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Carroll v. Anders

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 8, 2019

ARTIS C. CARROLL, JR.
v.
PETER ANDERS

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         An African-American man released from state prison laudably sought to complete his education at the state university he attended for over three years before prison. Before prison, the university suspended him for academic reasons and later barred him from being on campus under a "no-trespass" notice. Life regressed and he then served time in prison for parole violations. He thought the university would allow him to finish his education following prison. Upon prison release, he wrote to the county public defender in June 2017 seeking assistance and distinguishing his conduct from publicized mass shootings. The public defender informed the university's police chief who viewed the letter as threatening campus safety. The man claims his letter is not a threat. The university's police chief issued a renewed "no-trespass" notice in July 2017 barring the man from campus for two more years.

         The man now sues the university's police chief for depriving him of required due process in July 2017, for equal protection violations, and for equitable relief. The police chief moves to dismiss arguing he provided required due process, or he is otherwise entitled to qualified immunity as it is unclear the level of due process required for this man as an alleged aspiring student. We grant the motion dismissing the equal protection and equitable claims. But on this preliminary review, we cannot dismiss the due process claim until reviewing evidence of the man's property interests when the university police chief barred him from campus.

         I. Pro se alleged facts and public record.[1]

         Millersville University Respiratory Therapy Program dismissed African American student Artis C. Carroll, Jr. in December 2014 for receiving a poor grade.[2]

         Mr. Carroll challenges a suspension for a poor grade.

         Mr. Carroll claims a University official told him he received a poor grade because of race discrimination, and in March 2015, submitted documents correcting the grade to the University's registrar.[3] Mr. Carroll went to the registrar's office seeking the documents.[4] When asked to leave he refused, and office staff called University Police.[5] Mr. Carroll alleges the University asked him to leave the registrar's office "for racial reasons."[6] University Police arrested Mr. Carroll and issued him a summary citation for defiant trespass.[7] The Police later withdrew the citation.[8]

         On March 27, 2015, the University placed Mr. Carroll on an interim suspension because of the incident at the registrar's office.[9] In April 2015, the University also issued a "No Trespass Letter" in response to the incident at the registrar's officer and provided Mr. Carroll with a hearing date ("April 2015 No Trespass Letter").[10] Mr. Carroll alleged the April 2015 No Trespass Letter required him to immediately leave campus without return until an adjudication of "charges" or risk prosecution for a misdemeanor defiant trespass charge.[11]

         Mr. Carroll alleges he denied the charges, demanded to know the basis of the charges, but the University denied him this information, and a University police officer escorted him off campus.[12] Mr. Carroll demanded a hearing before the imposition of any sanctions but the University denied him a hearing despite the notice of a hearing in the "No Trespass Letter."[13]

         Mr. Carroll nevertheless returned to campus in a self-described "peaceful protest of the unlawful suspension."[14] University Police again arrested him on March 27 and 31, 2015, charging him with defiant trespass.[15] While these charges pended in state court, the University suspended Mr. Carroll until spring 2016.

         Mr. Carroll is in jail while suspended as a student.

         A state court judge found Mr. Carroll not guilty of defiant trespass on March 27, 2015 but guilty of defiant trespass on March 31, 2015.[16] The state court sentenced Mr. Carroll to a term of twelve months incarceration but immediately paroled him due to time served awaiting trial.[17] A state court found Mr. Carroll violated his parole on three occasions in January, March, and July 2016, ultimately revoking his parole and remanding him to county jail on July 12, 2016 to serve the balance of his unexpired term.[18] The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Mr. Carroll's conviction and denied his appeal of the revocation of parole.[19]

         Police arrested Mr. Carroll on another parole violation in late April or early May 2017, and on June 22, 2017, the state court found Mr. Carroll again violated his parole.[20] The state court sentenced Mr. Carroll, subsequently revoking the sentence.[21] Because of his parole violations, Mr. Carroll's suspension from the University extended to late June 2017 when, he alleges, a "violation hearing" and the completion of his sentence allowed him to return to the University in fall 2017.[22]

         Mr. Carroll writes to the county public defender seeking help in returning to the University.

