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Oladokun v. Ryan

September 30, 2010

SULAIMAN OLADOKUN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN R. RYAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK MARITIME COLLEGE MARITIME COLLEGE, AND RICHARD S. SMITH, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMANDANT OF CADETS OF STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK MARITIME COLLEGE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

Opinion & Order

Plaintiff Sulaiman Oladokun ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Defendants John R. Ryan ("Ryan") and Richard S. Smith ("Smith") (collectively "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and applicable state law. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants disenrolled him from the State University of New York Maritime College ("SUNY Maritime") in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and New York state law. Plaintiff sues Defendants in their official capacities for equitable relief. Plaintiff also sues Ryan in his individual capacity for monetary damages.

The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment solely on his First Cause of Action, which alleges that Ryan is individually liable for Plaintiff's deprivation of due process. (Pl. Mem. at 1.) Defendants purport to move for summary judgment on all claims, but their motion fails to address Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action, which alleges that Ryan is individually liable under state law for breaches of "contractual and/or quasi-contractual obligations to Plaintiff." (Am. Compl. ¶ 72.) Accordingly, the Court reaches only the question of whether either party is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's First and Third Causes of Action, which respectively allege individual and official liability under Section 1983.

For the reasons stated below, the Court (1) DENIES Defendants' motion on the issue of liability for failing to provide adequate notice and a hearing that comported with due process, and sua sponte GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on those issues (Plaintiff's Third Cause of Action); and (2) GRANTS Ryan's motion for summary judgment on the issue of his individual liability for allegedly failing to conduct a substantive, pre-appeal review of Plaintiff's disenrollment decision, and DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on that issue (Plaintiff's First Cause of Action).

I. Background

A. The Parties

Plaintiff, a Nigerian citizen, was an Engineering student and cadet at SUNY Maritime from August 30, 2000 until March 26, 2003, when he was disenrolled. He was deported on January 29, 2004 due to his failure to maintain student status as required by his student visa.

Ryan was the President of SUNY Maritime from June 2002 to June 2005, during which time Plaintiff was disenrolled. (Ryan Decl. ¶ 1.) He is sued both individually and in his official capacity. Smith has served as SUNY Maritime's Commandant of the Regiment of Cadets since August 2001. (Smith Decl. ¶ 1.) He is sued only in his official capacity.

B. Plaintiff's Apprehension and the Convening of the Suitability/Disciplinary Hearing Board

On March 7, 2003, two Joint Terrorism Task Force agents arrested Plaintiff at the SUNY Maritime campus-with SUNY Maritime's knowledge-based on suspicion that he had submitted false documents in obtaining a student visa. (Cline Decl. ¶ 10; Def. Exh. 10; Def. Exh. 7.) The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") held Plaintiff in custody pending an investigation into the validity of his documents. (Def. Exh. 9.) He remained in custody until his deportation in January 2004. (Def. Exh. 9; Pl. Response to Def. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21.)

On March 17, 2003, officials at SUNY Maritime convened a Suitability/Disciplinary Hearing Board (the "Board")*fn1 to consider whether, in light of the foregoing, Plaintiff was fit to remain a member of the Regiment of Cadets. (Smith Decl. ¶ 3; Def. Exh. 12.) The original convening order, dated March 17, 2003, stated that Plaintiff's hearing would occur on March 27, 2003. (Def. Exh. 12.) A memorandum dated March 19, 2003 rescheduled the hearing to March 24, 2003. (Id.) On March 19, 2003, Smith sent the original order, together with the memorandum reflecting the rescheduled hearing date (collectively, the "Notice") to Plaintiff's off-campus address via two different overnight couriers. (Smith Decl. ¶ 7; Pl. Response to Def. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 29; Def. Exh. 12.)

Despite Defendants' representation that the hearing would occur on March 24, 2003, however, it is undisputed that the hearing actually occurred on March 26, 2003. (Def. Exh. 13; Def. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 30; Pl. Response to Def. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 30; Ans. to Am. Compl. ¶ 35; Ryan Decl. ¶ 12.) Defendants have offered no evidence that they advised Plaintiff that his hearing had been rescheduled to March 26, 2003.

