Due Process does not mean “fair”…..

From the opinion of the 7th Circuit it sounds to me like the University of Illinois did not treat Mr. Malhotra fairly.  But the court held that it did not deprive him of “due process.”  Let me tell you what happened and you can decide.

Rahul Malhotra, soon to be known as “the Plaintiff,” was minding his own business, studying in his room at the frat house while wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  He needed those headphones because his frat brothers were hosting a party that included more people than were allowed during  COVID-era restrictions, and at least one visibly intoxicated underage woman.  This violated University rules, but Mr. Malhotra claimed that he did not plan or host the party and didn’t know what was happening until his roommate got his attention.  Noise-cancelling headphones doing their job!

The University said he was responsible because he signed the frat house’s lease with the university.  But at the hearing he was given, the Plaintiff produced the lease.  He never signed it.  The suits suspended him from the University for two semesters.  He sued.

Let’s just cut to the chase—the decision of the 7th Circuit. They ruled in favor of the University. Because they treated the Plaintiff fairly?  No. Because he did not allege enough facts to show that he had a “property” or “liberty” interest at stake. Here’s the Key Quote that shows how due process cases at universities are different from due process cases in public schools:

The problem with Malhotra’s argument is that attending a university does not automatically create a constitutional property right….This is because, unlike with grade schools, the law does not entitle each person to an education at a public university.

So the Plaintiff failed to prove the first element of his case: that he had a “property right” to continue at the University.  For a K-12 student, this element of a due process case is a given.  By state law they have a right to a free education in a public school.   Process is due before that right can be taken away through an out-of-school suspension or expulsion.

Most people think that “due process” means “be fair.” But the law is more nuanced than that, as Mr. Molhotra now understands.  Interesting footnote: when he was at the U of I he was preparing to be a “healthcare consultant” but after this experience he now “wishes to pursue a law degree.”

Of course he does.

It’s Malhotra v. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, decided by the 7th Circuit on August 8, 2023. 


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!