United States District Court, D. Nevada
ORDER 1) GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, 2) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND 3) DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT
(ECF NOS. 30, 48, 49, 50)
P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Nikta Janati attended dental school at defendant University
of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine (UNLV). In
2013, she was suspended for a year for presenting another
student's work as her own. She now brings claims against
UNLV and individual faculty members contending that the
investigation and hearing regarding the charges against her
of academic misconduct violated her due process rights under
the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and her
contractual rights under UNLV's student policy manual.
She also claims the investigation was initiated in
retaliation for her prior complaint against a graduate
faculty member, violating her First Amendment rights.
and the individual defendants move for summary judgment,
arguing that the 14th Amendment prescribes only
“rudimentary” process in academic disciplinary
contexts, which Janati received even under the facts as she
presents them. Her contract rights in the policy manual, UNLV
argues, are similarly limited to protecting against only
“arbitrary and capricious” or “bad
faith” conduct, and there was no such conduct here.
Lastly, the defendants argue her First Amendment claims fail
because there is no evidence to support retaliatory motive.
courts exercise deference in applying procedural and
contractual precepts to the relationship between universities
and their students, Janati's claims cannot succeed. She
also fails to establish all the elements of a First Amendment
claim against either UNLV or the individual defendants. I
therefore grant the defendants' motions for summary
judgment and deny Janati's motion for partial summary
judgment. I deny the motion to dismiss as moot.
began her dental studies at UNLV in the fall of 2012. ECF No.
29 at 3. On June 21, 2013, she participated in a practical
lab exam involving work on a tooth in a mannequin model. For
this exam, each step was checked by a faculty member.
Id. During the exam, a rubber dam that Janati was
using broke. A recent graduate and preclinical faculty
member, Justin Perdichizzi, told her to place another dam and
said he would “sign [her] off.” Id. at
4. Once she placed the new dam, she could not find
Perdichizzi, so she had another faculty member sign her off.
When Perdichizzi returned, he scolded Janati for not waiting
for him to sign her off. He then “proceeded to mock and
laugh” at Janati with his fellow graduate students.
complained to defendant faculty member Dr. R. Michael Sanders
about Perdichizzi's behavior, asserting her belief that
it was “based on inappropriate comments concerning her
Iranian national origin and her gender.” She asked Sanders
to put a stop to any further similar conduct. Id.
25, 2013, defendant Dr. Stanley Nelson assigned to his class
a project that called for waxing teeth on a model. ECF No. 48
at 6. The syllabus required three teeth be waxed; Janati was
absent for the June 25 lecture where Nelson added a fourth
tooth to the assignment. Id. She completed the
project per the syllabus with three teeth waxed by the July 2
due date. Id. A different faculty member signed it
off as complete on that day, despite not having the fourth
tooth waxed. Id.
after the tooth waxing project was submitted, Janati was
working on a project in the “wet lab” that
involved mounting a project on her articulator. Id.
Janati was approached by a fellow student, Arin Alexander,
who told her that defendants Drs. Brandon Biehler and Eleni
Collis were taking photographs of casts on Janati's
assigned bench in an adjacent lab. Id. at 7.
to Janati's complaint, she interpreted the information
from Alexander to mean that Biehler was looking for her tooth
waxing project. ECF No. 29 at 5. Desiring to show Biehler her
project, but not having an unoccupied articulator on which to
mount it, she borrowed Alexander's, which still had his
completed tooth waxing project mounted on it. Id.
Carrying both her unmounted project and Alexander's
project mounted on his articulator, she approached Biehler,
who was working with another student. ECF No. 48-1 at 50.
Janati set down Alexander's project on an
“unassigned” bench near Biehler. Id. She
returned her project to her assigned drawer and locked it.
Id. at 51. She then returned to the adjacent wet
lab. Id. at 52.
left the lab, carrying the articulator and mounted project
that Janati had left near him. He scanned it and determined
that the articulator was registered to Alexander. ECF No. 48
at 8. Biehler returned to the lab and asked Alexander for his
articulator, but Alexander could not produce it. Id.
