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Running head: EDLD 8431: CASE REVIEW

EDLD 8431: Case Review

EDLD 8431: Higher Education Law
Dr. Maura Copeland
Jeff Patty
Georgia Southern University



United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, 1985
612 F. Supp. 72
Peter J. Smith filed suit against Duquesne University in 1980, claiming that his
constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws were violated. Smith had
been admitted to the doctoral program ten months earlier. He stated his constitutional rights
were violated in regards to his grades and classroom treatment as a student. Furthermore, he
claimed he was also denied access to his educational records under the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act, 20 [Hereinafter cited as FERPA]. Duquesne University moved for
summary judgment due to their private standing, which if true would hold no constitutional
scrutiny under either the fifth, fourteenth, or FERBPA laws. Duquesne University was founded
as a Catholic College and was created as a nonprofit corporation originally.
The issues in this case revolve around whether Duquesne University is actually a private
entity and acting as such in a completely private, not public, body. The challenges to Smiths
constitutional rights being violated in this case comes down to whether Duquesne is in fact a
private entity or can they possibly be considered public. Were Peter J. Smiths rights violated
under the fifth or fourteenth amendments and accordingly was the University acting as a public,
rather than private entity? Does the University in its membership, by-laws, governing members,
or operational decision-making involve any governmental or public oversight? Does the
financial assistance or any other governmental grants or programs received by the institution
meet the burdens of state action or close nexus test? Is Smith allowed access to review or inspect
his educational records through protections under FERPA guidelines?


In order for Duquesne University to be held responsible for violating the constitutional
rights of Smith, the courts must find that the institution was acting as a government or public
party. The courts through legal precedent have established that the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments are basically the same in terms of requirements to establish both the state action
requirement and the under color of state law requirements. There are only two commonly
used approaches used by the United States Supreme Court to test the validity of whether state
action exists, the overall interdependence or symbiotic relationship test and the close
nexus test (Alexander & Alexander, 2010, p. 149). These tests are used to determine whether
there is a public function being performed in conjunction with a private entity or there is in fact a
symbiotic relationship between the private party and the state that substantially proves there is
direct involvement by the government. In this case, the court found in favor of the defendant and
indeed ruled for summary judgment. The court could not find any evidence that the University
was in any way acting otherwise than a private institution carrying out school policies and
Reasoning of the Court
In reviewing the facts in this case, the court found no existence of public influence or
state action between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Duquesne University. There was
no statutory relationship, no participation in management of the University, and no requirements
for the school to report expenditures or financial reports to the state. The administration of the
University had no public members or state representatives serving in any capacity. The funds
received from the state were a very minimal part of the overall funding received by the


University. Most of their funding was derived from private sources. As for the asserted FERPA
violations, the court found no validity for two reasons. The first and most obvious was the fact
that the school was found to be a private entity and thus there were no constitutional rights in
play. The second was the finding that FERPA was not established in order for an individual to
have access to their own records, rather FERPA was established to protect the individual from
having their educational records shared with the rest of the world. In all instances, the court
found no evidence of state action, symbiotic relationships, close nexus relationships, or any
public resemblance of influence. There was simply no evidence that indicated the University
was compelled or influenced in this decision to remove Smith from the doctoral program, nor
was the State involved in any manner. The University simply exercised academic judgment to
revoke his access to the program in the same way as they decided to matriculate him in the first



Alexander, K., & Alexander, K. (2010-12-14). Higher education law: Policy and perspectives.
New York, NY: Routledge. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.