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Sulaiman Oladokun

September 27, 2011

SULAIMAN OLADOKUN, PLAINTIFF, V.JOHN R. RYAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK 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: Kimba M. Wood, U.S.D.J.:

Opinion & Order

In an earlier opinion, this Court found that Plaintiff Sulaiman Oladokun was deprived of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when he was disenrolled from the State University of New York Maritime College ("SUNY Maritime") without sufficient notice or a meaningful hearing. Oladokun v. Ryan, No. 06 Civ. 2330, 2010 WL 3910578, at *6-10 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2010). Oladokun now requests equitable relief and seeks leave to amend his Complaint in order to name Defendant Richard S. Smith, SUNY Maritime Commandant of Cadets, in his individual capacity. Defendant John R. Ryan, SUNY Maritime President, moves to dismiss the damages claim for breach of the implied contract between a college and its student.

BACKGROUND

I.The Underlying Dispute

The facts underlying this case are discussed more fully in this Court's opinion in Oladokun v. Ryan, No. 06 Civ. 2330, 2010 WL 3910578 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2010). Sulaiman Oladokun was an engineering student at SUNY Maritime from August 30, 2000 until March 26, 2003. Two special agents from the United States Department of State detained Oladokun, a Nigerian citizen, at the SUNY Maritime campus on March 7, 2003, based on the suspicion that he may have submitted false documents regarding his previous coursework as part of his application for an F-1 student visa. (Declaration of James M. Maloney, dated Jan. 8, 2010 ("Maloney Decl."), Ex. I.; Declaration of Clement J. Colucci, dated Jan. 8, 2010 ("Colucci Decl."), Ex. 10.) Oladokun was then detained in the custody of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), where he remained until his deportation.

On March 17, 2003, officials at SUNY Maritime began the process of convening a Suitability/Disciplinary Hearing Board (the "Board") to consider Oladokun's suitability as a member of the Regiment of Cadets, SUNY Maritime's student body. The convening order, dated March 17, 2003, stated that Oladokun's hearing would occur on March 27, 2003. (Maloney Decl. Ex. A(3); Colucci Decl. Ex. 12.) On March 19, 2003, Smith rescheduled the hearing to March 24, 2003 and wrote a memorandum documenting the change. (Id.) Commandant of Cadets Smith sent the order together with the memorandum to Oladokun's off-campus home address.

On March 25, 2003, the attorney representing ICE in Oladokun's removal proceedings faxed SUNY Maritime a request for information regarding Oladokun's enrollment status. (Maloney Decl. Ex. F; Colucci Decl. Ex. 15.) The next morning, March 26, 2003, the Board convened in Oladokun's absence. Without consulting any witnesses or considering any testimony, the Board, "after considering all the charges, and deeming them to be true," came to the unanimous opinion that Oladokun should "be disenrolled from the College immediately." (Maloney Decl. Ex. G; Def. Ex. 13.) The same morning, Commandant Smith approved a memorandum concurring with the Board, thereby disenrolling Oladokun. (Maloney Decl. Ex. J; Colucci Decl. Ex. 14.) SUNY Maritime promptly notified ICE of Oladokun's disenrollment. (Maloney Decl. Ex. G; Colucci Decl. Ex. 16.) The ICE attorney presented the disenrollment to the Immigration Court in a hearing that same day as a basis for Oladokun's removal, on the grounds that he had failed to maintain his student status. (Colucci Decl. Ex. 17.) The Immigration Court subsequently ordered Oladokun deported on June 23, 2003, finding that, "since the respondent [Oladokun] has been expelled from his university . . . he is no longer a valid non-immigrant student and he may not remain in the United States." (Colucci Decl. Ex. 18 at 3.) ICE ultimately deported Oladokun to Nigeria on January 29, 2004.

II.Procedural History

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Oladokun sued SUNY Maritime President John R. Ryan, Chief Operating Officer Kimberly R. Cline, and Commandant of Cadets Richard S. Smith, alleging that he was disenrolled in violation of his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Dkt. No. 8.) On October 23, 2007, this Court dismissed the claims against Cline because the complaint had not sufficiently pleaded her personal involvement in Oladokun's disenrollment. See Oladokun v. Ryan, No. 06 Civ. 2330, 2007 WL 3125317 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 23, 2007). The Court allowed discovery on the remaining claims against Defendants Ryan and Smith. Id.

Ryan then moved for summary judgment on Oladokun's claims against him in his individual capacity, while Oladokun moved for leave to amend the Complaint to allege facts establishing Ryan's personal involvement in the disenrollment. (Dkt. No. 35; Dkt. No. 41.) The Court granted Oladokun leave to amend and denied Ryan's motion for summary judgment without prejudice to refile. See Oladokun v. Ryan, No. 06 Civ. 2330, 2009 WL 857460 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2009).

Oladokun's Amended Complaint includes five causes of action: first, an action against Ryan in his official and individual capacities for violation of due process rights; second, an action against Ryan in his official and individual capacities for breach of the implied contract between a college and its student; third, an action against Smith in his official capacity for violation of due process rights; fourth, the action, already dismissed, against Cline in her official capacity for violation of due process rights; and fifth, the action, already dismissed, against Cline in her individual capacity for violation of due process rights. (Dkt. No. 47.)

