Gorman v. University of Rhode Island

Decision Date14 October 1986
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 85-0210 P.
Citation646 F. Supp. 799
PartiesRaymond J. GORMAN, III v. UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND, Ronald Weisinger, Alias, in his individual and official capacity, A. Robert Rainville, Alias, in his individual and official capacity, and Edward Eddy, in his individual and official capacity, and Roger Begin, in his capacity as Treasurer of the State of R.I.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island


Marc B. Gursky, Providence, R.I., for plaintiff.

Nicholas Long, University of R.I., Kingston, R.I., for defendants.


PETTINE, Senior District Judge.1

In this action, the plaintiff, Raymond J. Gorman, III, seeks injunctive and compensatory relief under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1988, for alleged violations of his constitutional rights to free speech and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The defendants in this action are the University of Rhode Island ("U.R.I.") and three of its employees, Ronald Weisinger, A. Robert Rainville, and Edward Eddy, in both their individual and official capacities, and Roger Begin, in his capacity as Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights through a series of three disciplinary hearings during the academic year 1984-1985, which resulted in both his being barred from holding office in any recognized student organization and his suspension for a year from U.R.I.

The Court's jurisdiction is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1982) (federal question).

I. Factual Background

Raymond Gorman enrolled as a student at U.R.I. in September 1981. During his second and third years at the University, he became active in student organizational activities and was elected to serve on the Student Senate. He served on the University's presidential search committee, and chaired the Student Senate's affirmative action committee and its student organizational and review committee. As frequently happens in student politics, some of the offices and viewpoints held by Gorman sparked controversy. Some students opposed Gorman's chairmanship of the Senate's affirmative action committee because of his status as a white male. Some students and staff opposed Gorman's Student Senate budget proposals, one of which successfully cut funding for a student entertainment committee, and another of which challenged a recommended salary increase for the Student Senate's paid secretary, Melanie Murphy.

In September of 1984, Gorman was involved in two incidents that gave rise to the disciplinary proceedings and sanctions which he challenges in this Court. On September 17, 1984, Gorman and the then-acting-director of the U.R.I. student union, Vera Carr, engaged in an argument based on conflicting claims over rights to take and use a student union van. On Sept. 19, Carr filed a complaint with the University charging Gorman with "Verbal abuse — Harassment," citing specific violations of U.R.I.'s Student Rights and Responsibilities 1984 — 85 Handbook.

On September 18, 1984, the day after the argument with Carr, Gorman and Student Senate Secretary Melanie Murphy engaged in an argument based on conflicting claims as to the proper handling of the keys to the student union van. Later that day, Murphy filed a complaint with the University charging Gorman with "verbal harassment and threats," citing specific violation of the University's handbook referred to above.

Over the next six months, there followed three separate disciplinary hearings before the University Board on Student Conduct ("UBSC"), stemming from (1) the charges filed by Vera Carr, (2) the charges filed by Melanie Murphy and (3) subsequent charges filed by Vice President for Student Affairs A. Robert Rainville, based upon Gorman's non-compliance with certain sanctions issued by the second (Murphy) hearing board. Throughout this series of hearings, the UBSC consisted of one Professor and, at different times, either four or five students. At all times, the Acting Director of Student Life, Ronald Weisinger, served as the UBSC advisor and participated in its meetings as a non-voting party.

1. The Carr Hearings

On October 4, 1984, a seven hour hearing on the Carr charges was held before the UBSC. By a 6-0 vote, the UBSC found Gorman guilty of "harassing and intimidating Vera Carr with verbal abuse," and by a 5-0-1 vote, found him guilty of "impeding her in the performance of her duties." The UBSC placed Gorman on disciplinary probation until April 4, 1985, and further required him to attend one counseling session at the University's counseling center by October 31, 1984. No appeal was taken from this decision. Gorman attended the required counseling session on November 5, 1984. The disciplinary probation sanction required Gorman to resign his Student Senate seat, which he did. The student Senate changed its constitution shortly thereafter, however, allowing students on probation to serve as Senators. Gorman then ran for his former Student Senate position, and was returned to office.

2. The Murphy Hearings

The hearing on the Murphy charge was convened on November 8, 1984. Gorman, through Rick Santurri, a fellow student allowed to advise Gorman, alleged bias on the part of two UBSC members: Roberto Pietersz, who had opposed Gorman's chairmanship of the Student Senate affirmative action committee; and chairperson Julia Emmets, who had allegedly expressed her dislike of "people who went against the system" in a previous conversation with Santurri. In a subsequent hearing session, Santurri also questioned UBSC advisor Weisinger about bias, alleging that Weisinger and the charging party Murphy were personal friends, but Weisinger refused to answer on that point.

