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Beauchene v. Mississippi College

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Jackson Division

November 8, 2013

MARK BEAUCHENE, PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE and JOHN DOES 1-10, DEFENDANT

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Mark Beauchene, Plaintiff: Adam V. Griffin, Michael Jeffrey Wolf, PAGE, KRUGER & HOLLAND, P.A., Jackson, MS.

For Mississippi College, Defendant: Walter H. Boone, LEAD ATTORNEY, FORMAN, PERRY, WATKINS, KRUTZ & TARDY, LLP - Jackson, Jackson, MS.

OPINION

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Carlton W. Reeves, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

ORDER

The above-styled matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Docket No. 4. Plaintiff has responded in opposition [Docket No. 7] and Defendant has submitted a rebuttal [Docket No. 9]. Having carefully considered the parties' motions, their opposition thereto, applicable case law, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court orders that Defendant's motion be granted.

I. Background

This cause arose from sanctions that were imposed on Plaintiff Mark Beauchene by Defendant Mississippi College School of Law (hereinafter " MC Law" )--mainly a suspension and an eventual expulsion--for committing multiple acts of plagiarism in violation of section VIII(C) of its Student Honor Code entitled, " Inappropriate Use of the Work of Others. " [1] See Docket No.

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1, at 4.[2] After he was expelled, Beauchene filed this action on November 16, 2012, asserting claims of breach of contract and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and demanding compensatory and punitive damages. Docket No. 1, at 9-13. He also included in his complaint a motion for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, which he has since abandoned. Docket No. 1, at 13.

A. First Act of Plagiarism

In the Spring semester of 2012, Beauchene submitted a research paper as part of a writing requirement under the supervision of Professor Cynthia Nicoletti. Docket No. 1, at 3; Docket No. 5, at 7. Nicoletti was displeased with his submission, ostensibly because of the blatant plagiarism it contained. Id. On March 8, 2012, Nicoletti submitted to Professor Matt Steffey, the Honor Code Advisor, a copy of Beauchene's paper with her handwritten notations describing her findings of plagiarism and a copy of the article she believed to have been plagiarized. Docket No. 4-1, at 4 (" Affidavit of Matt Steffey" ). See also Docket No. 4-2, at 3 (" Affidavit of Cynthia Nicoletti" ) (" I . . . concluded that [Beauchene's paper] contained multiple instances of plagiarism and the inappropriate use of the work of another." ). That same day, Beauchene received an email from Steffey seeking to schedule a meeting the following afternoon, after which Beauchene inquired as to what the meeting would entail so that he could prepare. Docket No. 1-1, at 1-2. In reply, Steffey stated, " [N]o worries. [N]o need to prep[are]." Docket No. 1-1, at 2. They agreed to meet the following day. Id.

During the more than two hour meeting, Steffey and Beauchene discussed what Steffey believed to have been obvious plagiarism and clear violations of the Honor Code, and the consequences that Beauchene would face for the infractions. See Docket No. 11, at 3; Docket No. 1-1, at 7.

On March 14, Steffey sent an email to Beauchene offering him the option to have his paper reviewed by law faculty at another institution. If, after that blind evaluation, the reviewers found no plagiarism, the matter would be dismissed. However, if the review concluded there was plagiarism, Beauchene would be expelled. Docket No. 1-1, at 3. Beauchene turned down that option. In an email to Steffey, he explained:

I don't think sending my paper to another institution is necessary. I want [you to] know I am taking a thorough review of my paper and that I plan to get back to you with a detailed response and my response will demonstrate that I understand the magnitude of what I did.

Id. Beauchene also declined to appeal to the Honor Court.[3] See Docket 1-1, at 12.

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Later that day, in a letter to Steffey, Beauchene provided a more detailed response. In it, he acknowledged, among other things, that what he did " was wrong" ; that he " failed to uphold the standards of the Honor Code" ; that some of his acts were improper; and that he violated the Code's prohibition against plagiarism.[4] See Docket No. 4-11. He also acknowledged that the Code authorized a range of sanctions, but he offered to cooperate and implored Steffey to not sanction him " in a manner that will substantially impair [his] opportunity to pursue a career in law." Id.

After considering Beauchene's written statement, conferring with faculty and staff, and meeting with Beauchene a second time on March 20, see Docket No. 1-1, at 15, Steffey issued an exhaustive memorandum to Beauchene detailing the matter of plagiarism discussed in their March 9 meeting, the portions of the Honor Code which were breached, and the sanctions to be imposed. See Docket No. 1-1, 5-12.[5] Steffey explained, in part:

The first 25% of your paper, for starters, is taken line-by-line and footnote-by-footnote from a single source . . . yet you cite that source nowhere in your paper. . . . [Y]our basic approach was to use a computer to 'copy, paste, edit'; that is, you copied text and footnotes from [the] article and other sources, changed the text slightly, and retained the footnotes verbatim . . . .
. . . .
In sum: you actually wrote very little of what you submitted as your paper. Instead, the great bulk of you[r] paper consists of a 'copy, paste, edit' process, whereby you [ ] copied the published work of various authors; pasted it into your submission with little or no attribution; and merely edited the material so that the text is slightly paraphrased and the authors' footnotes are retained verbatim.

