DiPerna v. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology et al
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Signed by the Honorable John W. Darrah on 3/8/2017. Mailed notice (nsf, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
) Case No. 14-cv-57
) Judge John W. Darrah
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL OF
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Jennifer DiPerna, filed a Second Amended Complaint against Defendant, the
Chicago School of Professional Psychology, alleging breach of contract and negligence.
Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which was granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff filed a partial Motion to Reconsider , asking to reconsider the ruling on the claim
related to plagiarism. Plaintiff’s Motion to Reconsider  is denied.
Plaintiff is currently a resident of Ohio and is a former student of Defendant.
Defendant is a nonprofit private institution that operated under the policies, procedures, rules,
and regulations set out in the Academic Catalogue and Student Handbook (the “Handbook”)
during the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15. Plaintiff was seeking a Master of Arts in
Counseling Psychology from Defendant.
In January 2015, Plaintiff attended a required Seminar course with Dr. Kristin Davisson,
an adjunct professor. A main part of the course is the Clinical Competency Examination
(“CCE”), which must be drafted in compliance with Defendant’s plagiarism policy. Davisson
believed one portion of Plaintiff’s CCE was plagiarized and ran it through a web-based program
designed to detect plagiarism, turnitin.com. The conceptualization portion was marked by
turnitin.com as 92 percent plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution, and the
entire CCE was marked as 10 percent plagiarized from other sources without proper attribution.
Davisson reported the plagiarism to Dr. Luke Mudd, Associate Department Chair, who then
mandated referral to the Student Affairs Committee (“SAC”). On March 25, 2015, Plaintiff met
with Davisson and Mudd to discuss the plagiarism accusations.
On May 12, 2015, Plaintiff had an SAC hearing in regards to the plagiarism charges. At
the hearing, Plaintiff complained about Davisson’s unprofessional breach of protocol, unfair
selective treatment, and retaliation from this litigation. On May 13, 2015, Plaintiff was notified
of the SAC’s decision to dismiss her from the program. The referral to the SAC resulted in
Plaintiff’s dismissal from Defendant.
“Motions for reconsideration serve a limited function: to correct manifest errors of law
or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v.
CBI Indus., Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996). A manifest error “is not demonstrated by
the disappointment of the losing party”; it is the “wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure
to recognize controlling precedent.” Oto v. Metropolitan Life Ins., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir.
2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A college and its students have a contractual relationship, and the terms of that
relationship are generally set forth in the school’s catalogues and bulletins. Raethz v.
Aurora Univ., 805 N.E.2d 696, 699 (Ill. App. Ct. 2004). A student has a remedy for breach of
contract when there has been an adverse academic decision only where that decision was made
arbitrarily, capriciously, or in bad faith. Id. (citing Frederick v. Northwestern University
Dental School, 617 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993)). A college or university is not liable
for exercising “its academic judgment unwisely.” Id. at 700. To constitute a breach of contract,
a dismissal must be made without any rational basis. Frederick, 617 N.E.2d at 387. A court
may not override the academic decision of a university “unless it is such a substantial departure
from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did
not actually exercise professional judgment.” Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing,
474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985).
Plaintiff alleged that the decision to dismiss her for plagiarism in her CCE was arbitrary
and capricious. Plagiarism is defined by the Handbook as:
Plagiarism is intentionally or unintentionally representing words, ideas, or data
from any source as one’s own original work. The use or reproduction of another’s
work without appropriate attribution in the form of complete, accurate, and
properly formatted citations constitutes plagiarism. Examples of plagiarism, (sic)
include but are not limited to, copying the work of another verbatim without using
quotation marks, revising the work of another by making only minor word
changes without explanation, attribution, and citation, paraphrasing the work of
another without the appropriate citation. Students are expected to produce
original work in all papers, coursework, dissertation, and other academic projects
(including case studies from internship or practicum sites) and to follow
appropriate rules governing attribution that apply to the work product.