         On May 25, 2017, Mr. Carroll filled out a "General Purpose Request Form" to the Lancaster County Public Defender's office requesting it "get the No Contact Order lifted so I can graduate from [the University]."[23] Mr. Carroll expressed his intention to return to the University the "second week of August 2017 ... with a body cam and demand records, demand enrollment, and everything else. I'm demanding a jury trial if charged with anything and I will be acquitted."[24]Just weeks out of prison, he closed his request with "F*** Colibine [sic], F*** Virginia Tech, F*** Sandy Hook, that has nothing to do with this case."[25]

         University Police Chief Anders bars Mr. Carroll from campus for two years.

         The Public Defender's office informed University Chief of Police Peter Anders of the May 25, 2017 letter. Alleging the University had no reason other than preventing him from enrolling in classes in fall 2017, Mr. Carroll contends Chief Anders prepared a July 5, 2017 "Warning Against Trespass/Communication" letter banning Mr. Carroll from campus for two years until July 5, 2019 (July 2017 No Trespass Letter).[26] Chief Anders told Mr. Carroll he issued the "no trespass and communications order to protect" University students and staff "from unwanted contacted with you."[27] Chief Anders reminded Mr. Carroll of his failure to follow the previous sanction requirements in the April 2015 No Trespass Letter including completion and release of a mental health assessment.

         Mr. Carroll denies "negative intent" in his letter to the Public Defender and "he is nothing like the students involved in school shooting like: Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and that MU is trying to suggest that he is like them..."[28] Mr. Carroll alleges he requested a hearing on Chief Anders' July 2017 No Trespass Letter, but Chief Anders ignored the request.[29]Mr. Carroll alleges Chief Anders sent the July 2017 No Trespass Letter as "punishment for racial reasons."[30] Mr. Carroll requested a hearing from the University's Judicial Affairs office on the July 2017 No Trespass Letter.[31] Mr. Carroll alleges the University's Judicial Affairs office ignored his request for hearing.[32]

         II. Analysis[33]

         After severing Mr. Carroll's claims against Chief Anders in the earlier-filed Carroll v. Bauman matter, [34] we now address Chief Anders' motion to dismiss the claims against him relating to the July 2017 No Trespass Letter: a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim and an equal protection claim Chief Anders issued the letter and denied Mr. Carroll a hearing as a "punishment for racial reasons in response to the letter [Mr. Carroll] wrote" to the Public Defender under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[35] Chief Anders also moves to dismiss Mr. Carroll's demand for injunctive relief as moot. Mr. Carroll does not timely oppose the motion.

         Chief Anders argues the due process claim must be dismissed because Mr. Carroll (a) received due process and did not avail himself of process offered to him and (b) qualified immunity bars his claim because he had no clear right to process. Chief Anders next argues the equal protection "racism" claim fails because it is not plausible and is based on speculation. Chief Anders moves to dismiss Mr. Carroll's requested injunctive relief because the restrictions in the July 2017 No Trespass Letter expired on July 5, 2019 and is now moot.

         A. Mr. Carroll plausibly pleads Chief Anders deprived him of due process.

         Mr. Carroll pleads Chief Anders' July 2017 No Trespass Letter and ignoring Mr. Carroll's request for a hearing violates his due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[36] Mr. Carroll alleges Chief Anders is a state actor who deprived him of due process.[37] Chief Anders does not challenge this allegation or otherwise argue he is not a state actor under Section 1983.[38]

         To prevail on a claim under Section 1983 for deprivation of procedural due process, Mr. Carroll must allege "(1) he was deprived of an individual interest that is encompassed within the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of'life, liberty, or property,' and (2) the procedures available to him did not provide due process of law."[39] Chief Anders does not contest Mr. Carroll has a property interest in his education albeit we are not aware of Mr. Carroll's student status in July 2017. He instead argues he did not deprive Mr. Carroll of due process.

