Court Must Apply California’s New Fair Procedure Doctrine To Student Expulsion

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Jan 29, 2024

The Career Development Institute, Inc. dismissed Ricardo Campbell from its vocational nursing program.

The Institute’s student handbook and school catalog outline student discipline procedures.  The handbook describes grounds for discipline and states students may appeal dismissals.  The catalog describes appeal procedures.  These procedures do not require a hearing or some other opportunity for students to be heard before the Institute dismisses them.

On September 29, 2020, the Institute’s director of nursing wrote a two-page letter saying the Institute was dismissing Campbell following an incident during a clinical placement where three nurses said Campbell was rude.  Campbell said he had merely tripped on a nurse’s foot.  Campbell reported the incident to Human Resources at the clinic.  The letter stated that the Institute requires students to report problems to their instructors, not to staff at clinics. Campbell’s actions allegedly placed the Institute’s continuation with the facility at risk.

The Institute argued that it was not the first problem it had with Campbell, but the letter only gave this incident as the basis for the dismissal.

Campbell filed an internal appeal of the dismissal, and the Institute ultimately upheld the dismissal.  Campbell filed suit challenging his dismissal.

The trial court denied the petition, finding that the Institute’s rules did not require a hearing to be held.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision in light of the California Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Boermeester v. Carry, where the California Supreme Court, for the first time, applied administrative hearing requirements to a private university’s disciplinary decisions.

In Boermeester, the California Supreme Court detailed the common law doctrine of fair procedure, which applies when exclusion from membership deprives a person of substantial educational, financial, and professional advantages.  Under Boermeester, fair procedure requires a private organization to comply with its own procedural rules governing expulsion, and it permits courts to evaluate basic fairness for those rules when excluding or expelling an individual.  Specifically, fair procedure requires adequate notice of the charges and a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

The Court of Appeals remanded the decision to the trial court to determine whether the fair procedure doctrine applies to the Institute’s dismissal of Campbell.  If it does apply, the trial court must determine whether the Institute was required to hold a hearing, and whether the Institute provided a sufficient hearing.

Note: This case is one of the first cases that will apply the new standard for fair procedure at private schools.  LCW covered the Boermeester case in a special bulletin, which can be found here.  LCW will monitor this case for future developments.

Campbell v. Career Development Institute, Inc. (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1109.

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