Emotional distress and due process claims dismissed from woman's ADA suit against Harcum College

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 5, 2016

Harcum College  

PHILADELPHIA -- A federal court has dismissed a woman’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of due process from her lawsuit alleging a college violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Judge Michael M. Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania decided Monday that Mary Castellucci would not be able to argue the aforementioned charges relating to emotional distress and due process violation in her litigation against Harcum College in Bryn Mawr.

Castellucci began her education at Harcum’s Veterinary Technology program in the fall of 2014, and notified Harcum’s administration she was a student with a disability on Aug. 28 of that year. Per her complaint, Castellucci provided Harcum with a letter from her psychiatrist, Dr. Solange Margery, “documenting her symptoms, required treatment, and indicating the impact her psychological disability would have on her academic performance.”

In the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters, Castellucci was alternately provided certain accommodations associated with her condition, such as “short breaks,” “excused absences,” “time-and-a-half” and a “quiet area.”

On Feb. 12, 2015, Castellucci attended a meeting with staff members Julia Ingersoll, Kathy Koar, Dr. Richard Cooper, Alicia Preston and Koyuki Kip to discuss Harcum “staff concerns.” In this meeting, Castellucci says she discussed with the foregoing staff her frequent absences and difficulty remaining in the classroom for the entire class period.

On March 2, 2015, Castellucci received a letter acknowledging her anxiety problems and inviting her to explore programs at Harcum apart from the Veterinary Technology program.

The following summer, Castellucci participated in an internship at Red Bank and advised her supervisor Janet McConnell of her disability and need to take frequent breaks, which Castellucci averred she was told would not be an issue.

During a later meeting on Sept. 2, 2015, Castellucci met with Koar and other members of the Harcum staff, but none of the staff present included representatives from Harcum’s student disability services.

At the September meeting, Castellucci says received “negative feedback” about her internship at Red Bank because of her accommodations and need for breaks, and that these accommodations prohibited her from completing the Veterinary Technology program. Castellucci says she was then advised to withdraw from the program.

Castellucci claims for approximately one week after the September meeting, she suffered extreme anxiety, was unable to attend classes and ultimately withdrew from the Veterinary Technology program.

Castellucci filed a five-count complaint against Harcum College, alleging violations of Section 506 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; violation of the ADA; breach of contract; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and violation of “due process.”

Harcum moved to dismiss the final two counts for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of “due process.”

“Castellucci alleges she suffered ‘severe emotional damage’ due to Harcum holding a meeting during which its agents ‘acted outrageously by bombarding an emotionally fragile individual,’” Baylson said. “These allegations fail to amount to conduct that ‘goes beyond all bounds of decency’ such that it is ‘utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”

Baylson added Castellucci “failed to allege that she suffered from any physical injury as a result of the outrageous conduct,” which led the court to dismiss the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, with leave for Castellucci to re-plead.

The court also disagreed with Castellucci as to the acuity of the due process claim.

“Harcum has challenged Castellucci’s claim on the basis that Harcum, as a private institution, cannot satisfy the requirement under Section 1983 that the defendant be a state actor. The Court agrees,” the judge wrote. 

“Castellucci… in fact admits that this claim is for ‘the procedural violations of the breach and the breach of implied duties of defendant agents,’” Baylson stated. “This position implicitly recognizes that the relationship between Castellucci and Harcum is of a contractual nature. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Castellucci’s claim for violation of due process with prejudice.

“For the foregoing reasons, the Court dismisses Castellucci’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress without prejudice, and violation of due process with prejudice.”

The plaintiff is represented by Joseph W. Montgomery II and Zachary A. Meinen of Montgomery Law in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Patricia Fecile-Moreland of Marks O’Neill O’Brien Doherty & Kelly, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-00073

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com.

More News

The Record Network