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Ogindo v. DeFleur

January 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY Senior United States District Judge


Plaintiff Charles Ogindo commenced the instant action against Defendants Lois DeFleur, John Eisch, David Doetschman, Alistair Lees, and Wayne Jones, Jr., asserting claims of a violation of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, violation of his constitutional rights to equal protection under the law and due process of law, copyright infringement, patent infringement, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and fraud, arising out of his discharge from the Binghamton University Chemistry Department doctoral program and dismissal from Binghamton University. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 seeking judgment in his favor as a matter of law and Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the Amended Complaint in its entirety.

I. FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff is black and a citizen of Kenya. Commencing in 2002, Plaintiff was a graduate student in the Binghamton University Department of Chemistry. Defendant John Eisch ("Eisch") is a distinguished professor of chemistry at Binghamton University (the "University") and was, at times relevant hereto, Plaintiff's advisor. Defendant David Doetschman ("Doetschman") is a professor of chemistry at Binghamton University and, as is relevant hereto, served as the chair of the Chemistry Department. Defendant Alistair Lees ("Lees") also is a professor of chemistry at Binghamton University who served as chair of the Chemistry Department. Defendant Wayne Jones, Jr. ("Jones") is a professor of chemistry at Binghamton University and served as the Director of the Binghamton University Chemistry Department's Graduate Program Committee ("GPC").

Plaintiff entered the Binghamton University Chemistry Department graduate program in January 2002. In December 2002, Plaintiff joined Eisch's group for doctoral dissertation research. While at the University, Plaintiff was awarded a Clark Fellowship (the "Fellowship") in September 2002. The Fellowship provided him with full tuition and a stipend. Subject to certain limitations, the Fellowship was guaranteed through December 2006. In May 2004, Plaintiff was admitted to candidacy for a doctoral degree.

Plaintiff alleges that:

On or about [the] middle of April 2005, Plaintiff completed doctoral research proposals and presented to Eisch by presentation of data, a proposed experiment which would be a route to the Grubbs catalyst.*fn2 Defendant Eisch would not allow Ogindo to perform this experiment, and shortly [thereafter], removed plaintiff from the project despite Ogindo's protests and pleas, and gave Ogindo a different project to reproduce forged work of Dutta and Eisch that purported that benzylic hydrogen could be activated and the carbon carbon bonds cleaved with procedures in Dutta's dissertation.

Pl.'s Rule 7.1(a)(3) Stmnt. at ¶ 13. Defendants deny that Eisch instructed, encouraged or suggested that Plaintiff forge data. In December 2005, Eisch requested that Plaintiff leave Eisch's laboratory due to purported poor performance. Upon Plaintiff's request, Eisch placed Plaintiff on probationary status and gave Plaintiff another chance provided he agreed to work closely with an experienced, former student.

In or about January 2006, Plaintiff sought to take a teaching position at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Plaintiff needed Eisch's permission to take the job. Eisch declined to provide permission to Plaintiff. Eisch reasonsed that "[s]ince under your Clark Fellowship you are working full-time at SUNY, you have no possibility of taking on a part-time position elsewhere that would make any demands on the full-time position that you had accepted in good faith for the present academic year." Pl.'s Ex. at p. 60. Eisch further concluded that the part time teaching position was not acceptable because Plaintiff's doctoral research performance had been unacceptable for a period of six months and Plaintiff previously expressed concern that teaching responsibilities were negatively affecting his progress on his doctoral research. Id. at p. 61.

On January 31, 2006, after spending time working with the experienced, former student, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Eisch asking that his probationary status be "repealed."

Plaintiff maintained that his probationary status should be repealed because his initial research efforts were correct. Citing various reasons why the probationary status was imposed, Eisch denied Plaintiff's request. Eisch informed Plaintiff that "[a]s I informed you, your Research Report No. 29 was very good and much improved. If you can continue such superior performance, you should be able to be restored to regular status in my laboratory." Id. at 65.

In July 2006, Eisch determined to terminate Plaintiff's participation in Eisch's research program and "vacate" his role as Plaintiff's research advisor. Id. at 82. In his letter, Eisch cited various reasons concerning Plaintiff's performance. Eisch instructed Plaintiff to "immediately cease any further laboratory experiments in any of my laboratories." Id. Eisch recommended that Plaintiff use his work to draft a thesis in support of a master of science degree.

Plaintiff then wrote to Jones rebutting the statements in Eisch's termination letter. Plaintiff requested Jones's assistance in obtaining copies of his laboratory notebooks from Eisch, obtaining a new advisor, and "reconstituting my committee for my doctoral dissertation defense this coming fall." Id. at p. 88. On July 31, 2006, Plaintiff received copies of his laboratory notebooks.

On several occasions, Plaintiff submitted manuscripts to certain journals for publication. The manuscripts were based on work Defendant performed in Eisch's laboratory. The manuscripts listed Plaintiff as sole author. The journals contacted Eisch to ascertain whether he was aware of the submissions. Eisch responded that we was not. The journals declined to publish the articles. Eisch filed a complaint against Plaintiff for submitting the manuscripts without his knowledge or permission. The GPC reviewed Eisch's complaint and concluded that "Mr. Ogindo on three instances submitted work for publication or presentation without Professor Eisch's knowledge or consent. The GPC believes these acts constitute serious professional and ethical transgressions." Def.'s Ex. LLL. The Committee recommended that Plaintiff be dismissed from the Ph.D. program. The Chemistry Department faculty reviewed the GPC's recommendation and voted to table the recommendation that Plaintiff be dismissed.

The GPC worked out a proposed resolution to Plaintiff's grievance concerning his participation in the doctoral program whereby there would be an independent evaluation of Plaintiff's dissertation. According to the proposed plan:

The first evaluation would be made by a committee of Department faculty. If this committee finds that the research has some merit as a PhD dissertation, the [GPC] would seek evaluation by an outside chemist specializing in the dissertation research. If the outside evaluator sees merit as a PhD dissertation, Ogindo would defend the dissertation. If the outside evaluator sees no merit as a PhD dissertation, or the internal committee decides it lacks merit for an external evaluator, Ogindo would be offered the possibility of writing and defending an MS thesis, or of accepting an MA.

Plaintiff agreed to the plan and withdrew his grievance, but attempted to reserve the right to reinstate it.

In September 2006, Plaintiff requested that his dissertation committee be "reconstituted." In November 2006, Plaintiff submitted an initial draft of his dissertation. On December 8, 2006, the Dissertation Committee concluded that the dissertation was not yet ready for filing ...

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