New Cases and Developments

NACUA's Legal Resources staff summarizes current higher education cases and developments and provides the full text of selected cases to members. New cases and developments are archived here for up to 12 months.  Cases provided by Fastcase, Inc.

Selected Topics: Constitutional Issues
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Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Constitutional Issues; Practice of Higher Education Law

Fordan, et al. v. San Francisco State University, et al. (N.D. Cal. November 9, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs, a married couple, brought section 1983 claims against San Francisco State University (SFSU) and SFSU faculty for allegedly violating their civil rights under California law, the Fifth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution after the wife enrolled in a master’s program at SFSU following purported faculty assurances that she would finish the program in two to three years. In the four years in which she was enrolled, she did not graduate, purportedly because her thesis supervisor and SFSU faculty placed her in a seven-year program. The court found that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by claim preclusion due to their prior state action that asserted identical claims against the same parties and resulted in a final judgment on the merits. The court further provided that Plaintiffs’ claims against SFSU fail because SFSU is not a “person” within the meaning of section 1983 and the President of SFSU could not be held liable under a respondeat superior theory because she was not personally involved in the matter, nor did she breach a duty that was the proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ injuries. 

Equal Protection; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Constitutional Issues

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education, et al. (D. Md. Nov. 8, 2017)

Order appointing a Special Master to develop a Remedial Plan. Plaintiff is a coalition of prospective students, current students, and alumni of Maryland’s historically black institutions (HBIs) that successfully showed violations of Title VI and the Equal Protection Clause by the State of Maryland, specifically that “unnecessary program duplication within Maryland’s system of higher education continues to have segregative effects for which the State has no sound educational justification.” Presently before the court were remedial plans proposed by both parties. In reviewing the proposed remedies under the legal framework of United States v. Fordice, the court determined that neither party’s proposed remedies were “sufficiently practicable, educationally sound, and likely to achieve the greatest possible reduction in segregative effects to justify an order of their imposition.”  While concluding that unique, high-demand programs would reduce the segregative effects of unnecessary program duplication, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ proposal to transfer unique programs from TWIs to HBIs, finding that the proposal would negatively impact student recruitment and faculty retention at TWIs, threaten institutional accreditation, and harm institutions’ reputations. The court will appoint a Special Master to develop and monitor a remedial plan to include the creation of new, high-demand programs at HBIs and provide HBIs with funding for student recruitment, financial aid, marketing, and related initiatives.

Retaliation; First Amendment & Free Speech; Faculty & Staff; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Marmarchi v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, et al. (7th Cir. Nov. 7, 2017)

Order affirming Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois (UI), brought claims against UI, his advisor, and various other UI employees under the First Amendment, due process clause, a number of employment discrimination laws, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when he was removed from the doctoral program, purportedly for telling an Associate Dean that he intended to file a “whistleblower complaint” about “fraud by [the] faculties.” The court found that Plaintiff’s alleged facts for his First Amendment retaliation claim were insufficient because he did not specify what he said to the Associate Dean and without more, the court could not determine if Plaintiff had engaged in protected speech. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s due process claim because Plaintiff did not provide the contract terms that UI violated and further, the process Plaintiff sought under UI’s handbook was discretionary. The court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s other claims because Plaintiff failed to develop them on appeal. 

Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Cooper v. Benavides, et al. (E.D. Tex. Nov. 2, 2017)

Memorandum adopting in part the Report and Recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff, an adjunct faculty member at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), brought claims against the President and administrative staff of TWU, both in their official and individual capacities, for procedural and substantive due process violations, governmental taking without just compensation, breach of contract, and conversion, following Plaintiff’s termination.  Applying the “stigma plus infringement test” for alleging procedural due process violations of a protected liberty interest, the court found that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the Defendants “made public” stigmatizing allegations underlying her termination, and Plaintiff was denied a name-clearing hearing to restore her damaged reputation. The court allowed Plaintiff to clarify the conduct of Individual Defendants and respond to Defendants’ argument regarding qualified immunity for this claim and Plaintiff’s governmental takings claim. However, the court found that Plaintiff’s procedural and substantive due process claims based on her property interest in future employment failed because Plaintiff did not have a continued expectation of employment at TWU due to her part-time, non-tenure-track, at-will employment contract.

Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Martinez v. Maricopa County Community College District (D. Ariz. Oct. 31, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an instructor at Phoenix College in Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), alleged that MCCCD deprived her of due process when the President of Phoenix College suspended her for refusing a direct command to refund students she had charged for course materials, an act that the MCCCD Hearing Committee determined was insubordination. The court found that Plaintiff had a property interest in her continued employment at MCCCD because she was an appointive or tenured-in-fact faculty member. However, the court found that Plaintiff was afforded due process to satisfy constitutional standards because MCCC’s “elaborate procedure richly satisfied federal constitutional standards.”

Retaliation; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues; Faculty & Staff

Tracy v. Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees, et al. (S.D. Fla. Oct. 31, 2017)

Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), alleged that FAU terminated him in retaliation for writing blog posts that suggested the Sandy Hook shooting never occurred. Defendants contend that Plaintiff was terminated for failure to adhere to FAU’s Conflicts of Interest Policy—which was included in the parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreement—by repeatedly refusing to disclose “outside activity” that could potentially create a conflict of interest for the University and its faculty members. The court found that questions of whether Plaintiff’s speech was constitutionally-protected and whether Defendants’ administration of the Policy was pretextual, presented material facts that could proceed to a jury. However, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s facial and as-applied constitutional challenge to the Conflicts of Interest Policy, because “contractual provision[s] [cannot] be challenged as unconstitutionally vague in the same manner as positive law.”  The court also awarded judgment to the Defendant on Plaintiff’s civil rights, conspiracy, and breach of contract claims; dismissed the action against FAU’s President because he did not directly participate in Plaintiff’s termination; and dismissed the action against the remaining Individual Defendants under qualified immunity. 

Employee Discipline; First Amendment & Free Speech; Due Process; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues

Board of Trustees of Purdue University, et al. v. Eisenstein (Ind. App. Oct. 30, 2017)

Decision affirming the denial of Appellee’s Motion for Summary Judgment and reversing the denial of Appellant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Appellee, a Purdue University professor, challenged the University’s Policy and Procedures on free speech and due process under sections 1983 and 1985 of the Civil Rights Act after he received a reprimand for retaliating against an individual who filed a complaint against Appellee for repeated anti-Muslim statements in class, on his Facebook page, and on his personal blog. The court found that the Eleventh Amendment protected Purdue University and Appellants in their official capacities from claims brought under sections 1983 and 1985 because Plaintiff did not seek prospective relief.  The court also awarded judgment to Appellants in their individual capacities, concluding that an absolute privilege under Indiana law, that protected statements made in the course of quasi-judicial proceedings, shielded the Appellants from liability. Turning to Appellee’s state law claims, the court found that Appellee did not allege sufficient facts to support his tort claims, and Appellee’s contract claim could not proceed because the Faculty and Staff Handbook on which he based his argument was not part of his employment contract. 

Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Walker v. University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (Ohio Ct. Ct. September 29, 2017)

Decision granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a medical student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sued the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (UCCM) for breach of contract, due process violations under section 1983, negligence, negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and breach of fiduciary duty after UCCM dismissed him for failure to earn required credits to continue his enrollment. The court rejected all of Plaintiff’s claims by way of the following findings: Defendants exercised professional judgment in their decision to dismiss Plaintiff, illustrated by their adherence to Promotion Board guidelines and consideration of Plaintiff’s medical condition, and therefore did not breach of any contract; the court lacked jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff’s section 1983 claim; Plaintiff’s pure economic loss, in the absence of personal injury or property damage, could not support a negligence claim; Plaintiff’s negligent supervision claim only cited conclusory allegations; actions taken by Defendants could not be construed as “extreme our outrageous” to support Plaintiff’s IIED claim; and the parties’ relationship was purely contractual and therefore carried no fiduciary duties.