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Eric Hlavacek v. Ann Boyle

December 6, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:10-cv-00087-GPM-PMF--G. Patrick Murphy, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROO K, Chief Judge, and WOOD and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Eric Hlavacek was hoping to become a dentist, but he was not able to maintain a sat- isfactory academic record at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SIU), which he attended for five semesters. Over that time, he failed several courses, including some that were a required part of his course of study. As a result, SIU dismissed Hlavacek for poor academic performance. After unsuccessfully asking various school committees and administrators to overturn this decision, Hlavacek filed a complaint alleging First Amendment, equal protection, and proce- dural due process violations. The district court found no merit in any of these theories and dismissed the action.

On appeal, Hlavacek argues only that the district court erred in rejecting his procedural due process claim. As our more complete account of the facts demonstrates, however, Hlavacek received ample process, and so we affirm.


Hlavacek enrolled in SIU's four-year dental medicine program in the Fall of 2005. In his first semester, he failed Neuroanatomy, a required course. As a result, SIU placed him on academic probation for the Spring 2006 semester and gave him the opportunity to retake the course. Unfortunately, he failed the course the second time around, too. After re-enrolling and restarting his course of study in the Fall of 2006, Hlavacek passed his classes and was notified that he was in good academic standing.

During the Spring 2007 semester, Hlavacek was informed that the entire first-year class, of which he was still a part, would be required to retake two examina- tions because of improprieties committed by the whole class. Hlavacek passed the required reexaminations, but he failed a different class--Dental Materials. After taking what SIU called a remediation examination, Hlavacek passed the latter course.

In Fall 2007, Hlavacek's performance went downhill, as he failed three additional courses. SIU allowed him to retake the examination in one of those classes, but he failed the second time around. As a result, the school placed him on academic probation. In the middle of the Spring 2008 semester, however, Hlavacek received a letter informing him that he was being dismissed from SIU for unsatisfactory academic performance.

Accompanied by a faculty representative, Hlavacek challenged his dismissal at a hearing held on March 5, 2008. After hearing Hlavacek's arguments and evidence, the panel at the hearing affirmed the school's action. Hlavacek was notified of this decision by a letter dated March 12, 2008. The March 12 letter contained two er- rors. First, it incorrectly stated that Hlavacek was on academic probation during the Spring 2007 semester.

In fact, Hlavacek had been on probation during the Spring 2006 and Spring 2008 semesters, but not during the Spring of 2007. Second, it incorrectly stated that

Hlavacek's hearing had been held on July 9, 2007.

Believing that he was dismissed on the basis of a non-existent July 9, 2007 hearing, Hlavacek sought clarifi- cation from the school. SIU recognized its error and provided Hlavacek with documents showing that no such hearing had been held on July 9, 2007. After receiving this information, Hlavacek personally appeared before an appeals committee to seek review of the decision reported in the March 12 letter. The appeals committee also affirmed his academic dismissal. In addi- tion, Hlavacek pursued several other avenues of re- lief. After his first hearing, he filed a grievance with SIU's Office of Institutional Compliance. Hlavacek also sought review of the decision to dismiss him through the Provost, the Chancellor, the Board of Trustees, and, finally, the President. Each appeal or petition was denied.

In February 2010, Hlavacek filed a complaint in the District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, alleging that SIU violated his First Amendment rights, his rights under the Equal Protection Clause, and his rights to procedural due process. The district court dismissed all of Hlavacek's claims on SIU's motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ...

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