Carelessness, or failure to properly follow appropriate rules governing source
attribution (for example, those contained in the Publication Manual of the
American Psychological Association), can be construed to be plagiarism when
multiple mistakes in formatting citations are made in the same paper. Further, a
single example of failing to use quotation marks appropriately may be considered
(DSOF ¶ 17.) All suspected plagiarism must be immediately referred to the Department
Chair/Lead Faculty or designee, who then refers it to the SAC. (Id. ¶ 18.)
Plaintiff “deduces from the Court’s opinion that it used the 10% rating on the similarity
index as conclusive evidence that the CCE was, as a matter of law, plagiarized.” (Dkt. 108,
p. 2.) This Court did not assert that “turnitin.com was the ultimate authority on determining
whether plagiarism occurred.” (Dkt. 124, p. 3.) Plaintiff states that her expert report was the
only evidence as to whether or not plagiarism occurred. However, in response to Defendant’s
Statement of Facts, Plaintiff stated: “Turnitin.com reported a plagiarism rating of 10%.
Plaintiff’s expert opines that the paper had a 3% plagiarism rating.” (DSOF, ¶ 72) (emphasis
added). In Plaintiff’s own statement of facts, she stated: “That the plagiarism score for the
entire paper was 10% on turnitin.com.” (PSOF, ¶ 9) (emphasis added). Plaintiff admitted in her
responses that these percentages were plagiarism ratings.
Plaintiff argues that a statement regarding plagiarism in a different class could lead a
reasonable jury to conclude that this 20 percent threshold was a university-wide policy. The
syllabus for the Diversity class states: “Papers that have a similarity index of 20% or higher will
automatically be referred to the Department Chair and possib[ly] to the Student Affairs
Academic Integrity Committee.” (Dkt. 96-5, p. 89.) However, the Seminar syllabus states:
“All incidents of academic dishonesty must be immediately referred to the Department Chair or
Associate Department Chair for investigation and intervention. The Student Affairs Committee
may be convened to review the student’s situation.” (Dkt. 96-14, p. 22) (emphasis added). The
Seminar syllabus defines academic dishonesty, in pertinent part, as: “Plagiarism: The use or
reproduction of another’s work without appropriate attribution. The School expects all students
to produce original work in their papers, coursework, dissertation, and other academic projects
and to follow appropriate rules governing attribution.” (Id.) Even taking reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the inclusion of a mandatory referral, based on a 20
percent similarity index, in the syllabus for a different class does not lead to an inference that the
same rule is in place across the school. Nor does it lead to the inference that the Seminar class
used the same percentage of similarity where the Seminar syllabus states all incidents of
plagiarism must be referred to the Department Chair. Plaintiff presented no other admissible
evidence that any amount of plagiarism was acceptable or that there was an unofficial policy of
allowing a certain amount of plagiarism.
Plaintiff also argues that the Court ignored her argument that the SAC did not consider
her complaints of unprofessional protocol, unfair selective treatment, and retaliation.
discussed in the summary judgment ruling, Plaintiff raised the issues of unfair selective treatment
by Davisson and retaliation from the litigation in her SAC hearing. (PSOF ¶¶ 23, 24) (“At [the
SAC] hearing, Plaintiff complained of Davisson’s unprofessional breach of protocol, unfair
selective treatment, and retaliation from instant (sic) from (sic) litigation.”) As also discussed in
the summary judgment ruling, Plaintiff presented no facts or evidence that she was singled out or
targeted in response to this lawsuit and no evidence that those arguments to the SAC were
In order to defeat summary judgment, Plaintiff had to present “material facts that
establish a genuine dispute for trial.” Schrott v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 403 F.3d 940, 944
(7th Cir. 2005). Plaintiff failed to present evidence establishing a genuine dispute for trial on the
issue of plagiarism.
Plaintiff’s Motion to Reconsider  is denied.
March 8, 2017
JOHN W. DARRAH
United States District Court Judge
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