C. The Suitability/Disciplinary Board Proceedings

On March 25, 2003, an ICE attorney sent SUNY Maritime a fax requesting information about Plaintiff's enrollment status. (Def. Exh. 15.) The next morning, SUNY Maritime's Board convened in Plaintiff's absence. (Def. Exh. 13.) The Board considered Plaintiff's "suitability as a member of the Regiment of Cadets" as well as the "Class I charges"*fn2 against Plaintiff, which included "Deceit and Falsehood," alteration of official documents, and possession of altered official documents. (Def. Exh. 13.)

Plaintiff alleges that the Board proceedings were conducted in violation of SUNY Maritime's internal regulations as codified in the revised Manual. According to the revised Manual, the Suitability Hearing Board must "[gather] and examin[e] all available records and/or witnesses relative to the cadet's performance as both a student and member of the Regiment of Cadets." (Def. Exh. 11, § 3404.4(1).) The Board must "hear any testimony or receive any evidence that will contribute to a full and fair determination of the case." (Id. § 3404.5(6).) Because Plaintiff's Suitability Board also acted as a Disciplinary Board (see Def. Exh. 13), it had the additional duty of "gathering and examining all available evidence and/or witnesses relative to the offense(s) charged." (Def. Exh. 11, § 3404.3(1).) Notwithstanding these requirements, however, Smith acknowledged that "[t]here were no live witnesses, and there was no substantive testimony" at Plaintiff's hearing. (Smith Decl. ¶ 9.) Defendants' Exhibit 13, which is a copy of the Board's report recommending Plaintiff's disenrollment, states not that the Board considered "documentary evidence," but that the Board "consider[ed] all the charges, and deem[ed] them to be true." (Def. Exh. 13) (emphasis added).

Smith was then required, pursuant to the revised Manual, to "review the report of the Board" prior to rendering his decision as to Plaintiff's culpability and punishment. (Def. Exh. 11, § 3404.5(11)) (emphasis added). Smith signed a memorandum on March 26, 2003 concurring with the Board's decision, thereby disenrolling Plaintiff. (Def. Exh. 14; Smith Decl. ¶ 11.) After the issuance of Smith's disenrollment order, SUNY Maritime notified ICE of Plaintiff's disenrollment on March 26, 2003. (Cline Decl. ¶ 13; Def. Exh. 16.) Consequently, on January 29, 2004, Plaintiff was deported due to his failure to maintain student status as required by his student visa.

II. Procedural History

The procedural history of this case is detailed in the Court's prior opinions, familiarity with which is assumed. See Oladokun v. Ryan, No. 06 Civ. 2330, 2009 WL 857460 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2009), and 2007 WL 3125317 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 23, 2007).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, filed in April 2009, is the subject of the pending cross-motions for summary judgment. The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was summarily disenrolled by Defendants Ryan and Smith without notice or a reasonable opportunity to be heard, and in violation of SUNY Maritime's rules and regulations. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 29.)

The Amended Complaint also asserts allegations relating to Ryan's personal involvement in Plaintiff's claimed deprivation of due process. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that, as President, Ryan was responsible for protecting the due process rights of cadets in connection with disciplinary proceedings brought against them by SUNY Maritime. (Am. Compl. ¶ 57.) In support of the allegation that Ryan disenrolled Plaintiff, Plaintiff references Section 3402.2 of the revised Manual, which states that "[t]he President of the Maritime College is the only officer authorized to disenroll a cadet." (Id. ¶ 61.) Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that Ryan knew or should have known that Plaintiff was disenrolled without Ryan's proper authority, and "should have taken steps to remedy the wrong." (Id. ¶ 63.)

Plaintiff alleges that Ryan and Smith are liable for the foregoing conduct in their official capacities (id. ¶¶ 3, 6), and asks the Court to grant "such equitable relief as may be appropriate, including but not limited to an injunction ordering that the President of SUNY Maritime College cause Plaintiff's official transcript to be made available to him and/or that Plaintiff be reinstated to a status of enrollment in good standing at SUNY Maritime." (Id. at 15 ¶ (5).) Plaintiff also alleges that Ryan is individually liable for Plaintiff's deprivation of due process, and seeks actual and punitive damages. (Id. at 14-15 ¶¶ (3), (4).)

The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment holding Ryan individually liable for ...


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