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Gabriel v. Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences-Vermont Campus

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 16, 2013

Matthew Gabriel, f/k/a Matta Ghobreyal, Plaintiff,
v.
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences — Vermont Campus (ACPHS), Professor Dorothy Pumo, Ronald A. DeBellis, Dean Robert Hamilton, Assistant Professor Joanna Schwartz, Jason Long, Melissa Long, Professor Stefan Balaz, President Dr. James J. Gozzo, Associate Dean John Denio, Dr. Peter J. Cornish, Professor Gail Goodman Snitkoff, Gerald Katzman, Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education (ACPE), Peter H. Vlasses, Lindsay M. Antikainen, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 59, 60)

WILLIAM K. SESSIONS, III, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Matthew Gabriel brings this action claiming that he was discriminated against while a student at the Vermont campus of the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences ("ACPHS" or "College"). His claims center on a plagiarism charge leveled against him by one of his professors. The charge was ultimately withdrawn, but Gabriel contends that he suffered physical, psychological, and monetary harm as a result of the incident. In addition to his discriminations claims, Gabriel alleges negligence and breach of contract.

Defendants in the case include ACPHS, ACPHS administrators, professors, students, and General Counsel (collectively "ACPHS Defendants"), as well as the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education ("ACPE"), its Executive Director and Accreditation Facilitator ("ACPE Defendants"). Now before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss Gabriel's Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"). For the reasons set forth below, the ACPHS Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and the ACPE Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

Factual Background[1]

Gabriel was a full-time student at ACPHS from August 2009 through November 2009. He attended classes at the ACPHS Vermont campus, which is a satellite of the primary ACPHS campus in Albany, New York. On October 19, 2009, ACPHS Professor Dorothy Pumo asked her students, including Gabriel, to write a 450-word report on immunology based upon a lecture by Professor Gail Goodman Snitkoff. Professor Snitkoff's lecture was presented live at the Albany campus, and via video at the Vermont campus. Due to problems with the video feed, the Vermont class missed the first fifteen minutes of the lecture.

At the end of the class, one of Gabriel's fellow students asked "about using material from internet sources and the correct citation required" for the writing assignment. (Doc. 58 at 3.) Professor Pumo allegedly told the class "not to worry about it because Professor Snitkoff did not mention this, " and that "there was not enough space to include citations in a 450 word report." Id. [2]

Gabriel timely submitted his report by means of the school website. A few days later, Professor Pumo asked to speak with him after class. During the meeting, Professor Pumo informed Gabriel that he had violated the school's Honor Code by committing plagiarism in his report. Gabriel disputed the accusation, explaining that he had not been provided proper citation methods for internet sources, and reminding Professor Pumo about her statement that references were not required. Nonetheless, Professor Pumo informed Gabriel that she intended to file an Honor Code violation. The two discussed the matter further, and Pumo agreed to consider a re-written assignment. At that point, Gabriel was "under the impression we had resolved his ugly matter." Id. at 4.

Later that day, however, Gabriel checked his email and found that Professor Pumo had contacted ACPHS Dean DeBellis and filed a formal accusation of plagiarism. Gabriel alleges that Professor Pumo took this action with discriminatory intent, as others in the class were also accused of plagiarism, but he was the only one whom Professor Pumo chose to report. Gabriel contends that this discrimination was based upon his national origin (Egyptian) and religion (Coptic Christian).

When Gabriel questioned Professor Pumo about plagiarism by others in the class, she conceded that there were "other offenses" but that they were "of a lesser degree." Id. at 14. With respect to the class as a whole, the assignment had been reviewed for plagiarism by means of a program called Turnitin. After reviewing the Turnitin report, Professor Pumo addressed the class as follows:

I read through the [T]urnitin report, I have not finished all of them, and I am distressed part of that [sic] is a large number of you seemingly copied full sentences from other works. I am getting a lot of matches to extraneous papers from other places. I am in no mood to report the entire class for plagiarism; that said I will do it if I have to. So I am giving everybody, well most people anyway a free pass on one sentence copied for this paper. I am not going to write up everybody for copying one sentence.

Id. at 5 (emphases in original).[3]

Gabriel refers to Professor Pumo's allowance of limited plagiarism as the "free pass' phenomenon, " and claims that the practice was unlawful as it resulted in punishment against only one person. As he states in the SAC, "based on the free pass' phenomenon the charges of plagiarism should not have been filed against the plaintiff from the beginning, because the entire class plagiarized unintentionally." (Doc. 58 at 7.) He further contends that singling him out for punishment in a class of seventy-seven students "represent[s] a strong discriminatory conduct, " and that the "free pass' phenomenon was merely a ridiculous reason from Professor Pumo to cover her obvious discriminatory behavior." Id. at 7, 11.

Gabriel cites two other incidents involving Professor Pumo that allegedly support his discrimination claim. In the first, which occurred prior to the plagiarism charge, Professor Pumo "inhibited the Plaintiff from using the bathroom during exam [sic]... and allowed everybody else in the class to use it." Id. at 7 (emphasis in original). Second, he claims that when one of his exam times conflicted with his citizenship ceremony, Professor Pumo initially refused to offer him a makeup date. Although a makeup date was ultimately set, Gabriel contends that it resulted in his having two exams on the same day, and that after the second exam he required medical treatment for a severe tension headache.

When Gabriel complained to Dean DeBellis about this treatment, he was allegedly told that he "needed to stop complaining, and that if plaintiff kept challenging the faculty they will do their best to flunk [him]." Id. at 13. He also alleges that Dean DeBellis pledged to discuss the matter with Dean Hamilton "and get back to me, " but failed to follow up with Gabriel "until now." Id. The SAC contends that like Professor Pumo, Dean DeBellis was motivated by "prejudice and discrimination." Id.

The plagiarism charge was considered by the College's Honor Code Review Committee ("Committee"), comprised of ACPHS students, professors, and administrators. In a letter delivered to Gabriel by Dean DeBellis in November 2009, the Committee informed Gabriel of its conclusion that he had, in fact, committed plagiarism, and that he would receive a failing grade for the writing assignment. Gabriel also reports having had an informal meeting with committee member Jason Long, and a formal meeting with Professor Joanna Schwartz. During both meetings, he was allegedly advised to accept his punishment. He alleges that by so advising him, both Long and Schwartz were suggesting that "the plaintiff cannot defend himself which represent[s] a clear oppression and discrimination...." Id. at 18, 19.

ACPHS officials ultimately informed Gabriel that Professor Pumo had agreed to rescind her accusation, and that the allegation of plagiarism was being withdrawn. When Gabriel requested a letter ...


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