         The level of due process for students in state universities depends on whether the student is dismissed for academic of disciplinary reasons.[40] If a student is suspended for academic reasons, due process only requires "an informal faculty evaluation with the student."[41] But if a student is suspended for disciplinary reasons, due process requires "the student be given oral or written notice of the charges against him and, if he denies them, an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and an opportunity to present his side of the story."[42] In Goss, the student faced a suspension often days or less and the Supreme Court held the due process clause "requires at least these rudimentary precautions against unfair or mistaken findings of misconduct and arbitrary exclusion from school."[43]

         In cases since Goss, "precedents hold that long-term suspension or expulsion procedures must provide an accused student with the minimum requirements identified in Goss."[44] In this circuit, discipline greater than the ten-day or less suspension in Goss "[does] not necessarily warrant additional procedures."[45] To determine "the contours of what process is due for student disciplinary procedures, courts in the Third Circuit apply the balancing test set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976)."[46] Under Matthews, courts must balance (1) "the private interest that will be affected by the official action"; (2) "the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards"; and (3) "the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail."[47]

         Chief Anders argues Mr. Carroll's due process claim fails for multiple reasons. He first argues Mr. Carroll actually received due process and could have contacted Chief Anders or Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Thomas Richardson to discuss the July 2017 No Trespass Letter but instead chose to contact the University, alternatively, even though Mr. Carroll received due process, his entitlement to it is "unclear." Chief Anders argues while case law, including Goss, establish the right to due process for students challenging academic or disciplinary sanctions, Mr. Carroll's challenge to the July 2017 No Trespass Letter is "neither based on academics or discipline." Bootstrapping the argument Mr. Carroll's challenge is neither academic nor disciplinary making his right to due process "unclear," Chief Anders argues he is entitled to qualified immunity because there is no clearly established right to due process.

         While Chief Anders' argument may ultimately carry the day, it does not do so on a motion to dismiss. Mr. Carroll pleads he is a student at the University and when he requested a hearing on the July 2017 No Trespass Letter, Chief Anders ignored the request.[48] Chief Anders makes much of Mr. Carroll's allegation when served with the July 2017 No Trespass Letter, Mr. Carroll "explained the content of the context of what he wrote to the Public Defender Office, and denied any negative intent but [Chief] Anders said he didn't care and that he was only there to serve him notice of the warning ... ."[49] Chief Anders argues this shows Mr. Carroll "challenged the renewed suspension on the spot..." satisfying due process. Chief Anders additionally argues the July 2017 No Trespass Letter "delineated" the process available to Mr. Carroll but he chose not to pursue available process. Although Chief Anders does not point us to the portion of the July 2017 No Trespass Letter he contends provided Mr. Carroll due process, we assume he refers to a passage allowing Mr. Carroll to contact Dean Richardson or Chief Anders "to discuss" the letter.[50]

         Chief Anders asks us to assume either (a) when served with the July 2017 No Trespass Letter, Mr. Carroll's explanation and denial of a negative intent constituted due process under Goss; or (b) the July 2017 No Trespass Letter directing Mr. Carroll to contact either Dean Richardson or Chief Anders to discuss the letter offered due process Mr. Carroll chose not to pursue. But this requires us to ignore Mr. Carroll's allegation when he explained himself and denied negative intent, Chief Anders "said he didn't care and that he was only there to serve him the notice of the warning" and Chief Anders ignored Mr. Carroll's request for a hearing.

