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Law School Case Brief

Murakowski v. Univ. of Del. - 575 F. Supp. 2d 571 (D. Del. 2008)

Rule:

When suspending a university student from a public school for disciplinary reasons, neither a full-scale adversarial proceeding similar to those afforded criminal defendants, nor an investigation, which would withstand such a proceeding, is required to meet due process. A university's primary purpose is to educate students: a school is an academic institution, not a courtroom or administrative hearing room. A formalized hearing process would divert both resources and attention from a university's main calling, that is, education. Although a university must treat students fairly, it is not required to convert its classrooms into courtrooms.

Facts:

Plaintiff, Maciej Murakowski (Murakowski), who instituted his civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the University of Delaware (University) on August 1, 2007, challenged the University's right to discipline him for posting allegedly threatening comments on a website maintained on the University's server. In his verified complaint, Murakowski contended that his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments were violated as a result of disciplinary proceedings, which concluded that Murakowski violated the University's Disruptive Conduct and Failure to Comply policies. As a result, he was suspended for one semester, banned from residence halls, and placed on Deferred Expulsion through graduation. On appeal, the University's Appellate Board upheld the hearing officer's decision and sanctions. In its answer dated August 22, 2007, the University denied any constitutional violations, and noted that at the time of the hearing, Murakowski, who was already on disciplinary probation for other infractions and by his conduct, disregarded a direct command by a senior University official. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

Issue:

Taking into consideration the circumstances of the case, did the University Board violate the student’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights?

Answer:

Yes, as to the First Amendment rights. No, as to claim on the Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Conclusion:

With regard to the students claim on the Fourteenth Amendment rights, the federal district court held that that Murakowski clearly received sufficient notice of the charges against him and a meaningful opportunity to prepare for the hearing. Additionally, the Court noted that Murakowski actively participated in the hearing and had the opportunity to present his side through his own statements and the statements of witnesses. As such, no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment rights were committed by the university board. With regard to the First Amendment rights, the Court found that Murakowski’s comments did not constitute a true threat. According to the Court, a number of Murakowski’s comments, although directed to women as a whole, were not directed to specific individuals, a particular group or even to women on the university's campus. The Court also found that the university had not shown that the student's writings caused a material disruption or was likely to do so. As such, the Board violated the student’s First Amendment rights by punishing Murakowski for his alleged threatening comments.

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