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Johnson v. Temple University of Commonwealth System of Higher Education

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 19, 2013

TYLER JOHNSON
v.
TEMPLE UNIVERSITY OF THE COMMONWEALTH SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION, ET AL.

MEMORANDUM

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendants Temple University - Of The Commonwealth System of Higher Education and Professor Richard Greenstein's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 19.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on December 9, 2011. (Compl., Notice of Removal Ex. A., ECF No. 1.) On January 31, 2012, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal and removed the action in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. (Notice of Removal.) On December 24, 2012, Defendants jointly filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. (Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 19; Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 19.) That same day, Defendants separately filed a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. (Defs.' Statement of Facts, ECF No. 20.) On January 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Motion. (Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 21.) Defendants filed a Reply on January 18, 2013. (Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 22.)

In this lawsuit, Plaintiff Tyler Johnson brings three claims against Defendant Temple University - Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education ("Temple") and one claim against Defendant Professor Richard Greenstein ("Greenstein"). Plaintiff alleges that Temple violated his due process rights (Count I), breached its contractual obligations (Count II), and was unjustly enriched (Count III). ( See Compl. ¶¶ 12-19.) Plaintiff further alleges that Greenstein violated his civil rights. ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.)

B. Factual History[1]

At all relevant times, Plaintiff was an adult student at Temple. (Pl.'s Resp. 4.) Temple is an educational institution located at 3307 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19140. ( Id. ) Greenstein is a professor at Temple. ( Id. )

1. The Code

Temple's Student Code of Conduct ("Code"), promulgated on January 1, 2004, governs student conduct at Temple. (Code, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5.) The Code provides: "[t]o fulfill its functions of promoting and disseminating knowledge, the university has authority and responsibility for maintaining order and for taking appropriate action, including, without limitation, exclusion of those who disrupt the educational process." ( Id. at 1.) Article I of the Code defines the key actors and entities involved in the adjudication of alleged violations of the Code. ( Id. at 2-4.) Article III.C of the Code prohibits "Intimidation" and "Sexual Assault." ( Id. at 6.) That same provision of the Code references the University Policy on Sexual Assault, which outlines potential sanctions for violations of the policy "subjecting the perpetrator to disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion from the University." (University Policy on Sexual Assault 4, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6.)

Article IV of the Code outlines the Student Conduct Code Procedures, which govern the process for alleged Code violations. (Code 9-17.) The Code describes a Pre-Hearing Meeting, the Student Conduct Board Hearings ("Hearings"), and the Appeals process. ( Id. ) The University Code Administrator ("Code Administrator") oversees Temple's disciplinary system. ( Id. at 3-4.) When there is an allegation of a Code violation, the Code Administrator determines whether to charge the student. ( Id. at 9.) If the student is charged, the Code Administrator is then responsible for notifying the student of the specific charges, the identity of any witnesses, and a description of any physical or documentary evidence filed along with the charges. ( Id. at 9-10.) The student charged with violating the Code then meets with the Code Administrator at a Pre-Hearing Meeting, which is an informal and non-adversarial meeting at which the charges, the incident, the hearing procedures, and possible sanctions are discussed. ( Id. at 10.) If the student does not accept responsibility for the charges, the Code Administrator determines the appropriate hearing process. ( Id. )

Hearings are non-adversarial proceedings conducted by an administrative fact-finding panel ("SCB Panel"), at which the rules of evidence, burdens of proof, and other judicial standards do not apply. ( Id. at 10-12.) Determinations of whether a student has violated a Code provision are made based on whether the SCB Panel finds that it is more likely than not that a violation occurred. ( Id. at 11.) At the Hearing, the accused student may offer testimony, witnesses, and other evidence. ( Id. ) The student may request that the Code Administrator's Office secure witnesses for the Hearing. ( Id. ) An accused student may pose questions to a witness through the presiding Chairperson of the SCB Panel. ( Id. ) The student need not provide testimony and the SCB Panel may not draw any inference from the student's failure to testify. ( Id. ) Throughout the process, an accused student may have an advisor or attorney assist them in preparing for the Hearing. ( Id. ) An advisor or attorney may also be present at the hearing, although they may not ask questions of witnesses or address the SCB Panel. ( Id. )

If, at the conclusion of the Hearing, the SCB Panel determines that it is more likely than not that the accused student violated the Code, the Panel recommends sanctions to the Code Administrator who then imposes such sanctions. ( Id. at 12-13.) A student may appeal the decision reached by the SCB Panel or the sanctions imposed by the Code Administrator to an Appellate Board. ( Id. at 16.)

2. Initial Report and Communication of Charges

On November 17, 2010, J.P., a Temple student, reported an assault to Detective Melanie Haworth, a member of the Temple Campus Safety Services ("Campus Safety"). (Investigation Interview Records, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1.)[2] J.P. described an incident that occurred on November 12, 2010 involving J.P., Plaintiff, and another student, M.E. (Investigation Interview Record 1-2.) Campus Safety referred the matter to Temple's Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. (Student Conduct Referral, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 4.)

