NEWMAN v. BURGIN No. 90-1739.
930 F.2d 955 (1991)
Anny NEWMAN, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Diana BURGIN, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.
Decided April 22, 1991.
Lawrence T. Bench with whom William E. Searson, III, Boston, Mass., was on brief, for defendants, appellees.
Before BREYER, Chief Judge, and CAMPBELL, Circuit Judge, and CAFFREY, Senior District Judge.
In October 1985, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, after considerable investigation and debate, formally "censured" tenured Assistant Professor Anny Newman for "seriously negligent scholarship," amounting, it said, to "objective plagiarism." The University punished her by making her censure public and by disqualifying her for five years from serving as an administrator or a member of various academic boards.
Professor Newman then brought this federal civil-rights action, basically claiming that University officials deprived her of "liberty" or "property" without "due process of law." See Board of Regents v. Roth,
Subsequently, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants on Professor Newman's remaining federal claim, namely her demand for an injunction. To support this demand, Professor Newman made the same basic argument, namely that the defendants deprived her of constitutionally protected "liberty" or "property" without "due process of law." But, the legal standard for assessing her argument is different. When a civil-rights plaintiff asks for damages, the defendants can assert a "qualified immunity" defense. They can argue: "Even if we acted unlawfully, we acted according to what we could then reasonably have thought was the law." See, e.g., Goyco de Maldonado v. Rivera,
After reviewing Professor Newman's arguments, the record, and the law, we conclude that despite the more favorable standard, Professor Newman cannot prevail. The largely undisputed facts in the record show that the University provided her with all the "process" that is her "due." In reciting those facts, we view the record as favorably to Professor Newman as the law permits. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Greenburg v. Puerto Rico Maritime Shipping Auth.,
1. The "Plagiarism." In 1983, Professor Newman published, in Festschrift für Nikola R. Pribic (Hieronymous Verlag, Neuried 1983), a thirteen-page article about a poem (called "Suze sina razmetnoga") by a 17th-century Croatian poet, Franjin Gundulić. One of Professor Newman's colleagues, Professor Diana Burgin, thought Newman might have copied parts of it from a 1952 book (cited in the article as a source) by Vsevolod Setschkareff, Die Dichtungen Gundulićs und ihr poetischer Stil (Atheneum Verlag, Bonn 1952). She brought her suspicions to the attention of the Russian Department's personnel committee. Professor Robert Spaethling, another member of the committee, after translating relevant Setschkareff passages from the German, found many similar passages in book and article.
Setschkareff's book refers to similar Gundulic quotations, and, in Spaethling's translation from the German, it says:
To take another example, at one point, Professor Newman's article says:
The Setschkareff book, as translated by Professor Spaethling, says:
Spaethling found similarities of roughly this sort on about seven of the 13 pages of Professor Newman's article. Based on these similarities, personnel-committee members, in effect, charged Professor Newman with plagiarism.
Professor Newman replied that the similarities did not amount to plagiarism for several reasons. First, she said that most of the common passages simply reflected general knowledge among scholars in the field and did not require attribution. Second, she pointed out that many of the similarities consisted of paraphrases of the same lines of Croatian poetry and therefore had to resemble each other. Third, she added that her article essentially paraphrased her 1962 Harvard Master's thesis, which a noted scholar in the field had supervised and found adequate. (In fact, he had specifically told her to use Setschkareff's book as a model.) Fourth, she referred to the article's six footnotes, three of which cited to Setschkareff's book, and asked why she would have mentioned the
2. The University's Procedures. The University investigated the plagiarism controversy, and eventually decided what action to take, roughly as follows:
Subsequently, Professor Newman brought this lawsuit. Eventually, the district court granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor. And, this appeal followed.
Due Process of Law
The basic legal question before us is whether the record permits a finding that the University (1) deprived Professor Newman of "life, liberty or property," (2) without "due process of law." We shall assume, for the sake of argument, that, in censuring Professor Newman publicly and barring her from administrative positions, the University deprived her of "liberty" or "property." See Paul v. Davis,
Our brief description of that process shows that, at each stage of the proceedings, the University afforded Professor Newman an opportunity to present her side of the story, it permitted her to challenge decision makers for bias, it permitted her to call witnesses, it permitted her to see, and to criticize, the evidence against her, and it permitted her to see all tentative recommendations, and to argue against them, before they became final. In short, it provided Professor Newman with an impressive array of due process safeguards — notice of proposed action, a trial-type hearing in which she was given an opportunity to present proofs and arguments and to challenge the proofs and arguments of others, all before neutral decision makers, who prepared written findings of fact and reasons for their decision. See generally Friendly, "Some Kind of Hearing", 123 U.Pa.L.Rev. 1267, 1279-95 (1975). In light of the competing interests at stake (for Newman and for the University), and in light of the slight probability that additional procedural safeguards would have resulted in a better decision, see Mathews v. Eldridge,
Nonetheless, Professor Newman argues on appeal that a thorough reading of the record reveals proceedings that, in reality, were far less fair than they might seem on the surface. We have, therefore, read the record with care, and we have considered Professor Newman's five detailed arguments that she believes show fundamental unfairness in the proceedings. We are unconvinced by these arguments. We shall briefly explain why those five arguments, taken separately or together, do not show that the proceedings failed to meet constitutional standards of basic fairness.
