Drobetsky v. Chicago School of Prof. Psych. (Ill. App. 2016) [1152797_R23]
There is no general cause of action for ‘plagiarism’ – it comes up most often in student and employment cases.
Drobetsky was a masters degree student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In her assigned 5-page reflection paper of the Benjamin Button movie, she apparently copied from Wikipedia and a blog post by Richard Larson. The allegations are “that a portion of one sentence in the reflection paper was copied word for word from the Wikipedia article, and portions of two other sentences were copied word for word from the Larson blog, without quotation marks, citation or attribution.”
The school dismissed Drobetsky for plagiarism in violation of school policy – she sued in Illinois state court for readmittance, recover of the $53,000 paid to the school, etc.
The trial court offered an interesting decision. On the one hand, it sided with Drobetsky that the school had breached its contract and acted in an arbitrary & capricious manner by: (1) “failing to notify plaintiff in advance of … the names of the [campus hearing committee] members so that she could properly vet them”; (2) “failing to have Dr. Adames [the professor making the allegations] present at the hearing”; (3) “failing to consider Dr. Adames’ [own] plagiarism” (he had copied portions of his syllabus from another professor without attribution); and (4) “failing to inform plaintiff of the basis for her dismissal.” Despite all these deficiencies, however, the court ruled in favor of the school because Drobetsky had failed to follow the internal appeal process and because the plaintiff had “failed to prove damages.”
On appeal, the Illinois court affirmed – but first rejected the finding that the school acted in an arbitrary & capricious manner in its hearing process. “[T]he trial court’s finding that plaintiff met her heavy burden of proving that defendant acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or in bad-faith by dismissing her without any discernible rational basis was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”