The parties then cross-moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 59; Dkt. No. 66.) The Court granted Oladokun summary judgment on his Third Cause of Action against Smith for violation of Oladokun's due process rights. See Oladokun, 2010 WL 3910578. First, the Court found that Defendant Smith deprived Oladokun of due process of law by failing to provide him sufficient notice of the proceedings against him. Id. at *7. Notice indicating a hearing date of Monday, March 24, 2003 could not have been reasonably calculated to advise Oladokun of a hearing that actually occurred on Wednesday, March 26, 2003. Id. Second, the Court found that Defendant Smith deprived Oladokun of due process of law by denying him a meaningful hearing before his disenrollment. Id. at *9. The seriousness of the penalty that awaited Oladokun required, at the very least, that the disenrollment have some evidentiary basis, but the Defendants did not present any evidence upon which they or the Board relied in making the decision. Id. at *10. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Ryan on Oladokun's First and Second Causes of Action, which alleged that Ryan deprived Oladokun of due process by failing to ensure that the Board followed the proper procedures and by summarily approving the disenrollment. Id. at * 12. Neither the constitutional requirements of due process nor SUNY Maritime's rules and regulations required Ryan to undertake a substantive, pre-appeal review of a disenrollment. Id.

In light of the grant of summary judgment on the due process claim against Smith, Plaintiff Sulaiman Oladokun now requests equitable relief, specifically, the release of his transcript from SUNY Maritime. (Dkt. No. 83.) Oladokun also seeks leave to amend his Complaint a second time in order to name Smith as a defendant in his individual capacity. (Id.) Ryan moves to dismiss the remaining claim against him for breach of the implied contract between a school and its student. (Dkt. No. 81.)

DISCUSSION

I.Equitable Relief

In his Amended Complaint, Oladokun requested "such equitable relief as may be appropriate" to remedy the deprivation of his due process rights. (Amended Complaint dated April 16, 2009 ("Compl.") ¶ 89.) In the current motion, Oladokun argues that an order compelling Defendants to release official copies of his SUNY Maritime transcript is an appropriate form of relief. (Plaintiff's Motion for Equitable Relief and Leave to Amend the Complaint ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 2.) Defendants respond that Oladokun has been denied his transcript only because he still owes fees to SUNY Maritime. (Defendants' Motion in Opposition ("Def.'s Opp'n") at 12-13.) They contend that his inability to obtain his transcript has no connection to the violation of his due process rights. Id.

A. Remedies for Violations of Due Process Rights

It is well established that the nature and scope of a remedy are determined by the violation. See, e.g., Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 281-82 (1977). In Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266 (1978), the Court emphasized the significance of deprivations of liberty or property without due process, even if the deprivation were found to be justified: "'[i]t is enough to invoke the procedural safeguards of the Fourteenth Amendment that a significant property interest is at stake, whatever the ultimate outcome of a hearing.'" Id. (quoting Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 87 (1972)).

When due process rights are violated, the appropriate remedy "depends on the stage at which the violation is found and the relief sought." Brody v. Village of Port Chester, 345 F.3d 103, 119 (2d Cir. 2003). If the issue reaches a court after a due process violation has occurred, the court must endeavor to fashion relief that counteracts the injury or prejudice caused by the violation. U.S. v. Ray, 578 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2009).

In general, appropriate relief in a due process case would include, at minimum, an order vacating the determination of the Board and ordering a constitutionally adequate hearing at which the merits could be determined. See, e.g., Brody, 345 F. 3d at 119-21 (discussing appropriate remedies for the violation of due process in the employment and land condemnation contexts); Ortiz v. Regan, 769 F. Supp. 570, 573-75 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (Mukasey, J.) (ordering a constitutionally adequate hearing to provide plaintiff with the process she was due).

B. Analysis

Earlier in this litigation, the Court found that an order reinstating Oladokun would be inappropriate given that it is unclear what the outcome of the Board's hearing would have been had Oladokun been provided due process. Oladokun, 2007 WL 3125317 at *6. The most obvious remedy in this case would be a new, constitutionally adequate, hearing, when and if Oladokun returns to the United States and requests one.

The challenge in this particular case is that this remedy may prove to be no remedy at all if Oladokun is unable to re-enter the United States.*fn1 It would be inappropriate to let redress for this constitutional violation rest on such uncertain grounds, especially since Oladokun's disenrollment was intertwined with his deportation, which now makes the occurrence of a new hearing unlikely.

Oladokun, therefore, seeks the release of his transcript. In opposition to Oladokun's request, Defendants state that their refusal to issue a transcript bears no relation to the violation of his due process rights and relates only to his unpaid fees. (Def.'s Opp'n 12.) Defendants contend that "[a]s relief for a due process violation, release of plaintiff's transcript is no more appropriate than complementary [sic] tickets to SUNY Maritime football games or discounts at the SUNY Maritime bookstore." (Def.'s Opp'n 13.)

The Court disagrees. The denial of Oladokun's due process rights effectively curtailed Oladokun's higher education. The release of his transcript would at least allow him to use credits for the work he completed to continue his education elsewhere until a new Board may be able to rule again, with constitutionally adequate process, on his suitability as a member of the Regiment of Cadets. Given the uncertainty surrounding whether or not a new hearing will be practicable in the future, the immediate release of Oladokun's transcript is the most effectiveequitable remedy for the due process he was denied and his ensuing disenrollment. Where "a constitutional violation has been found, the remedy does not exceed the violation if the remedy is tailored to cure the condition that offends the Constitution." Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 282 (1977) (citations omitted). In this case, ordering the release of Oladokun's transcript is narrowly tailored to remedy the violation of his due process rights, given that convening a new hearing is currently impracticable. Receiving his transcript would enable Oladokun to continue his education and put him as close to the position in which he would have been but for the violation of his due process rights.

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's request for equitable relief, in the form of an order compelling Defendants (1) to release official copies of Oladokun's SUNY Maritime transcript upon the payment of customary administrative fees, and (2) to convene a new hearing, when and if ...


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