Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Suspended student has no due process claim under Section 1983

This plaintiff says the public school denied him due process in suspending him for most of his senior year in high school following a hearing. The Court of Appeals sees it differently, giving us a brief tutorial in how federal due process claims work in cases like this.

The case is Horton v. Board of Education of the Sherburne-Earleville Central School District, a summary order issued on March 15. Horton was suspended over "alleged bullying and other violations of his school district's Code of Conduct." While the district gave him a hearing, Horton says it was bogus. The numerous procedural flaws include the hearing officer's alleged advocacy for the district during the hearing, the hearing officer ignored exculpatory evidence and met ex parte with district officials several times during the hearing and appeals process. The Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Livingston and Droney) says it does not matter.

For Horton, due process may be realized post-hearing, when he can file an Article 78 petition in state court. Now, an Article 78 petition may not be as exciting as a federal lawsuit, but at least in theory, the state court can find the hearing was arbitrary and capricious, the standard governing these expedited proceedings. The availability of an Article 78 petition is by itself a due process remedy provided by the State of New York. The Second Circuit has held that many times over the years, including in Hellenic Am. Neighborhood Action Comm. v. City of New York, 101 F.3d 877 (2d Cir. 1996).

How does Horton get around this? He says the Article 78 remedy is inadequate in part because that proceeding does not provide for money damages. But the Court of Appeals held in the Hellenic case that Article 78's are adequate for due process purposes "even though the petitioner may not be able to recover the same relief that he could in a Section 1983 suit."

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