1. The "Red Book" Procedures. Professor Newman points out that the University did not follow its ordinary procedures for "major personnel actions" listed in a manual called the "Red Book." She notes that the "Red Book" procedures differed in certain respects from those followed in her case. (She alleges that under "Red Book" procedures, she would have been entitled, among other things, to compile the file to be considered at all levels of the decision-making process, and that the fact that her "Refutation" was not before the initial personnel-committee members who first brought the charges or before the "outside scholars" violated this right.) And, she argues that the deviation violated "due process" principles.
The Due Process Clause of the Constitution, however, does not require the University to follow any specific set of detailed procedures as long as the procedures the University actually follows are basically fair ones (which in this case they were). See Hill v. Trustees of Ind. Univ.,
2. The Refusal to Submit the "Refutation" to Outside Experts. As we mentioned above, when the Dean initially heard about the plagiarism charges, before deciding whether to take further action, he sent a copy of Professor Newman's article and her Master's thesis to two outside experts. But, he did not submit Professor Newman's "Refutation" to those experts. He wrote Professor Newman:
Professor Newman argues that the Dean's decision not to send a copy of her "Refutation" to the outside experts was fundamentally unfair, for that refusal prevented the outside experts from adequately understanding her perspective until it was too late — until they had made up their minds — after which point her case, she says, was doomed. The experts would not likely change their minds once made up, nor would a group of University officials likely take a different point of view, no matter how often or how thoroughly they listened to Professor Newman.
The difficulty with this argument is that it proves far too much. The Constitution does not mandate an opportunity to present proofs, arguments, and refutations to any group of people with the power to influence an important decision about life, liberty or property. The Constitution does not require a grand jury to call a potential defendant or the witnesses to whom a potential defendant refers, before proceeding to indict. See, e.g., United States v. Ruiz,
3. Arbitrary Action. Professor Newman argues that the University's final decision to punish her was itself so arbitrary that it violated the Constitution's Due Process Clause. In evaluating her claim, we recognize that, unless a fundamental liberty protected elsewhere in the Constitution (e.g., free speech) is at stake, the primary concern of the due process clause is
The Supreme Court, nonetheless, has given us a rather specific instruction applicable in this case. It has said ("assum[ing] ... a substantive right under the Due Process Clause [to be] ... free from arbitrary state action," Ewing, 474 U.S. at 223, 106 S.Ct. at 512 (emphasis added)):
Id. at 225, 106 S.Ct. at 513 (footnote omitted). Applying this standard to each of Professor Newman's two claims of "arbitrary" action, we can find no violation of the Constitution.
First, Professor Newman says that the University could not reasonably find that she plagiarized, for the Knight Committee Report effectively conceded that she did not intend to deceive. At worst, she simply used her 1962 Master's thesis when writing her 1983 article, and she assumed that the thesis was problem-free. She argues that the finding of plagiarism is arbitrary because several academic sources define plagiarism as involving an "intent to deceive;" and the University concedes that it has not shown such an intent.
Other academic sources, however, define plagiarism without reference to intent. The source used by the Knight Committee, for example, says that
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations 4 (New York, Modern Language Ass'n 1977). This source suggests that one can plagiarize through negligence or recklessness without intent to deceive. Moreover, the University did not characterize Professor Newman's subjective state of mind. It said she was guilty of "objective plagiarism," and "seriously negligent scholarship." Finally, the record reflects a serious effort by the Knight Committee and the Administration to investigate, to hear all sides, and to evaluate. We do not believe any reasonable reader of the record could conclude that "the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment." Ewing, 474 U.S. at 225, 106 S.Ct. at 513.
