United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. Schroeder United States District Judge.
action arises out of Plaintiff's long-term suspension
from classes at a community college for alleged violations of
the student code of conduct. Before the court are the
parties' competing motions for summary judgment (Docs.
30, 34) and Plaintiff's motion to strike evidence outside
the administrative record (Doc. 38). For the reasons that
follow, the court will deny Plaintiff's motions, grant
Defendants' motion for summary judgment on
Plaintiff's federal claims, and remand the action to
State court for further consideration of Plaintiff's
State-law claims under the North Carolina Constitution and
North Carolina's Administrative Procedure Act.
Bailey Clemmons enrolled as a student in the dental assisting
program for the 2015 academic year at Guilford Technical
Community College (“GTCC”), a public community
college in Jamestown, North Carolina. (Doc. 11 ¶ 3; Doc.
31 ¶ 3; Doc. 35 ¶ 3.) On September 15, 2015, she
was walking her dog, Penelope, near her home in Durham, when
the pet was tragically struck and killed by a car. (Doc. 4
¶ 6; Doc. 11 ¶ 6; Doc. 31 ¶ 6.) Clemmons sent
a text message to her professor, Sherry Shook, explaining:
“Good morning, Mrs. Shook. This is Bailey. I won't
be in class today. My sister died in a car accident this
morning.” (Doc. 35 ¶ 8(a); Doc. 35-6 at 3, 8.)
When Professor Shook contacted Clemmons later that evening,
Clemmons thanked the teacher for her consolation and
responded, “It is not easy. Life is different now at
home.” (Doc. 35-6 at 3.) Clemmons missed the next two
days of classes. (Id. at 4.) As gestures of
sympathy, Clemmons's peers purchased a card and collected
money - described as “close to $200” - in honor
of her sister. (Id. at 5; Doc. 35-13 at 6-7; Doc.
35-14 at 27.)
Snider, the GTCC dental assisting department chair, also
emailed her condolences as to Clemmons's “little
sister” and assured Clemmons that “[t]his
certainly qualifies as an extenuating circumstance, so you
will not be penalized for absences during this time. . . .
Stay with your family.” (Doc. 35-6 at 7.) The next day,
Clemmons informed Mrs. Snider that she was in the process of
making funeral arrangements. (Id.) Clemmons also
reported to her instructors that there was going to be a
memorial service for her sister at Kingdom Hall on September
18, 2015, and that she would be taking a few days off for
“mental mollification.” (Id. at 3; Doc.
35 ¶ 8(b).) Clemmons further explained that, because the
service would be shortly thereafter, she would be wearing her
black dress to class. (Doc. 35 ¶ 8(c); Doc. 35-6 at 4.)
Clemmons also spoke to Violeta Herrera, an administrative
assistant in the dental department, and informed her that she
had two sisters, Madison and Penelope, and that Penelope was
the sister who died. (Doc. 35-6 at 5.)
of her absences, Clemmons was reaching the maximum number
allowable without incurring an academic penalty.
(Id.) On multiple occasions, Professor Shook and Dr.
Richard Foster, director of the dental program, inquired
about an obituary and requested that Clemmons bring one to
GTCC officials so that her absences could be excused.
(Id.; Doc. 35 ¶ 8.) Clemmons agreed to do so.
(Doc. 35-6 at 5.) About ten days into the charade, however,
GTCC faculty discovered through Facebook that Penelope was
not Clemmons's sister, but her dog. (Doc. 35 ¶ 8k.)
Dr. Foster then filed a formal complaint, charging that
Clemmons had violated GTCC's Student Conduct Policy.
(Id. ¶ 6; Doc. 35-9 at 2-3).
enrolled at GTCC are provided and required to comply with
several policies, guidelines, and regulations (Doc. 35-4 at
2), including GTCC's Student Conduct Policy (also
referred to as the “Student Code of Conduct”).
(Doc. 35 ¶ 9; Doc. 36 ¶ 4). That policy provides:
Students may not display conduct on Guilford Technical
Community College premises or at GTCC sponsored events that
adversely affects the college's educational objectives,
is illega1, or is contrary to the rules and regulations of
the college. Students who display such conduct shall be
subject to disciplinary action under the college's
disciplinary policy. The Student Code of Conduct may also
apply to off-campus incidents or behaviors when college
administrators determine that off-campus conduct affects a
substantial interest of the college. The student has the
right to appeal disciplinary action. A full text of the
Student Policy and disciplinary procedures is available in
the Medlin Campus Center (Jamestown Campus), Suite 320.
Conduct prohibited by this rule shall be determined by the
President, consistent with this definition.
(Doc. 35-9 at 2.) The policy goes on to set out prohibited
conduct by means of an illustrative list - which expressly
“does not include all conduct that could be
prohibited” - and includes “[f]orgery,
alteration, or misuse of college documents, records, or
instruments of identification providing false information to
the college”; “[a]buse of the Student Code of
Conduct, including but not limited to . . . falsifying,
distorting or misrepresenting before a Disciplinary Review
Committee”; and “[b]ehavior that adversely
impacts the learning environment adversely affecting the
college community's pursuit of its educational
purposes.” (Id. at 2-3.)
October 2, Michael Hughes, Chief Disciplinary Officer at
GTCC, informed Clemmons of the claims against her and that he
would be investigating. (Doc. 35 ¶¶ 6-7; Doc.
35-7.) Hughes explained that Clemmons was alleged to have
violated two provisions of the GTCC Student Conduct Policy:
(1) forgery, alteration, or misuse of college documents,
records, or instruments of identification providing false
information to the college, and (2) violation of local,
state, or federal criminal law on college premises. (Doc.
35-7 at 3.) Clemmons emailed Hughes on October 6, writing
that she took full responsibility for the miscommunication.
(Doc. 31 ¶ 11; Doc. 31-2.) Hughes and Clemmons met on
October 7, when Hughes informed Clemmons that she was accused
of providing false information to GTCC, stating falsely that
her sister had died in a car accident. (Doc. 35 ¶ 7.)
After the meeting, on October 23, Hughes determined that
Clemmons had violated the Student Conduct Policy by providing
false information to a college official and placed her on
restricted probation for four semesters. (Id. ¶
12; Doc. 35-10.)
October 26, Clemmons appealed Hughes' decision to the
GTCC Review Committee. (Doc. 31 ¶ 16.) A hearing for her
appeal was set for November 3. (Id.) Before the
hearing, Hughes emailed Clemmons to inform her of the
witnesses that GTCC officials would call and information
concerning her rights during the hearing. (Doc. 35-12 at
3-5.) These rights included the right to have counsel
present, the right to call witnesses and present evidence,
and the right to testify or refuse to testify. (Id.)
Hughes' email noted, however, that if Clemmons elected to
have counsel present at the hearing, her counsel could not
address the committee. (Id. at 3.) Hughes's
email also explained that the Review Committee would
determine appropriate sanctions, which would not be limited
to those imposed by Hughes. (Id. at 4.) Clemmons
also had the right to appeal the Review Committee's
decision, but only for two grounds: (1) the severity of the
penalty, or (2) an alleged violation of GTCC's procedures
during the hearing or investigation. (Doc. 35-17 at 8.)
hearing, faculty and students testified that Clemmons told
them that her ten-year-old sister had been killed. Faculty
witnesses also expressed concerns about whether Clemmons
could be trusted, especially during clinic rotations. (Doc.
35-13 at 31-32, 44-45; Doc. 35-14 at 32-34.) At the hearing,
Clemmons discussed the service held for her dog at a local
place of worship. (Doc. 35-15 at 5.) But on November 9, when
asked about the service, Clemmons stated that there was no
service; instead, a few individuals had convened to comfort
her. (Doc. 35-16 at 2.) Clemmons later argued that her
hearing testimony was a miscommunication. (Id.) The
Review Committee voted to suspend Clemmons until the fall
2016 semester. (Doc. 35 ¶¶ 21, 23; Doc. 35-17 at
2.) The Review Committee also mandated that Clemmons complete
ethics training before re-enrolling. (Doc. 35-17 at 2.)
again appealed her decision to Dr. Quentin Johnson, Vice
President of Student Support Services. (Doc. 4 ¶ 17;
Doc. 11 ¶ 3; Doc. 35 ¶¶ 23-24.) Johnson
affirmed the Review Committee's decision, finding no
violation of GTCC's procedures during the hearing or
investigation and concluding that the sanction imposed was
appropriate. (Doc. 35-18 at 2.) Because Clemmons was
suspended and could not complete her coursework, GTCC gave
her failing grades for her incomplete courses. (Doc. 31
February 25, 2016, Clemmons filed this action, as amended,
against GTCC and Johnson in Durham County Superior Court
(Doc. 1-1), and Defendants timely removed the case to this
court (Doc. 1). Clemmons seeks reversal and expungement of
her long-term suspension, alteration of her failing grades to
incomplete grades, a refund of any tuition paid to GTCC by or
on her behalf, an injunction, and attorneys' fees.
Following discovery, the parties filed competing motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 30, 34.) Clemmons later moved to
strike certain evidence GTCC submitted, arguing that it is
inadmissible because it was not a part of GTCC's
administrative record. (Doc. 38.)
judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, affidavits, and
other proper discovery materials demonstrate that no genuine
dispute as to any material fact exists and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
322-33 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the
burden of initially demonstrating the absence of a genuine
dispute as to any material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S.
at 323. If this burden is met, the nonmoving party must then
affirmatively demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact
which requires trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). There
is no issue for trial unless sufficient evidence favoring the
nonmoving party exists for a factfinder to return a verdict
for that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 249-50, 257 (1986).