United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Dr. Sean Park, challenges Temple University's decision to
expel him from a graduate program at its School of Dentistry.
He asserts violations of his due process and equal protection
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against each of the
Defendants as well as state law claims of breach of contract
and unjust enrichment against Temple, and retaliation and
defamation against all Defendants. Before the Court is the
Defendants' motion to dismiss his Complaint.
he applied to Temple, Park practiced dentistry in California.
But, in 2013, he surrendered his California and Texas dental
licenses after being accused of - and admitting to - billing,
advertising, and documentary irregularities. He did not
disclose the surrender on his Temple application and, once he
was accepted as a student, he practiced there under a
years after Park's matriculation, when a patient reported
his license status to Temple, Defendants, Dean Amid Ismail
and Associate Dean Leona Sperazza, met with and questioned
him about it. He briefly described the situation and, a few
days later, his attorney sent a letter to Temple describing
the surrender in greater detail.
these developments, Park was cited for violating provisions
of Temple University's Student Conduct Code. Temple held
two hearings each concerning aspects of how he handled the
matter of the surrender of his licenses in his dealings with
the university. The hearing panels were made up of Temple
faculty members, including Defendants Mehran Hossaini Zadeh,
Matthew Palermo and Jeffrey Godel. Once the hearings were
complete, Dean Ismail considered the panels'
recommendations and decided to expel Park.
timely appealed the decision on the grounds that he had new
evidence to offer and that the procedure was flawed - the
only two grounds upon which appeal is permitted - but his
appeal was denied on both grounds. Here Park continues to
maintain that there were numerous procedural defects in the
hearings, the appeal, and Dean Ismail's final review and
recommendation. He also contends that Dr. Belinda
Brown-Joseph, who was in charge of making clinical
assignments, favored “United States-born white students
over foreign-born students, ” a belief he reported to
another faculty member, Dr. Wada, shortly before the
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “In light of Twombly, ‘it is no
longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of
action; instead a complaint must allege facts suggestive of
[the proscribed] conduct.'” Great W. Mining
& Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615
F.3d 159, 177 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips v. County
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process (Count One)
asserts a Section 1983 claim for violation of due process
against all Defendants. In their Motion to Dismiss, they
argue these claims must be dismissed: 1) against all
Defendants because the Complaint reveals that Park was
afforded all the process that was constitutionally required;
and, 2) against the individually named Temple employees
because they are entitled to qualified immunity.
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution guards against state deprivations of
life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
Graduate students at public universities like Temple have a
property interest in their continued education and
enrollment. See Palmer ex rel. Palmer v. Merluzzi,
868 F.2d 90 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Goss v. Lopez,
419 U.S. 565 (1975)); see also Gorman v. Univ. of Rhode
Island, 837 F.2d 7, 12 (1st Cir. 1988) (citing
Goss, 419 U.S. at 574-75). It is undisputed that
Plaintiff has alleged an interest that qualifies for due
process protections. The critical question is whether he has
alleged facts that would entitle him to more process than he
answer that question, it is necessary to distinguish between
dismissals that are for academic reasons and those that stem
from disciplinary issues. For policy reasons, academic
institutions are afforded great discretion in judging
students' academic performance. Bd. of Curators of
Univ. of Missouri v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 92 (1978).
Accordingly, “when a student is discharged for academic
reasons, an informal faculty evaluation is all that is
required.” Hankins v. Temple Univ., 829 F.2d
437, 445 (3d Cir. 1987). In contrast, disciplinary expulsions
may require educational institutions to afford students more
process. Goss, 419 U.S. at 581. Although Defendants
contend Plaintiff's dismissal was for purely academic
reasons, that conclusion is not compelled by ...