He then asked Janati for her tooth waxing project.
Id. She produced her unmounted project from her
drawer and gave it to him. Biehler brought both Janati's
unmounted project and Alexander's mounted project on his
articulator to Sanders. Biehler explained his perception that
Janati had attempted to present Alexander's project as
her own work. Id. Janati went to Sanders' office
later that day to explain herself. According to Sanders,
Janati admitted at that time “she knew the work was not
hers but . . . she didn't want to show the faculty
unmounted models when they asked to see her project.”
ECF No. 53 at 11. Sanders informed her the matter would wait
for Nelson's return from abroad.
Nelson returned, he, Sanders, and Janati met to discuss the
incident. Nelson was unconvinced by Janati's account of
what had happened and concluded she had attempted to present
Alexander's work as her own. ECF No. 29 at 7-8. Sanders
wrote a memorandum “complaint” on July 18, 2013
to Dr. William Davenport, the Associate Dean for Academic
Affairs, describing the incident and recommending that
Janati's actions be reviewed by the school's Honor
Council. ECF No. 48-4 at 8. His letter did not specifically
name either Biehler or Collis, but described them as
“two preclinical faculty” and thereafter
“the faculty.” Id. Davenport forwarded
the complaint to the school's Honor Council. ECF No. 29
Dr. Christopher Kypuros, chair of the Honor Council, decided
the complaint merited further investigation. Id. On
July 31, 2013, he sent Janati a letter notifying her of
Sanders' complaint. Id. Based on interviews he
conducted with faculty members, which he reported to the
Honor Council, the Council decided to proceed to a hearing.
Id. at 10.
September 17, 2013, Kypuros sent Janati a Notice of Formal
Hearing to take place on October 8, 2013. ECF No. 48-4 at 72.
The letter notified her that she was alleged to have
committed “academic misconduct, ”
“misrepresentation, ” and “unprofessional
behavior” based on the facts contained in Sanders'
July 18 complaint, which Kypuros attached. The letter also
informed Janati of her rights to present witnesses, evidence,
and have an attorney present at the hearing. Id. On
October 1, 2013, Kypuros sent to Janati a list of witnesses
who might be called to testify and documents that might be
introduced at the hearing. Id. at 76. Biehler and
Collis were not listed as witnesses, but the letter noted
that “statements” from both might be introduced.
The hearing took place on October 8. At the hearing, a
written statement from Collis was read by Kypuros, but no
testimony from Biehler was produced. ECF No. 48-5 at 3-21. On
October 14, 2013, the Honor Council wrote a letter to
defendant Dean West stating that it had held a hearing,
deliberated, and unanimously voted to find that Janati had
committed Honor Code violations by presenting “another
student's work as her own when faculty requested to see
the project.” Id. at 24.
the initial hearing, Dean West requested that the hearing be
reconvened to include the testimony of Biehler. ECF No. 29 at
11. The hearing was reopened on October 30, 2013 and Biehler
testified by telephone. Id. at 12. The Honor Council
reaffirmed its finding that Janati had committed the
misconduct with which she was charged. ECF No. 48-5 at 39.
November 13, 2013, West sent a letter to Janati notifying her
that she would be temporarily suspended from school,
effective immediately. ECF No. 29 at 12. The allegations
supporting the suspension were that she engaged in
“academic misconduct, ” “misrepresentation,
” and “unprofessional behavior” by
“presenting another student's work as her own when
faculty requested to see her project.” ECF No. 48-5 at
judgment shall be granted when “there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
moving party “has the initial burden of showing the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Pioneer Chlor Alkali Co., Inc. v. Nat'l Union Fire
Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 863 F.Supp. 1237, 1239 (D.
Nev. 1994) (citations omitted). “A material issue of
fact is one that affects the outcome of the litigation and
requires a trial to resolve the differing version of
events.” Id. (citations omitted). Once the
moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden shifts
to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.
(citations omitted). The non-moving party “may not ...