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Infante-Levy v. State

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 31, 2019




         On June 25, 2019 Plaintiff Aaron Infante-Levy (“Plaintiff”) filed his Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Damages (“Complaint”) and a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (“Motion”).[1] [Dkt. nos. 1, 2.] An evidentiary hearing was held on September 6, 2019.

         Plaintiff alleges the defendants: denied his requests for reasonable accommodations for his disability in the readmission process; failed to engage in a good faith, interactive process with Plaintiff when he sought readmission to the doctor of architecture (“D.Arch”) program at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (“UHM”); and improperly relied on stereotypical assumptions that he could not complete the program, instead of considering other indications of his abilities. [Complaint at ¶¶ 22-24.] He brings claims for: violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12102, et seq., and its implementing regulations (“Count I”); and violations of Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq., and its implementing regulation (“Count II”). In the instant Motion, Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction requiring his immediate readmission to the D.Arch program.

         Plaintiff's Motion is respectfully denied. While it is clear that Plaintiff has and continues to struggle with his disability, and has made incredible progress in his educational and professional endeavors in spite of difficult challenges, his Motion must be denied because the evidence supports that he was not dismissed from his educational program, but voluntarily chose to withdraw, and because the denial of his application for readmission was based on nondiscriminatory requirements.


         In 2007, Plaintiff was accepted into the D.Arch program, and he started in summer 2008. [Decl. of Aaron Infante-Levy (“Plaintiff Decl.”), filed 8/23/19 (dkt. no. 21), at ¶ 7.] Plaintiff has “been diagnosed with major depression with a r/o of a bipolar variant and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” [Id. at ¶ 2 (emphasis omitted); Pltf. Decl., Exh. 1 (letter dated 2/14/19 from Michael R. Seskin, Ph.D.).] There is no evidence in the record contradicting Dr. Seskin's diagnosis. It is undisputed that Plaintiff is a person with a disability, for purposes of the ADA, [2] and the Rehabilitation Act.[3] Plaintiff received accommodations while enrolled in the D.Arch program including, “at times a reduced course/work load, additional time to complete assignments, withdrawal from classes without penalty, and in the more extreme situations leaves of absence.” [Pltf. Decl. at ¶ 8.] Further, Defendant University of Hawai`i and Defendant William Ryan Chapman, Ph.D., in his official capacity only as Dean of the School Architecture, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (“Dean Chapman” and collectively “Defendants”) admit that the University of Hawai`i is subject to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. [Answer to Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Damages, filed 7/26/19 (dkt. no. 15), at ¶ 7.]

         Plaintiff completed his courses during the Summer 2008 and Fall 2008 terms, but withdrew from his Spring 2009 courses. He completed his courses during Summer 2009, but withdrew from his Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 courses. [Decl. of Stephanie A. Malin (“Malin Decl.”), filed 8/30/19 (dkt. no. 26), Exh. A (Pltf.'s records with the Office of the Registrar) at ¶ 000003.[4] Plaintiff was granted a leave of absence from August 24, 2009 to May 15, 2010. [Decl. & Direct Testimony of Judith Stilgenbauer (“Stilgenbauer Decl.”), filed 8/30/19 (dkt. no. 29), Exh. C2 (Pltf.'s School of Architecture academic file) at ¶ 000050.[5]

         Plaintiff did not enroll in courses during Fall 2010 or Spring 2011, and he withdrew from all of his Fall 2011 courses. [Malin Decl., Exh. A at ¶ 000003.] He was granted a leave of absence from August 23, 2010 to May 14, 2011. [Stilgenbauer Decl., Exh. C2 at ¶ 000050.] Plaintiff did not enroll in courses during Spring 2012. [Malin Decl. Exh. A at ¶ 000003.] Because Plaintiff did not enroll for the semester after his Fall 2011 withdrawal, he was required to reapply for admission. See Decl. & Direct Testimony of Julienne K. Maeda, Ph.D. (“Maeda Decl.”), filed 8/30/19 (dkt. no. 27), at ¶ 21.[6]Plaintiff submitted a University of Hawai`i System Application Form for readmission to the School of Architecture D.Arch program in the 2013-2014 academic year, and he was granted readmission, beginning in the Fall 2013 semester. [Malin Decl., Exh. A at ¶ 000010-11 (application), UH000025 (letter, dated 6/26/13 to Pltf. from Spencer Leineweber, FAIA, Professor and Chair of Professional Programs).]

         In the interim, Plaintiff completed courses during Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 through the extension program. After being readmitted to the D.Arch program, Plaintiff completed his Fall 2013 courses. However, he withdrew from all of his Spring 2014 courses. [Malin Decl., Exh. A at ¶ 000003, UH000005.] Plaintiff was granted a leave of absence from January 13, 2014 to May 17, 2014. [Stilgenbauer Decl., Exh. C2 at ¶ 000050.]

