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August 21, 2020

The anatomy of a student disciplinary hearing conducted by a public institution of higher education


Following the student's [Student] administrative disciplinary hearing and the Students administrative appeal of the hearing decision, a unit of State University of New York [SUNY] suspended Student  for three years and noted Student's college transcript accordingly. Student initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking a court order annulling SUNY's actions.

Among the elements of SUNY's administrative disciplinary procedures challenged by Student, and considered by the Appellate Division, were the following:

1. Due Process: 
Citing Matter of Sharma v State Univ. of N.Y. at Buffalo, 170 AD3d 1565, among other decisions., the Appellate Division concluded that SUNYsubstantially adhered to its procedural rules with respect to the administrative disciplinary proceedings involving Student and that the alleged violations of those rules did not deny Student"the full panoply of due process guarantees to which he was entitled or render ... the finding of responsibility or the sanction imposed arbitrary or capricious".

2. Discovery: 
The Appellate Division rejected Student's contention that SUNY denied him due process with respect to his judicial appeal, explaining that "[i]n a disciplinary proceeding at a public institution of higher education, due process entitles a student accused of misconduct to a statement detailing the factual findings and the evidence relied upon by  [SUNY's] decision-maker in reaching the determination of [Student's] guilt ... and here the record reflects that [Student] was provided with the documents that were relied on by [SUNY]" in making such determinations.

3. Assistance of counsel: 
The court dismissed Student's claim that he was denied the assistance of counsel at his hearing, noting Student was, as authorized by SUNY's administrative hearing procedures, assisted by an attorney advisor throughout the disciplinary process, including such assistance at the hearings.* 

4. Prosecuting an effective appeal: 
Notwithstanding Student's contention to the contrary, the Appellate Division opined that SUNY's written determinations did not violate Student's right to due process as they contained sufficient detail "to permit [Student] to effectively challenge the determination in administrative appeals and in the courts and to ensure that the decision was based on evidence in the record," nor did the record support Student's claim that the determination with respect to his administrative appeal was based on matters outside of the record.

Finding that SUNY's determination was supported by substantial evidence, the Appellate Division said it perceived no basis to disturb SUNY's decision. 

* The Appellate Division also rejected Student's claim that he was denied due process as the result of SUNY's alleged failure "to call live witnesses or to accept questions to be asked of such live witnesses."

The decision is posted on the Internet at: 
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_04628.htm

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New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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