Admission Rescission of St. John's Student Is Upheld

, New York Law Journal

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St. John's University School of Law
St. John's University School of Law

A divided appellate panel has upheld the decision of the St. John's University School of Law to rescind the admission of a student it accused of including insufficient detail in his application about a brush with the law seven years before enrolling in the school.

"Despite the petitioner's subsequent disclosure, under the circumstances presented here, and in light of the true nature of the petitioner's prior criminal activity, the law school's determination to rescind his acceptance was not arbitrary and capricious, and does not warrant judicial intervention," a 3-1 majority of the Appellate Division, Second Department, wrote on Wednesday in an unsigned opinion in Matter of Powers v. St. John's University School of Law, 2011-08052.

In 2005, David Powers, a CPA and a summa cum laude college graduate with a master's degree, filled out an admissions application in which he was asked whether he had ever been "charged with, pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty of any crime, offense or violation" apart from minor traffic violations.

He disclosed a drug possession conviction that has since been expunged but was three semesters into his studies before disclosing he initially faced drug dealing charges in the incident and would sometimes sell drugs before kicking his addiction.

The Second Department majority concluded that the school's penalty—which had the effect of kicking Powers out of the school and erasing his previously completed course work—was not arbitrary.

In a two-page opinion affirming a lower court, the majority said, "we do not consider the penalty imposed to be 'so disproportionate to the offense…as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness,' thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law."

The panel, which included Justices Plummer Lott, Leonard Austin and Sandra Sgroi and Robert Miler, heard oral arguments on Jan. 15.

But in a 12-page dissent, Miller said the rescission should have been voided and the matter remitted to the school.

"St. John's Law School violated its own procedures and did not deal fairly with Powers when, in rescinding his admission and retroactively voiding three semesters of course work, it imposed a sanction far beyond those set forth in the application or the student handbook," Miller wrote. "Although Powers's omission may have warranted a punishment, the determination to impose the penalty here was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of lawful procedure," he wrote.

On his application, Powers admitted he had been arrested in New Jersey in July 1999 "shortly after a drug deal" but agreed to plead guilty to third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

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