Updated Fri, Oct 11, 2013 10:33 am
A federal judge has granted summary judgment in favor of Ohio University and dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former student who claimed his rights were violated when OU took disciplinary actions against him. Gregory Richards of the Bronx, N.Y., filed the federal lawsuit against President Roderick McDavis and other OU officials.
Richards was suspended by the university after he was involved in an altercation in downtown Athens last year, and again when he trespassed on campus and participated in June 2012 graduation ceremonies while suspended. Richards was convicted of misdemeanor charges in Athens County Municipal Court in connection with both incidents.
Richards was allowed to re-enroll in OU this past January and graduated in May.
In his lawsuit, Richards had asserted that his constitutional due process rights were violated in several ways, alleging: he was denied counsel during disciplinary proceedings; hearings were not held in a timely manner; OU failed to provide reasons for its disciplinary verdict; a participant in the process was biased and the suspension was arbitrary and capricious because Richards was about to graduate. Richards also argued that OU's rule regarding ability to use an attorney in disciplinary proceedings is constitutionally vague and over broad.
There was conflicting testimony about whether Richards had asked for an attorney, but Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. ruled that even if Richards was entitled to an attorney, "the procedures utilized were sufficient" and Richards was allowed to present his case at the disciplinary hearing.
In regard to the trespassing incident, reasons for that suspension were issued but apparently not sent to Richards.
"A claimant is simply not entitled to a statement of reasons for the decision when the reasons are obvious, as they are here," Sargus ruled.
Sargus also pointed out that the OU official who Richard's claimed was biased, Christoper Harris, did not make the determinations of Richard's guilt or what sanctions OU should impose.
"The court finds that (Richards) has failed to raise any jury issue related to whether Mr. Harris' alleged bias prevented the plaintiff from receiving the process he was due in his disciplinary hearings," Sargus ruled.
As for not holding a disciplinary hearing in a timely manner, Sargus said the time limits only apply if an immediate suspension is taking place, which was not the case.
Sargus also ruled against Richards' argument that his due process rights were violated because he was suspended shortly before graduation, and found that Richards failed to to provide adequate grounds for the judge to consider whether OU's rule regarding attorneys at disciplinary hearings is constitutionally vague and over broad.
"...The court finds that, even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to (Richards) ... he has failed to raise any genuine issue of material fact regarding any of the federal constitutional violations he alleges," Sargus ruled.
Sargus also noted it was "an unfortunate situation" that Richards' family had received invitations to OU's 2012 graduation and Richards was arrested in front of them for trespassing. However, Sargus said Richards knew he was under suspension, knew he was not allowed on campus and knew he hadn't met the requirements for graduation.
"Regardless of whether the procedures utilized (by OU) were ideal, they were in the end, fundamentally fair," Sargus wrote.