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ODOM v. COLUMBIA UNIV.

November 14, 1995

DENISE ODOM, Plaintiff, against COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: STEIN

 SIDNEY H. STEIN, District Judge.

 Defendants Columbia University, the Trustees of Columbia University and certain named employees of Columbia University (collectively, "Columbia") have moved to dismiss plaintiff Denise Odom's second amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In that complaint, Odom alleges the following causes of action: (1) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) deprivation of her rights pursuant to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1972 ("FERPA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g et seq.; (3) violation of the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay provision, 11 U.S.C. § 362; and (4) common law claims of defamation. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion to dismiss the second amended complaint is granted.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The following facts are based on the factual allegations in Odom's second amended complaint, which for purposes of this motion are assumed to be true. In September 1989, Odom, an African-American female, enrolled as a student at Columbia as an economics major. She maintained a satisfactory grade point average for her first two years. In September 1991, Odom registered for classes for the fall 1991 semester. She also requested Columbia's financial aid office to process her spring and fall 1991 loan applications, which had been held in abeyance because of Odom's "default status" with the New Jersey Higher Education Authority. Odom's "default status" was allegedly "removed" during the summer of 1991. (Second Amended Complaint at § V P 3(a).)

 After registering for classes, Odom completed her course requirements and final examinations. (Id. at P 3(b).) At the end of the fall 1991 semester, in December 1991, Columbia canceled Odom's registration as a student and informed her that she would have to apply for readmission in order to continue her studies. Odom was also informed for the first time that a clerk in Columbia's bursar's office had filed a "complaint" against her, and her readmission was made contingent on the complaint's resolution. (Id. at P 3(c).) Although Odom made several attempts to see the complaint or be informed of its nature, Columbia allegedly denied Odom access to that document and refused to let her challenge its contents. (Id. at P 8(b).)

 In addition, Odom alleges that she was sexually harassed during December 1991 by a department head at Columbia. (Id. at P 3(e).) Odom claims that Columbia deprived her of an opportunity to file a formal complaint with Columbia against the harasser. When Odom and her mother attempted to pursue that course of action, one of Columbia's deans "refused to speak with them, slammed down the telephone during attempted conversations. . ., and threatened [Odom] with the initiation of criminal charges and arrest. . ." (Id.)

 During that same month, Odom also allegedly made numerous written requests for copies of her official academic transcript. (Id. at P 8(a).) Columbia denied these requests because Odom owed it money. In addition, according to the second amended complaint, Columbia refused to acknowledge one of its own receipts as proof that Odom had made payment on one of her loans. Although Odom attempted to prove her lack of indebtedness for tuition, Columbia refused to permit her to do so. (Id.)

 Also, according to the complaint, Columbia accused Odom of breaking a window on campus and denied her a disciplinary hearing on the incident. Columbia then used this incident to ban Odom from campus. (Id. at P 8(c).)

 In August of 1992, Odom filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Her bankruptcy petition included a tuition debt to Columbia of $ 19,000. On February 24, 1993, Odom was released from all dischargeable debts and subsequently informed Columbia of her bankruptcy discharge. Nonetheless, Columbia allegedly continued to attempt to collect the debt from Odom and ultimately obtained a default judgment in New York state court against Odom for the tuition debt. (Id. at P 13.)

 Moreover, according to the second amended complaint, one of Columbia's deans wrote a letter to Odom, dated March 30, 1993, containing "several false, malicious and libelous statements" about a meeting between Odom and another dean and Odom's actions with regard to her fall 1991 registration. (Id. at P 16.) The letter, which accused her of "disobeying" a dean and "fraudulently inducing" an advisor to sign her registration form, was allegedly forwarded to an unnamed third party and placed in Odom's student file. (Id.) One month later, an attorney employed by Columbia wrote Odom a letter dated April 27, 1993 that "wrongfully accused [her] of making threatening calls to [Columbia] employees" (Id. at P 18) and sent the letter to Columbia's ombudsman and various unnamed other individuals. (Id. at P 19.) It was also placed in Odom's student file. (Id.)

 In December of 1993, Odom brought this action pro se, but subsequently retained counsel. That counsel, on her behalf, then filed an amended complaint. She later retained new counsel who filed the second amended complaint, seeking declaratory, injunctive and compensatory relief against Columbia for deprivations of Odom's "constitutional" rights. (Id. at § I P 1.) In that complaint, Odom alleges that Columbia maintains a discriminatory system of financial aid that "routinely grants greater amounts of financial aid to Caucasian applicants," and discriminated against her "by canceling her registration for financial reasons while not imposing that sanction on Caucasian students." (Id.) Odom alleges causes of action pursuant to: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for deprivations of "due process and equal terms and conditions as it relates to her status as a student at the university and the contractual rights and obligations relating to this status" (id. at § V P 2); (2) 20 U.S.C. § 1232g of FERPA for deprivations of "certain rights and protections as a student" (id. at P 6); (3) 11 U.S.C. § 362 of the Bankruptcy Code for Columbia's refusal "to recognize a Court issued discharge of a tuition debt as granted in a federal bankruptcy proceeding" (id. at P 12); and (4) common law defamation for the letters sent to her by Columbia (id. at PP 16-19).

 Prior to filing the second amended complaint, Odom's counsel entered into a stipulation in which Columbia agreed to accept Odom's second amended complaint and Odom agreed to waive all rights to further amend the complaint. The stipulation was "so ordered" by the Court (Patterson, J.). Shortly thereafter, Columbia moved to dismiss the second amended complaint for failure to state a claim and the parties fully briefed the issues. On the same day that Odom's attorneys submitted a memorandum of law in opposition to Columbia's motion, accompanied by an affidavit of Odom herself, Odom wrote to the Court that she had never consented to the stipulation signed by her attorney and that he had no authority to enter into that agreement. (Plaintiff's Letter to the Court dated Jan. 23, 1993.) Odom's attorney responded in a letter of the same date, writing that Odom expressly consented to the stipulation in order to reduce the costs of making a formal motion for leave to amend. (Letter of Charles M. Powell, Jr., Esq. to the Court dated Jan. 23, 1993.) Odom's attorneys subsequently withdrew from their representation of her.

 On July 10, 1995, in response to a letter by Odom, the Court informed the parties that, because defendants' motion to dismiss had been "fully briefed and submitted," it would be decided. Odom was also directed to notify the Court and ...


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