Submitted: August 14, 2014
Elizabeth C. Fillingame, Esquire Grady & Hampton, LLC
James D. Taylor, Jr., Esquire Saul Ewing LLP
Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages for due process and contractual violations resulting in her dismissal from the Nursing Program at Delaware State University. Defendants argue that they respected all of Plaintiff's constitutional and contractual rights after she violated the Nursing Program Handbook and clinical course syllabus.
Plaintiff Jordan Jenkins was a senior in the Nursing Program at Defendant Delaware State University ("DSU") in fall 2013. Dr. Marsha Horton, Dean of the College of Education, Health and Public Policy, and Dr. Carol Sando, then Chair of the Nursing Department, are also named defendants.
As part of a mandatory Community Health Nursing course, Ms. Jenkins participated in a clinical program at Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing ("Interfaith"), an off-campus homeless shelter for men. Dr. Jodi Dampeer-Moore taught the lecture portion of the class, and Dr. Yvonne Stringfield supervised the clinical portion. On October 10, 2013, Ms. Jenkins and her classmates reported to Interfaith for a clinical scheduled from 1:00-6:45 p.m. Because only one resident arrived for a head-to-toe assessment by the students, Dr. Stringfield allowed the students to leave around 2:15 p.m. with instructions to return by 4:30 p.m.
During the break, Ms. Jenkins and a number of her classmates went to Cheddar's where four students, including Ms. Jenkins,  ordered alcoholic beverages. Ms. Jenkins ordered a strawberry margarita and drank half of it. She returned to Interfaith at 4:30 p.m., made her presentation on a health topic sometime after 5:00 p.m., and left the site at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Stringfield oversaw Ms. Jenkins that afternoon and "was not aware of any violation" of the Nursing Handbook policy on substance use.
Dr. Dampeer-Moore first learned of the drinking on October 14, 2013 through a report from another student in the clinical. A second student corroborated the allegation. Dr. Dampeer-Moore discussed the allegations with Dr. Sando. On October 15, 2013, the two invited Ms. Jenkins to Dr. Dampeer-Moore's office and asked Ms. Jenkins questions about the incident. After Ms. Jenkins admitted ordering a drink, Dr. Dampeer-Moore and Dr. Sando informed Ms. Jenkins that she had violated the Nursing Department's rules, pointing specifically to the provision in the Community Health Nursing Syllabus that states, "Any student under the influence of any illegal medication or drug will automatically be dismissed from the course and program." Dr. Sando then suspended Ms. Jenkins from classes and clinical, recommending that Ms. Jenkins research the definition of "under the influence." Ms. Jenkins followed up the next day with an email attachment suggesting that her maximum blood alcohol content, assuming that she weighed 120 pounds and drank one margarita, would have been 0.03%.
During the weekend of October 19, 2013, Ms. Jenkins received a letter of expulsion from Dr. Sando, dated October 16,  which stated:
This letter provides formal notification of your dismissal from the course: NURS409 C Community Health Nursing Clinical and from the nursing program, as a result of your violation of the course syllabus rules of student conduct. As cited on page 10 [sic]: "Any student under the influence of any illegal medication or drug will automatically be dismissed from the course and program." Furthermore, sanctions for students under the influence are stipulated in the Delaware State University Department of Nursing Handbook policy governing dismissal from clinical for students who exhibit "Suspicion of/evidence of substance abuse, use, influence or intoxication" (Pre-Licensure/ Baccalaureate Degree Key Information for New and Continuing Students Fall 2012-Spring 2013, p. 32).
In addition, the letter informed Ms. Jenkins that the Nursing Department had forwarded the matter to the Student Judiciary Board for a hearing on violations of DSU's Student Code of Conduct. Dr. Sando suggested that Ms. Jenkins should choose a different major and meet with a faculty advisor to do so.
On October 21, 2013, Ms. Jenkins, her mother, and her step-father met with Dr. Stringfield, Dr. Dampeer-Moore, Dr. Sando, and Dean Horton in multiple meetings. During the first meeting with Dean Horton, Ms. Jenkins misrepresented that she thought she had ordered a virgin drink and stopped drinking once she realized it contained alcohol. Concerned that the "dismissal may have been unwarranted, " Dean Horton contacted Dr. Dampeer-Moore and Dr. Sando "immediately" to schedule a second meeting that day. Ms. Jenkins later admitted that she had lied to Dean Horton and apologized. Nonetheless, Dean Horton agreed to reconsider the dismissal at Ms. Jenkins' parents' request.Dean Horton later informed Ms. Jenkins in a letter, dated October 28, 2013, that her dismissal would be upheld.
Dean Horton explained during the course of this litigation that Ms. Jenkins was ultimately dismissed "[f]or consuming alcohol while she was on duty which contributes to unsafe nursing practice." The Nursing Department conducts a mandatory student orientation at the beginning of each school year to review "the rules and expectations of the Nursing Program." During the fall 2013 orientation, Dr. Dampeer-Moore "emphasized the Nursing Program's position that the use of alcohol or any substance (legal or not) that has the potential to impact a student's performance is strictly prohibited while the student is in, or preparing for, clinical." The Nursing Program Handbook states that "[a] nursing student may be dismissed from or not permitted to attend a clinical practice setting by nursing faculty responsible for directing the clinical learning experience" for, among other reasons, "evidence of substance abuse, use, influence or intoxication." The Nursing Program Handbook informs that "[u]nsafe nursing practice" is reason for dismissal from the Nursing Program,  and "unsafe clinical performance" is reason for ...