As a result of J.P.'s report, on December 13, 2010, Brian Foley, Program Coordinator at Temple, sent an e-mail to Plaintiff informing him that he had been charged with violating the Code. ( See Dec. 13, 2010 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 7.) The Charge related to the November 12, 2010 incident, where Plaintiff allegedly violated Article IV.D.3 (Intimidation or Assault) and Article IV.D.4 (Assault) of the Code. ( Id. ) Foley's e-mail set forth the aforementioned charges, included a summary of J.P.'s account of the events, and informed Plaintiff that he was to schedule a Pre-Hearing Meeting, which would provide him with an opportunity to discuss the case and allow him to ask any questions that he might have about the proceedings. ( Id. at 2.) The e-mail also informed Plaintiff that he could have an advisor present throughout the disciplinary process and encouraged Plaintiff to read the Code prior to the Pre-Hearing Meeting. ( Id. ) The e-mail included a link to the Code and a separate link to Temple's University Policy on Sexual Assault. ( Id. )

Either right before, or soon after, Temple's holiday break in December of 2010, Plaintiff had his Pre-Hearing Meeting with Foley. (Johnson Dep. 150, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 3.) At that meeting, Foley explained the charges pending against Plaintiff, J.P.'s factual allegations, and the possible sanctions Plaintiff could receive. ( Id. at 84-87.) Foley told Plaintiff that the most common sanction would be a suspension or probation. ( Id. at 86.) Foley explained to Plaintiff how the process would play out. ( Id. at 85.)

On January 14, 2011, Foley contacted Plaintiff by e-mail to inform him that the date for his Hearing had been set for January 21, 2011, that Professor Richard Greenstein would Chair the Hearing, that witnesses would include J.P. and Campus Safety Services Officer/Detective(s), and that the Incident Report and Incident Referral Summary would be introduced at the Hearing. (Jan. 14, 2011 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 8.) Foley's e-mail noted that "[t]he documents are available for review by you and your advisor at the Office of Student Conduct...." ( Id. ) Five days later, Foley contacted Plaintiff to inform him that the Hearing was postponed. (Jan. 19, 2011 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 9.) Foley informed Plaintiff that he would be notified when additional documentation would be ready for review. ( Id. )

On or around January 21, 2011, Campus Safety Detective Melanie Haworth contacted Plaintiff to discuss the incident. (Investigation Interview Records 6.) During the ensuing interview, Plaintiff acknowledged that he was present when the incident occurred, but said that he had his own version of events, which he declined to provide at that time. ( Id. at 120-21.) That same day, Foley informed Plaintiff by e-mail that the Hearing would take place on January 28, 2011. (Jan. 21, 2011 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10.) Once again, Foley attached information pertaining to the witnesses and documents that would be offered at the Hearing. ( Id. ) The attachment to the January 21, 2011 E-mail referenced an additional set of documents-Temple University's Police Department Incident Report Packet-which contained the interview records of J.P., Plaintiff, and M.E. ( Id. ) On January 26, 2011, Foley sent an e-mail to Plaintiff reminding him that the Hearing was scheduled for January 28, 2011, and attached the same information with regard to the witnesses and records to be introduced at the Hearing. (Jan. 26, 2011 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 11.)

Later that day, Foley contacted Plaintiff by e-mail to inform him that his Hearing had once again been postponed and was rescheduled for January 31, 2011. (January 26, 2011 P.M. E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 12.) In the attachment to the e-mail, Foley provided notice of the witnesses and documents to be introduced, adding that N.S., a student at Temple, and Lt. Edward Woltemate of Campus Safety Services, would provide testimony at the Hearing. ( Id. )[3] On January 28, 2011, Foley e-mailed Plaintiff to confirm the Hearing time for Monday, January 31, 2011. (January 28, 2011 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13.) As with the prior e-mails, Foley attached a document indicating the witnesses and documents to be admitted at the Hearing. ( Id. )

Between the date of the Charge Notice, December 13, 2010, and the date of the Hearing, January 31, 2010, Foley met with Plaintiff five to eight times. (Johnson Dep. 81.) The meetings were brief - approximately fifteen minutes. ( Id. at 355-56.) During each meeting, Plaintiff received more information from Foley. ( Id. at 85.) Foley reviewed the Police Incident Report and Incident Referral Summary with Plaintiff. ( Id. at 107.) Plaintiff repeatedly asked Foley if he needed an attorney and Foley replied that he did not.

Plaintiff informed his parents about the Hearing on January 27, 2011, just four days before it was to take place. (Johnson Dep. 234; Thomas Johnson Affidavit, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 14.) Plaintiff's father, Thomas Johnson, immediately contacted Plaintiff's football recruiter, Ed Foley. ( Id. ) Johnson asked Ed Foley if Plaintiff needed an attorney. ( Id. ) Ed Foley said that the Hearing was informal and that Plaintiff did not need an attorney. ( Id. ) On the day of the Hearing, Johnson again asked Ed Foley if Plaintiff needed an attorney and Foley responded that there would be some disciplinary action, but that it was "nothing to worry about." ( Id. ; Thomas Johnson Dep. 28, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 15.) No one told Plaintiff or his father that they could not retain a lawyer. (Thomas Johnson Dep. 28.) Neither Plaintiff nor his father asked for a postponement of the Hearing. (Johnson Dep. 235.)

3. Hearing

The Hearing took place on January 31, 2011 before Greenstein, Rodney Prad (Resident Director), Carey Seymore (Resident Director), Eileen Weinberg (Assistant Director for Graduate Services), and John Detwiler (Temple student). (Hr'g Tr. 1, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 18; Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶ 45.) On the morning of January 31, prior to the hearing, Plaintiff and his father reviewed the documents that were to be introduced at the Hearing. (Johnson Dep. 152-55; Thomas Johnson Affidavit.) After Thomas Johnson reviewed the Complaint, he asked Brian Foley, the Code Administrator for the Hearing, if Plaintiff needed a lawyer, and Foley replied that he did ...


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