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Cheng v. Ford

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 6, 2015

QIANG CHENG and JALE TEZCAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUSAN M. FORD and BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY-CARBONDALE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is plaintiff's motion seeking preliminary injunctive relief (Doc. 1-2). On June 17, 2015, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the matter, at which time defendants raised a question of jurisdiction over the case in its entirety. This comes after defendants, themselves, removed the case to this Court on May 8, 2015 (Doc. 1). Following the hearing, defendants filed a memorandum in opposition to plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction, asserting that plaintiffs fail to allege a constitutionally protected property or liberty interest (Doc. 24). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a response (Doc. 25). Therefore, the issue before the Court is whether subject matter jurisdiction exists over this case, thus allowing for a ruling on plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief. Based on the following, the Court must DISMISS this case without prejudice with leave to re-file a cognizable claim in state court.

II. BACKGROUND

On May 6, 2015, plaintiffs Drs. Qiang Cheng and Jale Tezcan filed a complaint against defendants Susan Ford and the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for deprivation of property and liberty without due process. Defendants removed the instant action, arising from the alleged violation of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale's (herein after "the University") Academic and Research Integrity and Misconduct Policy (herein after "the Policy"), invoking federal question jurisdiction (Doc. 1). Plaintiff's complaint arose following the University's investigation into academic misconduct by plaintiffs Cheng and Tezcan, subsequent to a complaint f with the University (Doc. 1-2).

Plaintiff's complaint also included an attached motion for temporary restraining order seeking injunctive relief to bar defendants from continuing to investigate the alleged research misconduct. Upon reassignment to the undersigned from Chief Judge Reagan, the matter was referred to Magistrate Wilkerson for a status conference to discuss the requested injunctive relief and potential resolution (Doc. 17).

Following the status conference, the matter was set for hearing before the undersigned on June 17, 2015 (Doc. 20). At the hearing, the parties discussed the matter at hand with regard to preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiff called multiple witnesses including defendant Ford, Dr. David DiLilla, associate provost for academic affairs, and plaintiff Dr. Jale Tezcan. Near the end of the two and a half hour hearing, defendants raised issue with the merits of plaintiffs' claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, thereby challenging the Court's jurisdiction over the case in its entirety. The Court took the matter under advisement upon consideration of the memorandum proposed by defendants at that time. Following the hearing, defendant's filed said memorandum styled as a response in opposition to plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction, which included the issues touched on during the hearing (Doc. 24). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a response opposing defendants' memorandum (Doc. 25).

III. LAW AND APPLICATION

a. Removal Standard

A district court may exercise removal jurisdiction only if it would have original subject matter jurisdiction over the action as originally brought by the plaintiff. U.S.C. § 1441(a). If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case removed from state court, the case must be remanded. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending."

The parties to this action are not diverse; hence, the original jurisdiction necessary for removal, if such jurisdiction exists, must be based on the presence of a federal question. The defendants were able to convince the Court to accept jurisdiction over the case on this basis, contending that the case arose "under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. However, at the evidentiary hearing, defendants raised a question of jurisdiction over the case in its entirety, when they challenged plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim by alleging that plaintiffs failed to establish a recognized constitutionally protected property or liberty interest.

b. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Section 1983 of the United States Code provides that a plaintiff may recover civilly if he or she is deprived of a constitutional right by a private individual acting under color of law. That section states that:

"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution ...

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