Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Court of Appeals sustains West Point's disciplinary procedures

It is quite prestigious to matriculate at West Point Military Academy. The plaintiff in this case became a West Point cadet, but he was kicked out of the program and ordered to pay the government more than $200,000 in restitution. He challenges the due process leading up to his removal, but that challenge fails.

The case is Doolen v. Wormuth, issued on July 20. West Point has an elaborate mechanism for cadet discipline, including remedial measures short of expulsion, formal disciplinary proceedings that include an evidentiary hearing, and appellate rights within the system. The Second Circuit devotes close to seven pages describing the process. 

Plaintiff was subjected to discipline relating to alcohol violations and excessive demerits. The Court says he snuck alcohol into the barracks and engaged in a loud and profane argument with other cadets; that argument became physical. After he was removed as a cadet, he returned following a Judge Advocate General finding about procedural deficiencies associated with that expulsion. But when plaintiff returned, defendants initiated disciplinary proceedings again, the investigating officer ruled against him, determining he lacks the "attributes essential to lead as an officer of the United States Army." The IO also said plaintiff is immature and selfish. Plaintiff was expelled from West Point and ordered to recoup the government for the cost of education.

While courts are loathe to second-guess military determinations under the Intra-Military Immunity Doctrine, one exception that rule involves the failure to follow its mandatory regulations in cases that substantially affect a service member. That exception applies here, so plaintiff wins that hurdle.

While plaintiff is able to overcome the immunity hurdle, he loses the war, so to speak. The Court of Appeals finds that West Point provides enough due process to protect cadets from unfair discipline. These procedures suffice both prior to discipline and after a disciplinary violation is found. We call that pre-  and post-deprivation procedures.

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