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Sill v. Pennsylvania State University

decided: June 8, 1972.

GEOFFREY SILL ET AL., APPELLANT IN NO. 71-1233, PLAINTIFFS, AND RICHARD A. PARKANY ET AL., INTERVENING PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY ET AL. APPEAL OF ALAN C. CUNNINGHAM, NO. 71-1234. APPEAL OF SCOTT E. GIBBS, NO. 71-1235. APPEAL OF KENNETH R. COOPER, NO. 71-1236. APPEAL OF STEVEN D. WEISS, NO. 71-1237. APPEAL OF WALTER T. CHAMPION, JR., NO. 71-1238. APPEAL OF DIANE K. LEHNIG, NO. 71-1239. THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY ET AL. NO. 71-1240. APPEAL OF JOSEPH SCHNELLER, NO. 71-1241. APPEAL OF ELLEN KEYSER, NO. 71-1242



Maris and Max Rosenn, Circuit Judges, and VanArtsdalen, District Judge.

Author: Maris

Opinion OF THE COURT

MARIS, Circuit Judge.

These are consolidated appeals by ten of the plaintiffs from an order of the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissing an action brought by students against The Pennsylvania State University, its board of trustees and three of its officers, in which the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

The facts out of which the controversy arose are fully set out in the findings and opinion of the district court filed by Judge Nealon, 318 F. Supp. 608, and need not be detailed here. Suffice it to say that early in 1969, when the University experienced an increasing number of student disciplinary problems, its president sought to establish a disciplinary system with appropriate regulations for the adjudication of charges against students. Disciplinary boards were set up and regulations were promulgated. On April 15, 1970 the Coalition for Peace, a campus group, conducted a noon rally in front of "Old Main", the principal administration building. A march followed which did not hinder normal activities nor did the University officials interfere with it in any way. After the march, at about 1:30 o'clock P.M., several hundred students entered Old Main and remained there. The operations of the administrative offices were disrupted by the students, some of whom ran throughout the building, took down fire hoses, broke into the president's locked office, closed the Old Main computer center, broke several vending machines, and ordered the administrators out of the building, engaging in shoving and pushing two of them. The students were requested to leave the building but refused to do so.

On the previous day, April 14th, at about 2 o'clock P.M., between 60 and 75 students had entered the Shields Building, which houses various other administrative offices. There was no physical violence but the administrative functions carried on there were interfered with and ceased. At closing time the students left the building. That same day the University sought and was granted an ex parte preliminary injunction by the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania, restraining ten named students and forty others designated as "John Doe" from obstructing the free ingress to and egress from the Shields Building and any other premises or property of the University. At about 4 o'clock P.M. on the following day, April 15th, when the students were disrupting the operations of the administrative offices in Old Main, a deputy sheriff attempted to read this injunction to the crowd assembled in the center hall of the building. The noise and confusion from the crowd and interference by a high-frequency squeal from a public address system which was being used by one of the students was so great that the reading of the injunction was unintelligible to those close to the deputy and was inaudible to most of the students in the building. At about 6 o'clock P.M. the University obtained a writ of attachment for violation of the injunction; at 7:50 o'clock P.M. a member of the state police arrived at Old Main and announced that those remaining after two minutes would be arrested. Thereafter, those who remained were taken to waiting buses. In a melee which followed, about 15 policemen were injured, eight of whom required hospital treatment.

The president of the University announced on April 20th that violations of the regulations arising out of the events of April 14th and 15th would be dealt with by the Temporary University Judicial Board. Thereafter during the evening of April 20th and continuing until the early hours of April 21st, fire bombing and window-breaking incidents at several buildings took place, including a stoning attack on the home of the president. On April 21st, when state police returned to arrest certain students, stones and other missiles were thrown at them and their buses causing injury to one officer. Several students were arrested at that time.

Two days later, on April 23, 1970, the board of trustees of the University met in special session and in a statement announced that it had asked "a distinguished group of private citizens" to serve as a fact finding panel to hear charges against certain students and to make recommendations to the president. Three distinguished members of the legal profession accepted appointment to this panel which became known as the "Special Disciplinary Panel".

Disciplinary charges were brought against thirty-six undergraduate and three graduate students. Proper notice of hearing and specifications of charges were given. All the plaintiffs were charged with violating section IIA of the University's "Guide to University Regulations Concerning Students Affairs, Conduct and Discipline, 1969-1970." Fifteen of the plaintiffs were also charged with violating Rules W-11 and W-15 of the University's "Senate Policies and Rules for Undergraduate Students, 1969-1970." The Special Disciplinary Panel adopted rules of procedure which are appended to the opinion of the district court, 318 F. Supp. at 625-626, and conducted hearings on May 18, 19 and 20, 1970. Seven of the plaintiffs, including five of the appellants, Champion, Cunningham, Gibbs, Keyser and Parkany, made no appearance before the panel; ten of the plaintiffs, including five of the appellants, Sill, Cooper, Weiss, Lehnig and Schneller, appeared, were represented by counsel, and at the outset attacked the legality of the panel itself to hear the charges but, when their challenge to the jurisdiction of the panel was rejected, withdrew from the proceedings and did not participate further.

After hearing the charges, the special Disciplinary Panel submitted written reports and recommendations to the president of the University, two members submitting a majority report recommending that five of the appellants, Sill, Cunningham, Cooper, Weiss and Champion, be dismissed; that two, Gibbs and Keyser, be suspended for four terms; that one, Parkany, be suspended for two terms; that one of the appellants, Lehnig, and seven other plaintiffs, be placed on probation for two years, and that one appellant, Schneller, be placed on probation until graduation. The dissenting member of the panel submitted a separate report to the president recommending disciplinary action for eight students ranging from letters of warning to suspension for one term. The president accepted the recommendations of the majority report of the panel and on June 19, 1970 informed each of the plaintiffs that the disciplinary action recommended by the majority report would be imposed, effective immediately. However, he afforded the plaintiffs an opportunity to submit statements to him by June 26, 1970. On June 30, 1970 the president informed each plaintiff that his decision of June 19th would not be altered.

On July 2, 1970 the plaintiffs brought the present suit to enjoin the disciplinary action. A motion for a temporary restraining order was denied. A motion for a preliminary injunction, made by two of the plaintiffs, was also denied. 315 F. Supp. 125. After final hearing, the district court filed its findings of fact and opinion denying the injunction. 318 F. Supp. 608. It is the judgment entered thereon dismissing the complaint from which the appeals now before us were taken.

The appellants contend here, as they did in the district court, that the regulations under which they were charged and disciplined are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, that submission of the charges to a special disciplinary panel deprived them of due process of law, that they were disciplined without substantial supporting evidence, and that all of them, including those placed on probation, had standing in the district court to challenge the disciplinary procedure taken against them. We consider these contentions seriatim.

I. Unconstitutional Vagueness

The appellants assert that the University regulations for the violation of which they were disciplined are so vague and broad as to deny them due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It is true that a prohibitory law of a state which is so vague as to require speculation as to its meaning runs afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment and that this rule extends to rules regulating the conduct of students in educational institutions chartered or supported by the state. Soglin v. Kauffman, 7 Cir. 1969, 418 F.2d 163. See Tinker v. Des Moines, Independent Community School Dist., 1969, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731, and Keyishian v. Board of Regents of New York, 1967, 385 U.S. 589, 87 S. Ct. 675, 17 L. Ed. 2d 629. It is also true, however, that codes of conduct prescribed for students by educational institutions are not required to satisfy the same rigorous standards in this regard as are criminal statutes. Soglin v. Kauffman, 7 Cir. 1969, ...


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