CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

Due Process • Equal Protection • Student Suspension • Supplemental Jurisdiction

Hemdel v. Schuylkill Valley Sch., PICS Case No. 14-0356 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 20, 2014) Rufe, J. (8 pages).

High school student, who was suspended for four days, did not allege federal due process violation where student received one-hour notice of meeting at school during which defendants explained the reasons for the suspension; neither written notice nor an opportunity to present or question witnesses is required to satisfy federal standards of due process. Federal due process and equal protection claims dismissed; supplemental jurisdiction declined.

Plaintiffs, parents of high-school student who was suspended from school for four days after engaging in consensual sexual conduct with another student while on a school trip, brought suit against public school district and several school officials alleging state and federal due process violations and state tort law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and invasion of privacy. Defendants moved to dismiss all claims.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.

Plaintiffs’ reliance upon the Pennsylvania administrative code, setting forth procedures to be followed when a student is suspended, is misplaced. Federal law, not state law or regulation, defines the constitutionally mandated requirements of due pro-cess.

A public school student who is suspended for 10 days or less must be given oral or written notice of the charges, and, if he denies them, an explanation of the evidence authorities have against him and an opportunity to present his side of the story. See Gross v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 581 (1975). Moreover, no formal hearing is required to satisfy due process and there need be no delay between the time ‘notice’ is given and the time of the hearing. Here, plaintiffs received one-hour notice of a meeting at the school, attended the meeting, and defendants explained the reasons for the suspension (the student’s conduct was not disputed). Plaintiffs requested and received a meeting with the school superintendent the next day. These facts establish that no federal due process violation occurred. Although plaintiffs argue that they were not given written notice or an opportunity to present or question witnesses, neither was required to satisfy federal standards of due process. As a matter of law, plaintiffs received all the process they were due, and the claim must be dismissed.

Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim also fails. In order to state an equal protection claim, plaintiffs must allege the existence of pur-poseful discrimination, i.e., they must demonstrate that they received different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated. Plaintiffs’ bare allegations that “other minors were afforded full due process by defendants” fails to state a plausible cause of action. Plaintiffs do not allege that any other student was treated differently because of race or gender. Absent of any factually-supported allegations that the different treatment was due to membership in a protected class or that the suspension lacked any rational basis, plaintiffs cannot state a claim. The equal protection claim is dismissed.

As litigation is in its early stages and complaint asserts federal question jurisdiction, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.