Federal Judge Dismisses College Wrestler’s ADA, Due Process Claims

Nov 10, 2006

A federal judge from the Southern District of New York has dismissed the claim of a collegiate wrestler, who alleged that Hunter College of the City University of New York had kicked him off the wrestling team and denied him student housing in violation of Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as violated his procedural due process rights.
The court dismissed Plaintiff Alishame E. Gardner’s ADA claim because it was time-barred. It then disposed of the Constitutional due process rights claim because the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the defendants — Hunter College and Terry Wansart, Hunter’s Athletic Director — deprived him of a life, liberty, or property interest.
The origins of the legal conflict extended back to 1999 when Gardner, who claimed he was mentally ill with schizophrenia, sent an e-mail to Hunter’s president concerning what he characterized as “personal information security.” The plaintiff claimed that shortly after he sent the communication, Wrestling Coach Robert Gaudenzi “confronted him about the e-mail.” Gardner claimed that the next day he was removed from the wrestling team’s roster.
Gardner fought his removal from the team as accusations of physical intimidation were levied against him. The friction escalated as the school allegedly “deprived him of student housing because of his disability.” Finally, he accused the school of violating his due process rights.
After the defendants moved to dismiss the case, based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court began its analysis.
The court wrote that “because the Americans with Disabilities Act does not contain a statute of limitations, courts look to analogous state law to determine the appropriate limitations period, which is determined in New York to be three years. Federal law then determines when the claims accrue. Connolly v. McCall, 254 F.3d 36, 41 (2d Cir. 2001).
“Gardner was informed that he was no longer a member of the wrestling team in a March 23, 2000, letter, following the hearing before the Faculty-Student Disciplinary Committee at which he participated,” the court wrote. “Similarly, and although Gardner does not allege the date of any alleged discriminatory housing decisions, it appears that those decisions occurred on or before the March 23, 2000, hearing date. His injuries pursuant to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act therefore all occurred on or before March 23, 2000, which is more than four years before his complaint was filed in the Eastern District on March 25, 2004. Because, as discussed above, each of these claims is subject to a three-year statute of limitations, each is time-barred.”
The court next turned to Gardner’s procedural due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents states from depriving individuals of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Accordingly, to state a section 1983 claim for a procedural due process violation, a plaintiff must establish that he has been deprived of one of those protected interests. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd. v. College Sav. Bank, 527 U.S. 627, 643, 119 S. Ct. 2199, 144 L. Ed. 2d 575 (1999).
“Gardner’s alleged injuries do not involve the deprivation of life or liberty, and he therefore must establish that he has been deprived of a property interest. Property interests are ‘created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law.’ Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 538, 84 L. Ed. 2d 494, 105 S. Ct. 1487 (1985) (quoting Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972)). In order to have ‘a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it.’ Roth, 408 U.S. at 577.”
The court continued: “applying these precepts, the United States Supreme Court has held that where a state affords to its citizens the right to a public education, education in that state is a property interest that cannot be withheld from a citizen without due process of law. See Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 572-73, 95 S. Ct. 729, 42 L. Ed. 2d 775 (1975). Here, however, Gardner has not been deprived of his state-bestowed right to a public education but rather solely of the ability to wrestle for or live in student housing at Hunter. Participation in such particular components of academic or extracurricular life, unlike participation in public education more generally, is not protected by federal or New York law; nor does the Court know of nor does Gardner reference any other ‘independent source’ from which his entitlement to participate in college wrestling or to student housing derives. Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 538; Roth, 408 U.S. at 577.
“To the contrary, courts in this circuit and elsewhere have held that due process need not accompany a public school’s decision to remove a student from involvement in extracurricular activities. See, e.g., Seamons v. Snow, 84 F.3d 1226, 1234-35 (10th Cir. 1996) (no property interest in membership on football team); Walsh v. Louisiana High School Athletic Asso., 616 F.2d 152, 156 (5th Cir. 1980) (due process clause does not protect participation in interscholastic sports); Mazevski v. Horseheads Cent. Sch. Dist., 950 F. Supp. 69, 72-73 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (‘[I]t is only when a student is excluded from the entire educational process that due process must be afforded. His exclusion from a particular course, event or activity is of no constitutional import.’). Not being entitled under state or other law to participate as a matter of right in college athletics or to live in student housing, Gardner has not been deprived of property without due process of law. Accordingly, he has failed to state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of his constitutional right to due process.”
Alishame E. Gardner v. Terry Wansart et al.; S.D.N.Y.; 05 Civ. 3351 (SHS); 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69491; 9/25/06


Articles in Current Issue