After a seven hour session on November 8, 1984, the Murphy hearing was continued until November 28, 1984. Due to a temporary stay of the hearing ordered by the state court,2 the hearing did not in fact resume until January 14, 1985. Following the conclusion of the hearing, the UBSC by a 5-0 vote found Gorman guilty of "verbally threatening and/or harassing Melanie Murphy." The UBSC issued two sanctions against Gorman. First, he was required within two weeks to undergo an evaluation with the University's consulting psychiatrist and, if recommended by the psychiatrist, to enter and complete a course of treatment as a condition of continued enrollment at U.R.I. Second, Gorman was immediately and permanently banned from serving as either a Student Senator, Senate committee member, or officer of any recognized student organization.

Gorman appealed this decision to the University Board of Judicial Appeals ("Appeals Board"). The Appeals Board consists of two professors and one student. It reviews, upon request, decisions of the UBSC. Its review is based upon a report of the UBSC's hearing and decision, prepared by the advisor to the UBSC, who in this case was defendant Weisinger. The Appeals Board approved the UBSC decision regarding Murphy's charges against Gorman.

3. The Rainville Hearing

Gorman failed to comply with the sanctions issued by the UBSC following the Murphy hearing. He participated in Student Senate meetings in his capacity as a Senator, violating sanction number two. He failed to obtain a psychiatric evaluation with the University's consulting psychiatrist, violating sanction number one. Defendant Rainville, U.R.I.'s Vice-President for Student Affairs, formally charged Gorman with violating these sanctions in a memorandum to defendant Weisinger on March 5, 1985.

A hearing on the Rainville charge was scheduled to be held on March 28, 1985 at 6 p.m. By a letter addressed to Weisinger, dated March 26, 1985, Gorman requested that he be permitted an open hearing, that a stenographer be provided at the University's expense, that he be given an opportunity to tape record the hearing, and that he be permitted to have legal counsel present. On March 27, 1985, Weisinger advised Gorman that he was entitled to make a stenographic record of the hearing at his own expense, provided he give written assurances that the University could obtain a copy.3 He was also informed that he would not be permitted to have legal counsel represent him at the hearing.

The hearing was conducted as scheduled on March 28. The UBSC in this hearing included the same two student members whom Gorman had questioned as to bias in the Murphy hearing: Chairperson Julia Emmets, and Roberto Pietersz. By a 6-0 vote, Gorman was found guilty of violating the sanctions imposed by the Murphy hearing board. Three new sanctions were imposed. First, Gorman was immediately suspended from the University through August 31, 1986. The decision provided that the suspension would be stayed until the end of the Spring, 1985 semester, if Gorman met two conditions: resigning within twenty-four hours from all positions which he previously had been prohibited from holding, and obtaining within one week the previously-required psychiatric evaluation and undertaking any recommended course of treatment. The second sanction required "that the recommended suspension continue until Raymond fully and completely complies with any and all sanctions which have been levied against him." The third sanction consisted of "Disciplinary Probation for the remainder of his undergraduate enrollment at the University." This decision was approved by defendant Edward Eddy, President of U.R.I., on April 2, 1985. On April 11, 1985, Gorman filed an appeal request, and on April 15, the University Appeals Board denied Gorman's appeal.

Plaintiff Gorman then instituted the present action. On April 16, 1985, he moved to enjoin the enforcement of the three sanctions described above. The Court issued a temporary restraining order, enjoining the defendants to allow the plaintiff to complete his Spring, 1985 semester schoolwork, absent a new incident giving rise to the right to suspend or expel him. Gorman...

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6 cases
  • Silva v. University of New Hampshire
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire
    • 15 Septiembre 1994
    ...adjudicator `is a fundamental ingredient of procedural due process.'" Gorman, supra, 837 F.2d at 15 (quoting Gorman v. University of R.I., 646 F.Supp. 799, 810 (D.R.I.1986)). "A plaintiff alleging impartiality must overcome the presumption that administrators are `men of conscience and inte......
  • GRAY BY GRAY v. Romeo
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island
    • 17 Octubre 1988
    ...potentially harmful medical treatment that is represented by the administration of antipsychotic drugs"); Gorman v. University of Rhode Island, 646 F.Supp. 799, 814 (D.R.I.1986), aff'd and rev'd in part, 837 F.2d 7 (1st Cir.1988) (federal constitutional right of privacy includes independenc......
  • Shields v. Burge
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • 20 Septiembre 1988
    ...the Therapeutic Orgy: Mental Patients' Right to Refuse Treatment, 72 NW.U.L.Rev. 461, 493 (1977). Cf. Gorman v. University of Rhode Island, 646 F.Supp. 799, 814 (D.R.I.1986) (conditioning readmission of suspended student on completion of course of psychiatric counselling violates student's ......
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    ...satisfied despite the students' inability to question the witnesses in the usual adversarial manner. See also Gorman v. Univ. of Rhode Island, 646 F.Supp. 799, 807 (D.R.I.1986) (courts have allowed at most a very limited right to cross-examination in school disciplinary hearings); cf. Winni......
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