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Di Lella v. University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law

August 5, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge


Proceeding pro se, Nicole Di Lella, a learning-disabled, former student at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, brings this action against the School of Law*fn1 , its Academic Standards Committee, Associate Dean Ann Bishop Richardson, Professor Susan L. Waysdorf, and Educational Specialist Ahmad Reed (collectively, "Law School").

Di Lella asserts causes of action arising from the Law School's treatment of her in connection with its provision of accommodations for her disability and the Law School's suspension of her after she was charged with cheating and plagiarism. Di Lella maintains that the Law School discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2-1402 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Di Lella also asserts that the Law School breached its contract with her,*fn2 violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and defamed her.*fn3

Before the court is the Law School's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement of Di Lella's claims [## 7, 8].*fn4 Upon consideration of the motion, Di Lella's opposition thereto, and the record of the case, the court concludes that the motion must be granted in part and denied in part.


Pertinent to the causes of action Di Lella seeks to prosecute, her complaint avers the following, which the court accepts as true. Di Lella has a learning disability that, among other things, makes it difficult for her to process words into written expression. She enrolled at the Law School in the Fall of 2003 and during orientation met with Associate Dean Ann Bishop Richardson. During this meeting, she informed Dean Richardson of her disability and requested that the Law School provide her the accommodations she would need to successfully matriculate at the Law School. In a follow-up letter to Di Lella, Dean Richardson indicated that the Law School would provide some of the accommodations Di Lella had requested. Dean Richardson's letter states,

* You may have double time to complete examinations which will be administered to you in a separate, quiet testing room and extended time on written projects, when necessary and requested.

* We will provide you with a notetaker. The School of Law's policy and procedures for notetakers is attached.

Pl.'s Ex. 6, Letter from Dean Richardson to Nicole Di Lella (Sep. 15, 2003).

During her first year at the Law School, Di Lella sometimes was not provided a notetaker and, at the beginning of her second year, the Law School decided to provide her with transcriptions of her class lectures instead of a notetaker. Di Lella was required to purchase the equipment needed to record class discussions. She was then expected to submit the tapes to the Law School for transcription.

As it turns out, Di Lella often was not provided with timely transcriptions and sometimes the tapes she made were not transcribed at all. As a result, Di Lella was unable to meaningfully participate in classroom lectures, discussions, academic assignments, Law School clinics, and community opportunities. She could not prepare for class assignments or exams and was unable to take her exams on the same dates as her classmates. Taking exams later than her peers caused Di Lella to have longer academic semesters and precluded her from enrolling in upper-level courses and specialized programs within the Law School.

In the spring of 2005, Di Lella enrolled in Professor Susan Waysdorf's Constitutional Law course. When Di Lella did not receive timely transcriptions of Professor Waysdorf's lectures and, as a result, was unable to prepare suitably to take the midterm examination on schedule, Di Lella complained to Professor Waysdorf. Thereafter, in front of the class taking the Constitutional Law course, Professor Waysdorf admonished Di Lella for not taking the midterm examination at the same time as the other members of the class and disclosed that Di Lella was a student with a learning disability. Di Lella reported this incident to Dean Richardson.

Di Lella did not receive timely transcriptions throughout the remainder of the semester and was unable to take the final examination in May. Di Lella eventually obtained class notes, however, and was given a deadline of September 16, 2005, to submit the take-home portion of the final examination. On September 19, Di Lella sent her final examination answers to Waysdorf by "e-mail." Professor Waysdorf believed that Di Lella's answers were copied directly from two internet sites and thereafter made a complaint of plagiarism and cheating to Dean Richardson, who then sent the complaint to the Academic Standards Committee.

The Committee held a hearing on the complaint during which Di Lella provided written submissions and statements explaining that she had mistakenly "emailed" a computer file containing a study aid instead of the computer file that contained the answers to the examination that she had prepared. The Committee did not believe Di Lella's explanation and determined that she had violated the Law School's Honor Code. As a result, Di Lella was suspended for one year. In addition, the Committee's letter summarizing its findings was placed in Di Lella's permanent file and the Registrar's office and Dean's office were directed to share the letter with any Bar Examiner or educational institution to which Di Lella might apply.

On April 19, 2006, the Law School's faculty denied Di Lella's petition for review of the Committee's decision. Di Lella ...

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