Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing

PETITIONER: Regents of the University of Michigan
RESPONDENT: Ewing
LOCATION: University of Michigan Medical School

DOCKET NO.: 84-1273
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 214 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1985
DECIDED: Dec 12, 1985

ADVOCATES:
Michael M. Conway - on behalf of the Respondent
Roderick K. Daane - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Scott Ewing was enrolled in a medical program, and in the spring of 1981, he took and failed the NBME Part 1 (Exam), which is an exam his program required. After reviewing the status of several students in the program, the Promotion and Review Board (Board) voted unanimously to drop Ewing from the program. The Board took into account his recent failure as well as the totality of his academic record when making their decision. Ewing appealed the Board’s decision four times and argued that, because every student before him who had failed the Exam had been allowed to retake it, he should be afforded the same opportunity. All of his appeals were unsuccessful.

In August of the following year, Ewing sued in federal district court and alleged a breach of contract as well as a violation of his right to due process. The district court sided with the University and Ewing appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and held that Ewing’s right to enrollment qualified as a property right that deserved protection from arbitrary state interference under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Question

Did the University arbitrarily interfere with Ewing’s property, and therefore violate his right to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment, by revoking his admission to the medical program?

Media for Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1985 in Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Regents of the University of Michigan against Ewing.

Mr. Daane, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Roderick K. Daane:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is here on certiorari to the Sixth Circuit, which concluded that the University of Michigan had treated the Respondent unconstitutionally when it denied him two chances to take a test that he had flunked in the University's Medical School.

For purposes of this argument, I shall assume the existence of a constitutionally protectable property right in Respondent's continued enrollment in the University's Medical School while on what might be termed good academic behavior.

I shall argue that the Sixth Circuit erred in its decision that the University arbitrarily and capriciously deprived Mr. Ewing--

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

May I ask why you make that assumption?

Roderick K. Daane:

--Because, Justice Powell--

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

You don't concede it, do you?

Roderick K. Daane:

--I just assume it as the Court did in Horowitz because I believe it is not essential to reach that issue in order to decide this case on the narrower ground of whether Mr. Ewing was treated by the University in an arbitrary and capricious way.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

So, you simply make an assumption?

Roderick K. Daane:

I am assuming for the purposes of the argument the existence of the protectable property interest.

Byron R. White:

What if we disagree with you on your argument though?

What happens to the property interest issue?

We just affirm them or not?

Roderick K. Daane:

Most certainly not, Justice White.

I think you would be able to find that Mr. Ewing was not treated in an arbitrary and capricious way and--

Byron R. White:

Well, I know, but what if we agree with the Court of Appeals that if there is a property interest there was a constitutional violation?

Roderick K. Daane:

--Then, of course, I suppose you would have to affirm.

Byron R. White:

Because you are not going to argue about the property interest issue.

Roderick K. Daane:

I must say, Justice White, that the idea of arguing the property interest has some appeal for me and the idea that there should not be a property interest in such as thing as a course grade or a qualification, an academic qualification.

Byron R. White:

You didn't present the property interest question in your petition.

Roderick K. Daane:

That is correct.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, no, I am not sure I agree with Justice White on that.

Your second question presented, as I read it, is the state medical school procedurally correct, dismissal of an academically deficient student subject to substantive due process review and reversal by the federal court.

I think that raises the property issue.

Roderick K. Daane:

Clearly it is within the parameters of the question as framed in the petition, Justice Rehnquist.

Byron R. White:

You are not going to present it though, is that right?

Roderick K. Daane:

I agree.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The Solicitor General said he thought the question was in the case.