Wednesday, September 12, 2012
The Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) dismissed Sung Yeun Park, citing her lack of professionalism, failing grades, and breach of confidentiality rules. Park sought readmission through a suit in the Southern District of Indiana alleging breach of contract, as well as equal protection and due process violations. The district court dismissed Park’s claims for failure to state a claim, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed in Park v. Indiana University School of Dentistry.
Park alleged that IUSD breached its contract with her by failing to follow the dismissal procedures found in IUSD’s Student Handbook and Codes of Conduct, making her claim similar to those in the more successful Georgia case, Barnes v. Board of Regents, about which we recently blogged. While the Seventh Circuit expressed some skepticism that there was an implied contract between IUSD and its students, Indiana courts in any case take a deferential approach to educational institutions' processes for student discipline. The court noted that “literal adherence to internal rules will not be required where the dismissal rests upon expert judgments as to academic or professional standards.” The faculty at IUSD determined that Park “failed to progress in her professional development and failed to demonstrate fitness to practice” at the level deemed to be required. Because there was no indication that the decision was made in bad faith, the Seventh Circuit refused to second-guess the judgment of the administration, thereby determining Park had no claim for breach of contract.
Her due process argument amounted to a claim that her constitutional rights were violated because the IUSD had not followed the appropriate procedures, but her the Court found that her contractual interest is protected by state contracts law, not the federal constitution. Nor did the Court accept Park's claim that her inability to pursue her chosen career path constituted a substantive due process violation. The complaint contained insufficient allegations to state an equal protection claim.
The Seventh Circuit suggested that Park's claims could also have been dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds, but IUSD for some reason waived that defense by not raising it.
[Christina Phillips and JT]