Second, Professor Newman argues that the Dean, Provost and Chancellor acted arbitrarily when they went beyond the Knight Committee's punishment recommendation that she be "censured," but that "no further action be taken." Professor Newman has not shown (and nothing in the record suggests) that it was a "substantial departure from academic norms," however, to make her censure public or to bar her from holding committee assignments and administrative positions for five years. Nor does the record permit a conclusion that the University officials responsible for assessing that punishment lacked the legal power to do so. And, the record makes clear that Professor Newman was given an opportunity not only to tell her story to the
Third, Professor Newman argues that all the factors mentioned previously — the failure to follow "Red Book" procedures, the failure to send her "Refutation" to the outside experts, the finding of plagiarism without a showing of intent to deceive, and the punishment — taken together show an improper motive, a kind of vendetta against her, and to punish her as a result of such a vendetta is "not actually [to] exercise professional judgment," and hence, constitutionally speaking, "arbitrary." The short and conclusive answer to this claim is that, in our view, no reasonable trier of fact could find, on the basis of this record, that the responsible University authorities, the Chancellor, the Provost, the Dean or the Knight Committee, engaged in a vendetta, or acted for some other, similarly improper, reason. That conclusion does not reasonably follow from the four circumstances mentioned, even when these are embellished with various subsidiary details that the record contains. Regardless, we have held that where stated reasons adequately support an adverse personnel action, that action is not "arbitrary," whether or not a plaintiff might demonstrate a further "real" unstated and arbitrary reason for the action. See Drown v. Portsmouth School Dist.,
In sum, the University has not deprived Professor Newman of her "liberty" or "property" without "due process of law."
The Pendent Claims
Professor Newman brought two pendent state-law claims against one of the defendants, Professor Burgin, whom, Newman says, slandered her and intentionally interfered with her professional, economic relationships. The district court, when it granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the federal claims, dismissed these state claims. Plaintiff appeals that dismissal.
The power of a federal court to hear and to determine state-law claims in nondiversity cases depends upon the presence of at least one "substantial" federal claim in the lawsuit. See United Mine Workers v. Gibbs,
Professor Newman argues that the district court abused its discretionary powers here because state statutes of limitations now prevent her from bringing her actions in state court. See Mass.Gen.L. ch. 260 §§ 2A, 4 (1987). She says that dismissal does not simply relegate her to state court, but prevents her from bringing her actions at all.
We recognize that expiration of a state limitations period is an important factor for a district court to consider when deciding whether or not to dismiss a pendent claim. See, e.g., Notrica v. Board of Supervisors,
First, when a district court dismisses all federal claims before trial, it normally will dismiss pendent state actions as well. As the Supreme Court has pointed out:
Cohill, 484 U.S. at 350 n. 7, 108 S.Ct. at 619 n. 7 (1988). Since "pendent" claims, by definition, consist of state matters over which Congress did not grant federal courts independent jurisdiction, it is not surprising that federal courts hesitate to hear them when, stripped of their federal support prior to any helpful, related, factual or legal determination, they stand before the court both pristine and alone.
Second, our examination of relevant state law suggests only a possibility — a risk — that Massachusetts procedural law would prevent Professor Newman from bringing her case. A Massachusetts savings statute says that:
Mass.Gen.L. ch. 260, § 32 (1987). And, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in deciding whether a dismissal was for a "matter of form" (thereby saving the action) has considered certain functional features of the case. Thus, in "saving" an action mistakenly brought in Superior Court (which lacked the jurisdiction given exclusively to the District Court), the Supreme Judicial Court pointed out that the plaintiff had not filed its action in the wrong court intentionally, or through gross negligence, and its first filing had "notified the defendant that resort was to be made to the courts." Loomer v. Dionne,
Here, of course, the federal court dismissal was not related to the merits of the state claims; the dismissal is, in a broad sense, jurisdictionally related (as federal law entrusts the exercise of jurisdictional power in this instance to the discretion of the district court); the defendant had proper notice that "resort was to be made to the courts;" and the plaintiff, in filing the claim in federal court, was not negligent or otherwise at fault. These features of the case suggest that the statute saves the plaintiff's case and she can bring it in the state courts. On the other hand, the Supreme Judicial Court has not decided a question quite like this one, and we must therefore agree with the intermediate Massachusetts court that (speaking through a former Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court) wrote that the matter is "not free from doubt." Granahan v. Commonwealth,
Ultimately, then, this is not a case where plaintiff faces a time bar; it is a case in which she faces only a legal risk. It is a case where a federal judge might reasonably believe, but not feel certain, that she can pursue her state claim in a state court.
For these reasons, the judgment of the district court is
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