551 F.3d 461 (6th Cir. 2009), 07-4303, Gunasekera v. Irwin

Docket Nº:07-4303.
Citation:551 F.3d 461
Party Name:Jay S. GUNASEKERA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Dennis IRWIN and Kathy Krendl, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:January 08, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 461

551 F.3d 461 (6th Cir. 2009)

Jay S. GUNASEKERA, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Dennis IRWIN and Kathy Krendl, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 07-4303.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

January 8, 2009

Argued: Sept. 19, 2008.

Page 462

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 463

ARGUED:

John S. Marshall, Marshall & Morrow LLC, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

Andrew J. Mollica, Mollica, Gall, Sloan & Sillery Co., L.P.A., Athens, Ohio, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

John S. Marshall, Marshall & Morrow LLC, Columbus, Ohio, Louis A. Jacobs, Desert Hot Springs, California, for Appellant.

Andrew J. Mollica, Mollica, Gall, Sloan & Sillery Co., L.P.A., Athens, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: MOORE and COOK, Circuit Judges; HOOD, District Judge. [*]

OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Jay S. Gunasekera (“ Gunasekera" ) appeals the District Court's grant of dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to Dennis Irwin and Kathy Krendl (“ Irwin" and “ Krendl" ), of his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims that Irwin and Krendl deprived him of his property and liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, cl. 3. On appeal, Gunasekera argues that this dismissal should be reversed because: (1) the name-clearing hearing he was offered was not public and was therefore inadequate; (2) he has a property interest in his Graduate Faculty status and was denied notice and an opportunity

Page 464

to be heard when that status was suspended; and (3) any determination of whether his constitutional rights were clearly established to defeat the defendants' qualified immunity defense must wait until a factual record has been developed.

We hold that Gunasekera has made an adequate allegation that he was not offered a sufficient name-clearing hearing to protect his liberty interest and that he was deprived of his property interest in his Graduate Faculty status without the required notice and opportunity to be heard to withstand dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's judgment granting the dismissal of Gunasekera's property-based claims. We REVERSE the district court's judgment that Gunasekera was not entitled to a public name-clearing hearing and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We AFFIRM the district court's judgment granting the dismissal of Gunasekera's liberty-based claims seeking civil damages because we conclude that Irwin and Krendl have qualified immunity with respect to these liberty-based damages claims.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2004, Gunasekera was the Moss Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology of Ohio University (“ Russ College" ) and had been Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering for fifteen years. He had worked at Ohio University (“ the University" ) for more than two decades and had Graduate Faculty status at Russ College which enabled him to supervise graduate students' thesis work. That year, a student alleged widespread plagiarism in mechanical-engineering graduate-student theses. Two internal investigations uncovered plagiarism in collateral areas rather than in the analysis or conclusions. Following these probes, Krendl, the Provost of Ohio University, instructed Irwin, the Dean of Russ College, to take further action. In response, Irwin asked an administrator and a retired faculty member to investigate the alleged plagiarism. These men prepared a report known as the Meyer/Bloemer Report and submitted it to Irwin and Krendl on May 30, 2006.

On May 31, 2006, Krendl held a press conference to publicize the Meyer/Bloemer Report. As the district court explained, the report found “ rampant and flagrant plagiarism in theses" and “ singled out three faculty members, including Dr. Gunasekera, for ignoring their ethical responsibilities and contributing to an atmosphere of negligence toward issues of academic misconduct." Gunasekera v. Irwin, 517 F.Supp.2d 999, 1002 (S.D.Ohio 2007). In response to this report, the University suspended Gunasekera's Graduate Faculty status for three years and prohibited him from advising graduate students.

On August 28, 2006, Gunasekera filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Suing under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Gunasekera sought “ compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory, equitable, and injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees and costs" from Irwin and Krendl for depriving him of his “ property and/or liberty interests in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Joint Appendix (“ J.A." ) at 1 (Compl.¶ 1). Gunasekera made two claims: (1) that Irwin violated his due-process rights when Irwin deprived him of his property interest in his Graduate Faculty status by suspending him without “ notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard," id.; and (2) that Irwin and Krendl deprived him of his liberty

Page 465

in violation of his due-process rights when “ they publicized accusations about his role in plagiarism by his graduate student advisees" without providing him with a “ meaningful opportunity to clear his name." J.A. at 2 (Compl.¶ 1).

On October 23, 2006, Irwin and Krendl filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). This motion presented four possible bases for dismissal: (1) Gunasekera had waived his federal cause of action by filing a defamation suit in state court; (2) Irwin and Krendl have absolute official immunity and qualified immunity in their individual capacities; (3) Gunasekera does not have a protected property interest; and (4) Gunasekera's liberty interest claim fails because he was “ offered but rejected a name-clearing hearing." Mot. to Dismiss at 3.

On September 26, 2007, the district court granted Irwin and Krendl's motion to dismiss. The district court made four findings. The first two, which have not been raised on this appeal, are: (1) “ sovereign immunity bars all but [Gunasekera's] claim for prospective equitable relief against [Irwin and Krendl] in their official capacities and [Gunasekera's] § 1983 claims for money damages against Defendants in the[ir] individual capacities, excluding back pay and fringe benefits," ; and (2) Gunasekera “ did not waive his § 1983 claims against [Irwin and Krendl] by filing a defamation [suit] against the state in the Court of Claims" because the claims did not arise from the same act or omission. Gunasekera, 517 F.Supp.2d at 1005-06.

The district court's third holding concerned qualified immunity. The district court determined that because Gunasekera did not have a property interest in his Graduate Faculty status, there had been no constitutional violation, and Irwin and Krendl were entitled to dismissal based on qualified immunity. The district court next held that “ [e]ven assuming, arguendo, that [Gunasekera] has been deprived of a liberty interest, due process does not entitle him to a hearing beyond what [Irwin and Krendl] already offered." Id. at 1013. After finding that Irwin and Krendl had provided sufficient process, the district court determined that there was no constitutional violation and granted them dismissal based on qualified immunity. Having concluded that Gunasekera had no property interest in Graduate Faculty status and that he had been offered sufficient process in connection with any liberty interest, the district court also dismissed Gunasekera's remaining claims for equitable relief.

On appeal Gunasekera raises three issues: (1) the offered name-clearing hearing was insufficient to satisfy due process because it was not public; (2) he has a property interest in his Graduate Faculty status and was deprived of that interest without due process; (3) the district court erred in determining whether a constitutional violation was clearly established for purposes of qualified immunity before a factual record had been developed.

In their response, Irwin and Krendl argue...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP