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Civil Rights – Student Dismissal – Due Process – VMI Cadet

A cadet at Virginia Military Institute has not shown a violation of due process in his dismissal on a charge of plagiarism, and a Lynchburg U.S. District Court dismisses the student’s pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

VMI’s grading policy allows students to note on written work when and what kind of assistance they may have received with an assignment. As a result of an alleged discrepancy in the information plaintiff provided on this point for a Spanish assignment, he was prosecuted by the honor court for plagiarism and making a false statement. The jury acquitted plaintiff of the plagiarism charge, but convicted him of making a false statement. He was expelled from VMI.

A person must have a legitimate claim of entitlement to the property interest, which is created not by the Constitution, but by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law. Plaintiff could not have a property interest in his continued enrollment at VMI, or in his expectation of receiving a decree from VMI, unless there is an underlying state created interest. I will assume, however, for the purposes of this litigation, that plaintiff had a protected property interest in his VMI education.

In the student disciplinary context, the Due Process Clause requires that a student must receive notice and an opportunity to be heard. The crux of plaintiff’s complaint is his allegation that, having been found not guilty of plagiarism, he could not have been found guilty of making a false statement regarding the alleged plagiarism. However, the evidence indicates plaintiff was given adequate notice of the charges and was provided an opportunity to be heard. Plaintiff was dismissed subsequent to an investigation, pretrial proceedings, a trial in a student-run honor court, monitored by a superintendent’s representative; a review of the honor court decision by the superintendent and the board of visitors’ denial of plaintiff’s appeal. Plaintiff has failed to show a violation of his constitutional right to due process.

Complaint dismissed.

Smith v. VMI (Moon, J.) No. 5:09cv00053, May 27, 2010; USDC at Lynchburg, Va. VLW 010-3-281, 11 pp.

VLW 010-3-281

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