Id. at 7-8, 10. Among the numerous sanctions to be imposed, Beauchene was permanently suspended from the law school effective immediately. No earlier than the Fall semester of 2012, however, he would have the right to petition to have his suspension lifted. Id. at 10. If he were successful in having his suspension lifted, Beauchene would have to retake the course under the supervision of and as directed by a different instructor, Professor Cecile Edwards. Id. at 11. As for the course in which he submitted the plagiarized writing, Beauchene would receive a

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failing grade, in the discretion of Professor Nicolleti. Id. With respect to the remaining courses in which he was currently enrolled, Beauchene would receive a grade of " W." Id.

The memo also reminded Beauchene that he had declined his right to either have the matter reviewed by the Honor Court, see id. at 12,[6] or have his paper reviewed by faculty from another law school. Id. at n.6. Steffey, however, gave Beauchene until March 30 to change his mind and seek review. If Beauchene did not accept this offer, the sanctions imposed, including but not limited to suspension, would be final. Id.

The memo prompted a string of emails between Beauchene and Steffey from March 28 through March 30. Steffey assured Beauchene that his suspension was final, but he could meet with Dean Rosenblatt to discuss how he may have his suspension lifted in the future. Before meeting with the Dean, however, Beauchene could submit a written statement to him raising any disputes regarding the facts stated in the memo. Additionally, through one of the emails, Beauchene requested a ten working-day extension to seek Honor Court review, but Steffey denied the request and kept the deadline at March 30. Docket No. 1-1, 12-17.

On April 2, 2012, Beauchene sent a two-page apology letter in which he characterized his violations as mistakes. Docket No. 4-14. He also used the letter to attack Professor Steffey about how Steffey had treated him and to complain that the procedures of the Student Honor Code had not been followed. Id. at 2. He closed his letter with the following:

I beg to be allowed to finish my off campus externship with the Army National Guard. I respectfully and mercifully ask however, that I not be sanctioned in a manner that will impair my opportunity to pursue a career in law, or with JAG.

Id.

The following day, on April 3, Beauchene met with Rosenblatt and Steffey. Docket No. 1, at 12; Docket No. 4-16. After the meeting, Steffey issued a revised memo to Beauchene, which was reviewed and approved by Rosenblatt, setting forth his findings and the final sanctions that would be imposed. Apparently Rosenblatt was swayed by Beauchene's plea because the final Memo, although in most respects was the same as the first Memo, included a modified Sanction No. 8, which imposed a grade of " W" for all of his courses " with the exception only of [his] externship with the Army National Guard." Docket No. 1-1, at 24. (emphasis in original). As in the first memo, Steffey extended to Beauchene another opportunity to seek review by the Honor Court by April 4, and the memo once again noted that Beauchene turned down the opportunity to have his paper reviewed by faculty from another law school. Id. at 25.

After receiving the memo, Beauchene wrote a letter expressing contrition for his wrongdoing and accepting all sanctions, including the path for readmission as described in Steffey's memo. See Docket No. 4-16 (" I truly do understand my errors and the gravity of them as well as the fact that I need some personal growth . . . I look forward to completing the assigned sanctions to not only show my contrition and acknowledgment of wrongdoing but

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also to demonstrate my desire to positively move forward with my legal career. I know that I will return to school in the fall as a better person and strong student. . . . I have made mistakes, but now moving forward it is my duty . . . to develop into a better person and lawyer." ).

B. Second Act of Plagiarism

After satisfying the requirements set forth in the conditions for readmission, see Docket No. 1-1, at 23-4, Beauchene resumed his studies in the Fall semester of 2012 as a student on disciplinary probation.[7] See id. at 26.

By October, Beauchene's legal education at MC Law was in serious jeopardy because he was accused of plagiarism again. See Docket 1-1, at 36. This time, as part of his required writing course under Professor Cecile Edwards, Beauchene submitted a draft paper pregnant with passages unaccompanied by proper attribution. In a string of emails, Edwards chided Beauchene for not citing references and scheduled a meeting for them to discuss his paper. Docket No. 1-1, at 27-30.[8] That meeting, which Steffey also attended, occurred on October 24, 2012. See Docket No. 1-1, at 36. A second meeting between Steffey and Beauchene occurred on October 29, 2012, whereupon they fully discussed the matter and the serious implications for Beauchene. See Docket No. 1-1, at 35.

Following the meeting, Steffey delivered a memo to Beauchene regarding his subsequent violations. See Docket No. 1-1, at 42.[9] The findings contained within this memo were strikingly similar to those made the prior semester:

I have determined that great portions of the papers you submitted embody examples of the foregoing type of academic misconduct. I have also determined that you lied about and misrepresented your work during our meeting with the course professor on Wednesday, October 24, 2012.
. . . .
. . . [I]n submitting your writing requirement paper this semester, you once again committed significant and serious acts of plagiarism. As before, you used a computer to 'copy and paste' text from various Internet sources. And, as before, you used this work of other authors without proper attribution to the true source of the ...

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