         Plaintiff completed one course each in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015, after taking an Incomplete in each course and subsequently receiving a make-up grade. [Id.; Malin Decl., Exh. A at UH000005.] Plaintiff did not enroll in any courses after Spring 2015. [Malin Decl., Exh. A at ¶ 000005.] He states he had a “major depressive episode” during the 2015-2016 school year. [Pltf. Decl. at ¶ 10.] According to Plaintiff, during Spring 2015, he discussed the possibility of taking another medical leave of absence with Professor Leineweber. She informed him that: he had reached UHM's limit on medical leaves of absence; and she was concerned that he would not meet the Graduate Division's deadline for him to complete the program. [Id. at ¶ 20.] Plaintiff states:

[Professor] Leineweber proposed this strategy -that I withdraw my candidacy from the School of Architecture, focus on getting well, and then reapply. She said the School of Architecture would hold my application and supplementary application materials, and that reapplication would be a “formality” because my spot within the school would be “held” for me. [Professor] Leineweber asserted this was the best approach, because it would “pause the clock” of the ultimate graduation deadline; her hope was that once I rejoined the program, I'd be able to complete it in a timely manner with no further medical leaves of absence.

[Id.] Professor Leineweber kept notes about the discussions that she had with Plaintiff. See, e.g., Stilgenbauer Decl., Exh. C2 at ¶ 000124-26. However, there is no note reflecting the “strategy” that Plaintiff says she suggested to him. See Stilgenbauer Decl. at ¶ 20. At the evidentiary hearing, Plaintiff explained the lack of a note reflecting that discussion by the fact that Professor Leineweber was a minimalist. Professor Leineweber passed away during the summer of 2015. [Pltf. Direct Decl. at ¶ 21.]

         After completing “a rigorous summer internship, ” during the summer of 2018, Plaintiff felt able to resume the D.Arch program. [Id.] He learned that the School of Architecture had not kept his application materials and that he had to reapply for admission. [Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.] Plaintiff submitted an application for the Spring 2019 semester. [Maeda Decl., Exh. B1.[7]

         I. Plaintiff's Application

         When Plaintiff was initially accepted into the D.Arch program in 2008, and when he was readmitted in Fall 2013, the D.Arch program was a seven-year program. [Stilgenbauer Decl. at ¶¶ 4-5.] However, as of Spring 2014, the seven-year program no longer existed. Instead, the D.Arch program was separated into a 4-year, 120-credit-hour “B.Env.D degree” and a 3-year, 90-credit-hour D.Arch degree.[8] [Id. at ¶ 6.] Students who do not have a pre-professional bachelor's degree, such as Plaintiff, have to complete eighteen additional credit hours in professional courses. [Id.] Also in Spring 2014, the D.Arch program became part of the Graduate Division. The D.Arch program now follows the Graduate Division's rules, including its admissions rules. [Id.] Thus, when Plaintiff applied for readmission for Spring 2019, he was required to satisfy the admission criteria of both the Graduate Division and the D.Arch program. See Maeda Decl. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff applied to the three-year D.Arch program. [Id. at ¶ 10.]

         The Graduate Division requires a minimum grade point average (“GPA”) of 3.0 for admission. The Graduate Division's Graduate Student Services office (“GSS”) conducts the initial review of an application, then forwards the application to the specific program for review. GSS notes the applicant is inadmissible if his GPA is below 3.0. [Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.] GSS noted Plaintiff's GPA for the last two years of his undergraduate studies was 2.46 for 61 credit hours. His GPA for his graduate-level D.Arch classes was 2.84 for 36 credit hours, and his GPA for his other graduate-level classes was 3.08 for 21 credit hours. Thus, GSS noted that Plaintiff was inadmissible because he did not meet the 3.0 GPA minimum.[9] Maeda Decl., Exh. B1 at 1;[10] see also Maeda Decl. at ¶ 13. GSS did not consider Plaintiff's disability in making its determination. [Maeda Decl. at ¶ 16.]

         II. Application Review and Appeal

         For an inadmissible applicant, if the specific program supports the applicant, the program submits a petition to admit the applicant and returns the application materials to GSS with the petition. The program's only other option is to deny admission. If the program submits a petition to admit, a GSS committee reviews the application. If the committee disagrees with the program's petition, the application for admission is denied. If the committee agrees with the petition, the application is sent back to the program, which can choose: 1) admission; 2) admission by exception; or 3) denial of admission.[11] [Maeda Decl. at ¶¶ 8-9.]

         An applicant may appeal the denial of admission to the program to which he applied. If an applicant who was inadmissible because of his GPA appeals the denial of admission and the program reverses the denial, the GSS review process is completed. Other than in those circumstances, the Graduate ...

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