         While a formal hearing is not required, there must still be an "informal give-and-take" between Mr. Carroll "and the administrative body dismissing him that would, at least, give [him] 'the opportunity to characterize his conduct and put it in what he deems the proper context."'[51]Accepting as true Mr. Carroll's allegations and all reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, as we must on a motion to dismiss, we cannot say the "informal give-and-take" required by Goss occurred particularly where Mr. Carroll alleges when he attempted to explain himself, Chief Anders "said he didn't care and ... was only there to serve ... the warning." We require discovery to more appropriately measure what happened between Mr. Carroll and Chief Anders.

         Under this preliminary standard of review, we must similarly reject Chief Anders' alternative argument Mr. Carroll's letter to the Public Defender's office and resulting July 2017 No Trespass Letter is neither an academic nor disciplinary matter. Chief Anders argues because Mr. Carroll wrote the letter to the Public Defender while incarcerated and "thus presented a danger to the university community based upon his letter which he wrote off campus, during a long-term suspension from [the University]," the July 2017 No Trespass Letter occupies a murky area outside the University's academic and disciplinary context. For this reason, Chief Anders argues Mr. Carroll had no clearly established right to due process and qualified immunity applies.

         There is no dispute, and Chief Anders concedes, if Mr. Carroll is a student at the University, he is entitled to due process determined by whether the July 2017 No Trespass Letter is an academic or disciplinary action. To accept Chief Anders' argument the sanction arises in neither an academic nor disciplinary context (and thus making the area unclear), we must accept his fact-based argument Mr. Carroll is either not a student or is a student and the July 2017 No Trespass Letter somehow is outside a disciplinary context based, apparently, on an argument Mr. Carroll wrote the letter to the Public Defender off campus and while on a long-term suspension from the University. But Mr. Carroll pleads he "has been a student at [the University] since July 2011";[52] his earlier extended suspension expired sometime in June 2017; and he expected to enroll in classes for fall 2017 when Chief Anders sent the July 5, 2017 no trespass letter extending his suspension for another two years.[53] We have no facts, no University handbook, policies, or procedures from which to determine Mr. Carroll's status even if we could do so at the motion to dismiss stage.

         We cannot, at this stage, accept Chief Anders' argument the July 2017 No Trespass Letter falls outside an academic or disciplinary context making the contours of his due process rights, if any, unclear triggering qualified immunity. We deny Chief Anders' motion to dismiss Mr. Carroll's due process claim.

         B. We dismiss Mr. Carroll's equal protection claim for failure to state a claim with leave to amend.

         Mr. Carroll alleges Chief Anders issued the July 2017 No Trespass Letter as" punishment for racial reasons in response to the letter [Mr. Carroll] wrote" to the Public Defender.[54] It is unclear whether the punishment refers to the July 2017 No Trespass Letter or the denial of a hearing to challenge it, or both. We liberally interpret Mr. Carroll'spro se allegations as an equal protection claim.[55]

         The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any state actor to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."[56] "To bring a successful claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a denial of equal protection, plaintiff[] must prove the existence of purposeful discrimination. [He] must demonstrate that [he] receiv[ed] different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated.'"[57] To state a claim for the denial of equal protection, Mr. Carroll must allege he is "(1) a member of a protected class; (2) similarly situated to members of an unprotected class; and (3) treated differently from members of the unprotected class."[58]

         Chief Anders argues there are two reasons why we must dismiss Mr. Carroll's equal protection claim: (1) the claim is "not plausible"; and (2) Mr. Carroll's allegations in Carroll v. Millersville[59] details who "was involved with the request that [Mr.] Carroll leave the [University's] registrar's office" in March 2015 and "[i]t does not involve Chief Anders."[60] The University further argues considering the allegations in Carroll v. Millersville, an allegation Chief Anders imposed the July 2017 No Trespass Letter for racial reasons is "pure speculation." We do not read Mr. Carroll's claims against Chief Anders as having anything to do with the March 2015 registrar incident. Rather, we read the allegations as a denial of equal protection by renewing a suspension in July 2017. Accepting as true the allegations and all reasonable inferences as we must at ...


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