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Toma v. University of Hawaii

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 23, 2017

JOHN TOMA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          RICHARD L. PUGLISI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On October 20, 2017, a hearing was held on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed on August 16, 2017 (“Motion”). ECF No. 24. Brian K. Mackintosh, Esq. appeared on behalf of Plaintiff; Derek T. Mayeshiro, Esq. appeared on behalf of Defendant. After carefully reviewing the parties' submissions, the arguments made by counsel at the hearing, and the relevant legal authority, the Court GRANTS the Motion and GRANTS Plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he matriculated as a medical student at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa, in July 2005. ECF No. 7 ¶ 9. Shortly after July 2005, Plaintiff began to experience anxiety, depression, and inabilities to sleep or focus. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment for these symptoms until July 2007. Id. ¶ 11. Beginning in 2007, Plaintiff was under psychiatric care. Id. ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff took a medical licencing exam in July 2009 and did not pass. Id. ¶¶ 14, 15. In October 2009, Dr. Mary Ann Antonelli, Director of the Office of Student Affairs at the medical school, asked Plaintiff to appear before the Student Standing and Promotion Committee to evaluate his academic progress. Id. ¶ 23. In response, Plaintiff emailed Dr. Antonelli about his depression and disability. Id. ¶ 24. Dr. Antonelli did not refer Plaintiff to the office for students with disabilities, but accommodated Plaintiff by twice postponing Plaintiff's appearance before the committee. Id. ¶¶ 26-27.

         In December 2009, Plaintiff was clinically diagnosed with major depression pursuant to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV TR) criteria for Major Depressive Episode. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff did not respond immediately to treatment. Id. ¶ 17.

         Plaintiff appeared before the Student Standing and Promotion Committee on February 10, 2010. Id. ¶ 29. The committee allowed Plaintiff to re-take the medical licencing exam by April 28, 2010, to accommodate his disability. Id. ¶ 30. In April 2010, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist advised Plaintiff to take a medical leave of absence from school and not to take the medical licencing exam. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist wrote a letter to the medical school on June 7, 2010, stating that she recommended a 4-6 month leave of absence to accommodate Plaintiff's depression. Id. ¶ 32. Dr. Antonelli approved Plaintiff's medical leave of absence on June 23, 2010. Id. ¶ 33.

         In August 2010, Plaintiff was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff's depression and hypothyroidism interfered with major life activities such as concentrating, studying, and learning. Id. ¶ 19.

         On December 20, 2010, the new Director of the Office of Student Affairs at the medical school, Dr. Richard Smerz, ordered Plaintiff to attend a meeting before the Student Standing and Promotion Committee to evaluate his academic progress on January 12, 2011. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff met with Dr. Smerz on January 5, 2011, and informed him of his medical disabilities, including depression and recently diagnosed hypothyroidism. Id. ¶ 38. Plaintiff's major depression and hypothyroidism had begun to respond to treatment by January 2011. Id. ¶¶ 20, 39. Plaintiff asked Dr. Smerz to continue Plaintiff's medical leave to allow time for his treatment to become fully effective, which Dr. Smerz refused. Id. ¶¶ 39, 40. Dr. Smerz encouraged Plaintiff to withdraw from medical school or face almost certain expulsion. Id. ¶ 40. Dr. Smerz also told Plaintiff that he needed to leave to cope with his problems. Id. ¶ 41. Dr. Smerz did not recommend or contact the office for students with disabilities. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist also contacted Dr. Smerz to ask that Plaintiff be given continuing accommodation to allow time for his treatment to become fully effective, which Dr. Smerz refused. Id. ¶¶ 44-45.

         The Student Standing and Promotion Committee met on January 12, 2011, to review Plaintiff's case and voted unanimously to dismiss Plaintiff from the medical school for academic malperformance. Id. ¶¶ 46-50.

         Plaintiff appealed the committee's decision on January 24, 2011. Id. ¶ 61. Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist submitted a letter regarding Plaintiff's depression and hypothroidism stating that these conditions “affected his energy, motivation, concentration and cognitive clarity.” Id. ¶ 63. Plaintiff's appeal was dismissed on February 18, 2011, concluding that there were no grounds for a formal hearing. Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff appealed that decision to Dr. Jerris Hedges, Office of the Dean of Medicine, asking permission to re-take the licencing exam as an accommodation for his depression and hypothyroidism. Id. ¶ 69-75. Plaintiff met with Dr. Hedges regarding his appeal on April 6, 2011. Id. ¶ 76. Plaintiff received a letter from Dr. Hedges on April 7, 2011, upholding the decision to dismiss Plaintiff from the medical school. Id. ¶ 77.

         In December 2011, Plaintiff filed discrimination complaints against Dr. Hedges and Dr. Smerz with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students. Id. ¶ 104. A fact-finding report regarding Plaintiff's complaints was submitted to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students on May 21, 2012. Id. ¶ 105. On June 20, 2012, Reed Dasenbrock, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, issued his decision finding no discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 112-130. Plaintiff appealed that decision to Vassilis Syrmos, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, acting as the Chancellor's designee on July 21, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 131, 134. Plaintiff's appeal was denied on September 11, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 136-143.

         Plaintiff filed this action on September 11, 2016. See ECF No. 1. Plaintiff asserts claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ...


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