Summary of The Dartmouth Review v. Dartmouth College, U.S. Ct. of Appeals, 1st Circuit (1989)
Cause of action: The following is a cause of action for reversal of a Committee of Standards hearing in which appellants were found guilty, and subsequently suspended on all charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. They allege racial discrimination.
Procedural History: University hearing found appellants guilty on all charges and suspended them for different amounts of time. Suspensions upheld on appeal to dean. District Court, on appeal, ruled the complaint was insufficient to state an actionable claim and dismissed the cause of action. This court affirms.
Facts: Appellants wrote some allegedly defamatory material in a school paper, and when they went to that professor for a response, the professor got violently angry at them. Professor filed charges vs. students (above) and students cross claimed (professor found not guilty). Allegations surfaced of alleged bigotry and racism within the student review faction, and the university president refused to see the students, as did the dean, who chaired the committee of standards. COS hearing took place and students were found guilty.
Students feel they never had an opportunity to tell their side of the story, whereas the black student union had the ear of both the president and dean. They allege bias at their hearing.
Issue(s): Under FRCP, do allegations of bias at a university hearing provide the basis for a claim in federal district court when the claim is dismissed for lack of cause in the lower court?
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Standard of review is not in doubt: it is plenary and strict, even in civil rights cases. This action is governed by rule 12(b)(6), which are motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The lower court was proper in its assessment of the facts. On the whole, there is nothing more than bald accusations and rhetoric which are not supported by facts.
AP’s needed to show or raise a plausible inference that they were subjected to discrimination. Their theory is based on the fact the professor is black and they are white. Color of skin has nothing to do with racism, as there is racism between people in a particular race as well as those of different ones. There was none here on the University’s part; the school even held an anti-paper rally with black students which they helped organize. The same leap of faith is taken with the argument that some COS members were biased: unfounded speculation.
AP’s also allege the Professor was handled, as a black man, much easier than students who protested apartheid some years back who were subject to, as they say, racial discrimination. Again, rule 12(b)(6) comes into play. The professor was not treated equal to the students b/c as university employee would not be treated as equal to a student. As for the apartheid protests, they were an isolated incident of people of several races, and under rule 12(b)(6), no matter how far the court would try to stretch it, has anything to do with the case-at-bar.
As to the 1981 claim, it is outside the scope of this case. No specific factors call any mistreatment to Students as a result of their race at any time. If this were to be anything, it could be under a state law claim, where the law has remedies to match this kind of problem, whether it be a tort, breach of K claim, defamation, slander, malicious interference, or any of the like.
Finally, AP’s had one last chance to save themselves: by amending their plead once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served, as per rule 15(a). AP’s ask that the court do so now, but it is too late, as no motion was filed post-judgment asking the district court to leave to amend, during the appeal’s pendency, no effort was made to secure a remand for the purpose of seeking permission to amend, and the case now has been fully briefed and argued..
Rule: Courts accept all well-plead factual averments as true, and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in appellants’ favor. However, the courts do not favor reliance on bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, and epithets. Only when a complaint upon review presents no set of facts justifying recovery that a court may affirm a dismissal.
When, in the ordinary case, the pleader has stood upon his pleading and appealed from a judgment of dismissal, amendment will not ordinarily be permitted…if the order of dismissal is affirmed.”
Holding: No. There is a minimal standard for notice pleading, but there must be factual allegations which support the claim. A claim which is based on allegations and bald assertions is not effective enough to stand on its own in pleading a cause of action.