Due Process

Court Feels "Compelled to Express … Dismay at [SUNY Buffalo's] Cavalier Attitude Toward Petitioner's Due Process Rights"

"We remind respondent -- and all other colleges and universities, particularly state-affiliated institutions -- of their unwavering obligation to conduct student disciplinary proceedings in a manner that comports with fundamental notions of due process for the accused, that renders determinations consistent with the facts, and that respects the presumption of innocence to which all students are entitled."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


The opinion in Hill v. SUNY Buffalo, decided a week ago by a New York appellate court:

Petitioner, an undergraduate student at respondent State University of New York at Buffalo, commenced … [this] proceeding to annul respondent[ SUNY Buffalo's] determination that he possessed weapons and engaged in harassment. Respondent sanctioned petitioner with 50 hours of community service, two years of disciplinary probation, and exclusion from on-campus housing. We agree with petitioner that the record is devoid of any evidence, much less substantial evidence, to support respondent's determination. Instead, respondent's determination rests exclusively on a "seriously controverted" hearsay statement, and that does not, as a matter of law, constitute substantial evidence. We therefore annul the determination, grant the petition, and direct respondent to expunge all references to this matter from petitioner's school record.

We decline respondent's invitation to remit this matter for a new hearing in light of its failure to transcribe the disciplinary hearing. Annulment and expungement is the prescribed remedy for an administrative determination that is unsupported by substantial evidence, and it would be anomalous if respondent was afforded a new opportunity to establish petitioner's culpability based on its own procedural error in failing to transcribe the initial hearing.

Finally, we are compelled to express our dismay at respondent's cavalier attitude toward petitioner's due process rights in this case, and we remind respondent—and all other colleges and universities, particularly state-affiliated institutions—of their unwavering obligation to conduct student disciplinary proceedings in a manner that comports with fundamental notions of due process for the accused, that renders determinations consistent with the facts, and that respects the presumption of innocence to which all students are entitled.

Zach Greenberg (FIRE) has the details:

The case involves an undergraduate student at UB, Tyrone Hill, who was found responsible for harassment and for possessing a weapon. According to Hill, he was receiving a ride home from his UB football teammate, Zachary Lefebvre, when a group of freshman football players taunted Lefebvre, prompting Lefebvre to get out of his truck to approach them. During this time, a UB student called the police about a man with Lefebvre's features holding a gun in a truck. The police report describes the driver exiting the truck and pointing a gun at the group, causing them to run off.

The police identified Lefebvre as the suspect, who allegedly denied the charges by claiming Hill had brandished the gun. The police then searched Lefebvre's pickup truck, found an Airsoft gun, and charged him for possessing a gun on school grounds. They questioned Hill about his involvement, who told them he did not see a gun during the altercation. The police declined to charge Hill.

A UB administrator then summoned Hill to a meeting about the incident. The administration confronted Hill about Lefebvre's accusation that Hill had the gun and the police report, where he reiterated that he did not see a gun. Despite the police declining to charge Hill, the school found him responsible for harassing the players by brandishing a gun at them and possessing a weapon on school grounds, resulting in a two-year suspension. After UB denied his appeal, Hill filed suit against the university in New York state court.

In his complaint, Hill lays out a litany of due process defects with UB's hearing process. Hill alleges UB did not notify him of the charges prior to meeting with administrators, refused to provide the full names of witnesses, disallowed cross-examination, and prohibited the active assistance of counsel during his hearing. Additionally, Hill accuses UB of neglecting to transcribe the hearing and preventing him from accessing evidence reviewed by the appellate panel. All of this, he alleged, hindered his ability to present a meaningful defense to the allegations and resulted in an erroneous determination.