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Minaei v. University of Washington School of Medicine

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 27, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. # 12. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Dkt. # 23. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from Plaintiff's dismissal from the University Of Washington School Of Medicine (“Medical School”). Plaintiff was part of the Medical School's Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) program. Dkt. # 13-1 at 5. As a WWAMI participant, Plaintiff was expected to complete her first year of medical school in Alaska, and then transfer to the Medical School in her second year. Id. at 7. “[T]he goal of the program is to recruit students who will return to their home state to practice medicine.” Id. at 5.

         In her first year of medical school, Plaintiff failed Introduction to Immunology and Nervous System. Dkt. # 16-1 at 3. The Medical School authorized Plaintiff to retake these exams but warned her that “two or more Fail grades within an academic year” is grounds for academic probation. Id. at 23. Plaintiff explained that her Attention Deficit Disorder and test anxiety overwhelmed her, making it difficult to perform at her best on exams. Dkt. ## 14-1 at 9, 16-1 at 3, 23-5 at 2. The Medical School's Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Eacker, encouraged Plaintiff to seek accommodations for future exams based on these initial grades and in light of Plaintiff's disabilities. Dkt. # 16-1 at 26.

         Plaintiff successfully sought accommodations for her future exams; the Medical School authorized Plaintiff fifty-percent additional time on each test as well as a reduced distraction environment. Id. at 41. These accommodations were precisely what Plaintiff and her physician discussed and agreed would be effective. Dkt. ## 13-1 at 121-123, 23-5 at 2. The Medical School could not implement the accommodations in time for Plaintiff's Hematology exam, but did so for her Epidemiology exam. Dkt. # 14-1 at 12. Plaintiff failed both. Dkt. # 16-1 at 72.

         Medical School faculty met with Plaintiff in February 2014 to discuss expanding Plaintiff's second year of medical school. Id. at 44-45. Plaintiff “prefer[red] not to add more years onto medical school, ” but she recognized that this option was more favorable than the alternative-that is, Plaintiff wished to remain in medical school rather than face dismissal. Id. Plaintiff conceded that “spread[ing] [her] classes out over two years . . . would address a lot of the issues that bring up [her] anxiety.” Id. at 44.

         In April 2014, the Student Progress Sub-Committee reviewed Plaintiff's record and performance-at this time, Plaintiff had also failed Skin System and Respiratory System-and recommended her dismissal from the Medical School. Id. at 49. Plaintiff requested a review of the decision, and successfully lobbied for a reversal of the decision. Id. at 57. Therefore, Plaintiff remained a student at the Medical School but was warned that “any further difficulties put [her] at risk of dismissal.” Id.

         Plaintiff retook the Respiratory System course in Fall 2014 and failed the exam a second time. Id. at 72. The student handbook warned students that if they received “a Fail grade in a repeated course, this is grounds for dismissal.” Id. at 11. In light of Plaintiff's second failure in Respiratory System despite being on an expanded schedule, and taking her entire record into consideration, the Student Progress Committee once again recommended that Plaintiff be dismissed from the program. Id. at 59. Plaintiff sought review of the decision, id. at 61, but the Committee “concluded that [Plaintiff] failed to meet the School of Medicine's academic standards” and therefore sustained its dismissal recommendation, id. at 63. By this time, Plaintiff had failed eight courses.[1] In June 2015, the Dean of the Medical School accepted the Student Progress Committee's recommendation and formally dismissed Plaintiff from the program. Id. at 69. This lawsuit followed.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets the initial burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000).

         However, the court need not, and will not, “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also, White v. McDonnel-Douglas Corp., 904 F.2d 456, 458 (8th Cir. 1990) (the court need not “speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obliged to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim”). The opposing party must present significant and probative evidence to support its claim or defense. Intel Corp. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 F.2d 1551, 1558 (9th Cir. 1991). Uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” will not create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002); T.W. Elec. Serv. V. Pac Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).


         A. Disability ...

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