738 F.3d 867 (7th Cir. 2013), 13-1900, Medlock v. Trustees of Indiana University

Docket Nº:13-1900.
Citation:738 F.3d 867
Opinion Judge:POSNER, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Zachary MEDLOCK, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Ronald W. Frazier, Attorney, Frazier Law Firm, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Trenten D. Klingerman, Attorney, Stuart & Branigin LLP, Lafayette, IN, John M. Stuckey, Attorney, Stuart & Branigin, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before POSNER, FLAUM, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:December 30, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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738 F.3d 867 (7th Cir. 2013)

Zachary MEDLOCK, Plaintiff-Appellant,


TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 13-1900.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

December 30, 2013

Argued Nov. 1, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Ronald W. Frazier, Attorney, Frazier Law Firm, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Trenten D. Klingerman, Attorney, Stuart & Branigin LLP, Lafayette, IN, John M. Stuckey, Attorney, Stuart & Branigin, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before POSNER, FLAUM, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Circuit Judge.

This is an eye-opening case, but not because of any legal profundities or political reverberations— rather because of the glimpse it affords into contemporary student and administrative cultures of American universities.

Zachary Medlock was in the spring of 2011 a sophomore at Indiana University's main campus, in Bloomington, living by choice in a university dormitory. As a condition of being allowed to live there he was required to agree to comply with a long list of rules, one of which was that he allow health and safety inspections of his dorm room by " resident leadership specialists" (we'll call them " student inspectors" ). They are graduate students employed part-time by the university to assist in dormitory management. Their duties include conducting the inspections. The students whose rooms are to be inspected must be given written notification of the inspection at least 24 hours in advance; Medlock had been given a week's notice by email and in addition the inspection of the dorm rooms on his floor was announced over the building's intercom on the day of the inspection. (His failure to use the abundant warning time to clean up his act is one of the mysteries of this case.) The inspectors inspect for violations of prohibitions in the code of conduct for dormitory residents. Those prohibitions are numerous— " from candles to cats" as one of the student inspectors testified— and of course include (illegal) drugs. Medlock does not question that he was subject to these prohibitions as a condition of being allowed to live in a university dormitory, and was subject to being penalized for violating them. Suspension and expulsion are among the authorized penalties.

At about 4 p.m. on the day scheduled for the inspection, one of the student inspectors entered Medlock's room (Medlock wasn't there) to inspect it, and upon entering noticed a clear plastic tube lying on the desk. Drawing on the training the university had given him to enable him to conduct a competent inspection, he surmised that the tube contained marijuana. Another student inspector, whom the first one asked to join him in Medlock's room, concurred.

One of the student inspectors called the Indiana University Police Department to report what they thought they'd discovered in Medlock's room. Like other large universities Indiana University has its own police department. It's a real police department— its police officers (of whom there are more than 40 on the Bloomington campus) have the same powers as police officers employed by cities and towns.

An Indiana University police officer (defendant Christopher King), summoned by one of the two student inspectors, arrived in Medlock's room, looked at the tube of

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marijuana, smelled raw marijuana, and left with the tube. The student inspectors remained, continuing their inspection and noticing burned candles, an ashtray containing ashes, and a rolled-up blanket at the bottom of the door to the bathroom, presumably intended to keep smoke from wafting into the bathroom (which Medlock shared with another student) while he smoked marijuana in his bedroom. Smoking of any kind is forbidden in the dormitory, as is possessing " open flame materials," such as candles.

One of the student inspectors noticed that the door to Medlock's closet was ajar, and peering through the opening he saw what he thought was a large marijuana plant. He summoned officer King, who looked in the closet and found himself face to face with a six-foot-high marijuana plant. He left to get a warrant to search the room for drugs and drug paraphernalia but posted another police officer in the room to make sure no one moved or destroyed anything that might be contraband.

The warrant was issued and the further search that King conducted pursuant to it revealed both paraphernalia commonly used in relation to marijuana— four conventional pipes, two bongs (water pipes), and a fluorescent light (called a " grow light" ) for enabling a large marijuana plant to thrive in a closet— plus a total of 89 grams of marijuana (not including the plant itself, doubtless the source of the 89 grams). Not that the plant was thriving, despite its height; a closet is not the optimal environment for a tall plant.

Medlock was arrested and charged with possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana, a felony (he could also have been charged with manufacturing marijuana, also a felony). But for unexplained reasons the charges were dropped, although there can't have been any doubt of his guilt.

The university's dean of students immediately suspended Medlock for one year. But Medlock had a hearing before a university hearing commission 17 days later (spring break had intervened— otherwise the interval would have been only 9 or 10 days). The hearing commission affirmed the suspension (as did the university's provost, to whom Medlock appealed the commission's decision) and ordered him to vacate the dormitory forthwith. Although called a " suspension," this was more like an expulsion, because if he wanted to be reinstated he had to apply, after the year was up, and there was no guarantee that the application would be accepted. He applied for and was offered immediate admission to George Mason University, in Virginia (apparently without telling George Mason of the expulsion), but declined. Instead, after the year was up, he applied for readmission to IU at Bloomington. His application was granted, and he was readmitted when the school year began and was even given a part-time job by the university, on its information technology staff— which seems odd, as it might give him access to the confidential record of his expulsion.

The suit is based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which authorizes suits against state or local officials who violate federally protected civil rights. The complaint names the university's trustees as defendants along with the dean of students, the university provost, the two student inspectors who searched Medlock's room, and officer King. It seeks a mandatory injunction ordering destruction of the record of his expulsion, and damages from the two student inspectors and King.

The litigation has attracted media attention. See, e.g., Dave Stafford, " 7th Circuit Tosses IU Dorm-Search Lawsuit," Indiana Lawyer, June 29, 2012, www. theindiana lawyer. com/ 7 th- circuit- tosses- iu-

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dormsearch- lawsuit/ PARAMS/ article/ 29121 (visited Dec. 28, 2013). Stafford's article refers to an earlier stage in the litigation, when we dismissed as moot Medlock's appeal from the denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the one-year suspension; the appeal was moot because the year was up, and so the injunction could have no...

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