The Mississippi College School of Law was within its rights to expel a student who plagiarized assignments not once but twice, a federal judge has ruled.
Judge Carlton Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi granted summary judgment to the law school, tossing plaintiff Mark Beauchene’s lawsuit.
Beauchene sued in November 2012, just days after he was expelled for allegedly violating the school’s honor code twice. His claims included intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. He alleged that the school hadn’t followed its own procedures in his expulsion. He sought compensatory and punitive damages
But Reeves concluded it was the Beauchene who had broke the rules.
“Beauchene’s multiple violations of plagiarism exhibit gross academic and ethical behavioral deficiencies,” he wrote on Nov. 8. “It is he who breached the contract he had with the law school; as he was obliged to comply with MC Law’s Honor Code, but he failed miserably.”
In fact, law schools have an obligation to hold their students to high academic and moral standards to protect the public, Reeves wrote.
Beauchene’s attorney, Michael Wolf, of the Jackson, Miss., firm Page, Kruger & Holland, declined to comment or indicate whether his client intends to appeal.
Beauchene’s problems began in spring 2012, during his 2L year. He submitted a research paper that his professor identified as including significant portions of another writer’s work. That triggered a series of meetings with faculty and administrators, who found that he did plagiarize the paper—a clear violation of the school’s honor code.
Administrators gave Beauchene the option of having the paper reviewed by faculty from a different law school or to undergo a review by the school’s honor court. He declined both options, according to court records.
Ultimately, administrators decided to suspend him, with the option of readmission should he accept a failing grade and retake the course. In April 2012, Beauchene wrote a letter apologizing for the plagiarism and accepting the sanctions.
The school readmitted Beauchene the following fall on disciplinary probation, according to the ruling. He was informed that any further violation of the honor code would be ground for expulsion.
Despite that warning, Beauchene was accused of plagiarism again in October of 2012, for submitting a paper without citing references or proper attribution.
“As before, you used a computer to ‘copy and paste’ text from various Internet sources,” administrators wrote to Beauchene, informing him that he would be expelled. “And, as before, you used the work of other authors without proper attribution to the true source of the text.”
Beauchene met with law dean Jim Rosenblatt, at which time he complained about how the plagiarism accusations had been handled, but Rosenblatt upheld his expulsion. Beauchene sued shortly thereafter, claiming that by “its actions, omissions, and extreme and outrageous conduct, MC Law defamed and has intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress upon him.”
Reeves didn’t see it that way.
“The faculty members and the Dean had an educational responsibility to make sure that Beauchene was meeting its academic standards without resorting to plagiarism,” Reeves wrote. “It was their duty to report, investigate and impose discipline for the violations.”