The University is seeking to dismiss a number of claims, as well as the inclusion of former University President Shirley Tilghman as a defendant, in response to a lawsuit filed by a student in March, according to new court papers submitted last week.
The student alleged in his complaint filed in federal court that he was discriminated against by University administrators and forced to withdraw from Princeton following a suicide attempt. The student, who is using the pseudonym “W. P.,” in the suit, is representing himself in this case.
This is the first formal response submitted by the University and comes only weeks after it hired Saiber LLC to represent it in the case. The firm has represented the University in the past. Furthermore, the University is also seeking representation from D.C.-based firm Arent Fox LLP, whose lawyers are not currently licensed to practice in New Jersey.
The student’s complaint listed 10 causes of action, including violations of components of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff can either submit a response challenging the motion or amend the complaint. In an interview, the student said he plans to amend the complaint, which he expects to file next week.
William Maderer, the head counsel for the University, deferred comment to the University’s Office ofCommunications, which does not comment on pending litigation.
The motion filed by the University seeks to address and partially dismiss six of the 10 counts. Furthermore, the defense seeks to remove Tilghman from the list of defendants, to limit the individual liability of some administrators in some claims and to remove all defendants’ liability in three claims, including allegations of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“The core of this dispute can be simply stated: Princeton University refused to gamble with W.P.’s life,” the motion reads. “Plaintiff’s entire Complaint is groundless, as Princeton and the Named Individual Defendants will, in due course, demonstrate.”
In the case of Tilghman, the University’s argument for dismissal is that W.P.’s claims are speculative and insufficient to raise them above the factual level. In other words, that the plaintiff is unable to show that Tilghman played a role in his case.
In the case of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the alleged conduct of the University officials would not have been “extreme or outrageous” enough to meet the court’s standards, the motion argues. The student had alleged in the complaint that he had “experienced extreme embarrassment, continuing stress and mental anguish, as well as out-of-pocket expenses, foregone wages, and reputational injury.”
However, the University’s motion argues that even if W. P.’s claims were true, “such conduct, if it even occurred, falls far short of [the] high bar the courts have set for intentional infliction claims.”
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In addition, the motion seeks to dismiss claims that involve the Rehabilitation Act and American with Disabilities Act. In removing them, the motion argues that while the institution receives federal financial assistance — and as a result is liable for violations — the individuals cited in the case do not.
The motion also seeks to dismiss the plaintiff’s allegations of fraud against the University, former Counseling and Psychological Services employee Dr. Anita McLean and University Health Services Executive Director John Kolligian. The student had alleged that both McLean and Kolligian had led him to believe that certain meetings were confidential but, the University’s motion argues, fails to specify exactly what statements led him to believe that.
Finally, the motion seeks to dismiss claims of breach of contract, alleging that the student has failed to prove that there was a contract in place to start with. The motion also seeks dismissal of the student’s good faith and fair dealings claims, arguing that “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities,” which the student claimed as a contract with the University, is only “intended to provide a concise reference and guide,” and not an implied contract.
Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney with Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, said that often a motion to dismiss a cause of action can be motivated by a desire to limit the scope of the discovery process. Miltenberg recently filed a lawsuit against Columbia alleging that a sexual assault investigation had discriminated against a male student.
“Getting some of the causes of action thrown out necessarily limits the amount of investigation that the plaintiff can do,” Miltenberg said. “All of the things that the plaintiff could want will be limited to those that are on these four causes of action.”
The motion itself also argues that granting the motion to dismiss will “enable the parties and the Court to conserve resources and narrow discovery.”
In addition, Miltenberg said, filing a motion to dismiss for only some of the causes of action means the University may only be trying to strike down those claims which obviously lack legal connections in an attempt to preserve credibility rather than dismiss the entire case.
Miltenberg said he believes that the student will be able to move forward with either the contract claim, or good faith and the fair dealing claim, as those are contractual and quasi-contractual claims which are mutually exclusive.
The alternative to filing a motion to dismiss a cause of action is answering to the cause of action, which the University is electing to do for the causes which are listed in the complaint but not in the motion to dismiss. In order to answer a cause of action that has not been dismissed, both the plaintiff and defendant will undergo a discovery process, during which each side can obtain the others’ pertinent records, find witnesses and depose each other under oath.
If, by the end of this process, the defendants feel there is insufficient evidence to prove the student's claims, they can file a motion for summary judgment, in which a judge would decide to either fully or partially resolve the causes of action.
Otherwise, if there are any material facts in dispute, the causes will move forward to trial in front of a jury.
The motion will be heard in front of Judge Joel A. Pisano at the U.S. Courthouse in Trenton on Nov. 3 at 10 a.m.