students and Chandamuri's advisor had advised him the course was supposed to be an "easy A." After Dr. Kertesz communicated with Dr. Roepe regarding the grade, Dr. Kertesz informed Chandamuri that Dr. Roepe would not change Chandamuri's grade for the course. Dr. Kertesz advised Chandamuri against pursuing the complaint with the Assistant Dean of Georgetown College, because Chandamuri was required to take an upperclass Biochemistry course with Dr. Roepe during his senior year. Chandamuri did not appeal to the Assistant Dean regarding the Fall semester 2000 grade.

  A requirement of the Spring 2002 Advanced Biochemistry course was that students complete a term paper on a topic of their own selection, subject to approval by Dr. Roepe. The term paper was valued at 20% of the total grade. Chandamuri submitted the paper by April 24, 2002, in accordance with the dates established by Dr. Roepe. On May 2, 2002, Dr. Roepe

[274 F. Supp.2d 76]

      informed Chandamuri via email that Roepe was reporting Chandamuri to the Georgetown University Honor Council ("Honor Council") for committing plagiarism in violation of the Georgetown University Honor Code, Integrity, The Honor System, 2001-2002 ("Honor Code"). On May 5, 2002, an Investigating Officer for the Honor Council contacted Chandamuri to discuss the events surrounding the alleged violation. On May 7, 2002, Chandamuri was notified by the Faculty Chair of the Honor Council that there was sufficient evidence to send his case to a Hearing Board and that his Honor Council hearing would be held May 9, 2002 at 5:00 p.m.

  At the hearing, the Honor Council concluded that Chandamuri was in violation of the Honor Code. Chandamuri was notified that the Honor Council recommended that he be suspended for one semester, with a notation regarding the suspension entered onto Chandamuri's official Georgetown transcript, and that the action taken by the Honor Council Hearing Board would not affect any additional action that may be imposed by the professor. Chandamuri's attorneys notified the Faculty Chair of the Honor Council that Chandamuri was appealing the decision of the Honor Council Hearing Board. Chandamuri's appeal alleged several procedural violations, including the untimely notification of his opportunity to produce documents, the Honor Council's failure to define plagiarism for the purpose of the hearing, and the failure to establish the procedures by which the hearing was to be run. Compl. ¶ 19, 22.

  Chandamuri was given a second hearing on June 19, 2002. The new hearing was conducted by a different Investigating Officer and Hearing Board. The Honor Council notified Chandamuri that the punishment recommended was the same: a suspension for one semester, with a notation regarding the suspension entered on Chandamuri's official Georgetown transcript, and that the action taken by the Honor Council Hearing Board would not affect any additional action that may be imposed by the professor. Chandamuri alleges that the second hearing was also flawed by the failure to establish the standards for plagiarism and failure to articulate the process by which he would be adjudged.

  Chandamuri alleges that Georgetown violated his federal civil rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and his human rights under the DCHRA in their handling of plagiarism claims brought against him. in his prayer for relief, Chandamuri sought compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages against Georgetown, and requested that the district court issue a declaratory judgment that Georgetown had violated Chandamuri's rights, as well as order Georgetown to absolve Chandamuri of all violations of the Honor Code and issue him a degree from Georgetown University.

  II. LAW AND APPLICATION

 A. Standard of Review for a Motion to Dismiss

  A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests not whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, but whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The Federal Rules only require that a complaint include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), because the complaint "must simply `give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiffs claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 998, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) (quoting Conley v. Gibson,

[274 F. Supp.2d 77]

      355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

  The court must accept as true all wellpleaded factual allegations and grant plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be derived from the alleged facts. Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99; Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Clinton, 880 F. Supp. 1, 7 (D.D.C. 1995) (Lamberth, J.). The suit may be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court will consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the pleadings, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice. EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

 B. State Law Claims

  When a federal court has an independent basis for exercising federal jurisdiction, the court may also exercise supplemental jurisdiction over "claims that are so related to claims in the action within original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (2001); Women Prisoners of D.C. Dep't of Corr. v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 910, 920 (D.C. Cir. 1996). To be adequately related, the federal and state claims must "derive from a common nucleus of operative fact . . . [and] are such that [a plaintiff] would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding." United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966).

  The plaintiffs Federal Civil Rights claim under Title VI and his D.C. statutory claims "derive from a common nucleus of operative fact," namely, the circumstances surrounding the plagiarism incident. Therefore, this Court can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the D.C. claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. While federal courts have the discretion to decline to exercise jurisdiction over state claims, the Court concludes that "considerations of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to litigants" favor the several claims being litigated in a single proceeding. Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 349, 108 S.Ct. 614, 98 L.Ed.2d 720 (1988) (citations omitted).

 C. Chandamuri's Discrimination Claims

  Chandamuri alleges discrimination on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq and DCHRA, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01, 2-1402.01, 2-1402.41, 2-1402.68. Title VI, § 601 states, "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of . . . national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. The DCHRA prohibits acts of discrimination that interfere with the rights of any and all individuals and makes it illegal for an educational institution to "deny, restrict, or to abridge or condition the use of, or access to, any of its facilities and services to any person otherwise qualified . . . for a discriminatory reason, based upon the . . . national origin . . . of any individual." D.C. Code §§ 2-1042.41.

  The D.C. Circuit has held that a plaintiff is not required to set forth the prima facie elements of a ...


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