UB football player wins lawsuit against university

Tyrone Hill returns from New York State Supreme Court victorious

UB football player Tyrone Hill won his lawsuit against the university after delivering an oral argument in the New York State Appellate Court, Fourth Department in May. The decision was released on July 6. 

The court unanimously decided to annul the university’s determination “on the law without any costs,” expunging all references to the matter from Hill’s school record, according to the court memorandum.

After a teammate alleged Hill waved an airsoft gun at a group of teammates in July 2017, the university sanctioned Hill 50 hours of community service, two years of disciplinary probation and exclusion from on-campus housing.

UB’s attorneys requested a transfer in their Dec. 14 response to a petition filed by Hill, stating that UB violated his right to due process after an administrative panel found him guilty of possession of a weapon and harassment last September.

State Supreme Court Judge E. Jeannette Ogden transferred the case to the New York State Appellate Division on Feb. 2 after hearing from UB’s counsel, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Assistant Attorney General Melissa H. Thore. Schneiderman and Thore argued on Jan. 30 that the case fell under the appellate jurisdiction because it was based on whether or not UB made a decision based on “substantial evidence,” a matter decided by courts of appeals.

The Spectrum reached out to Hill for comment but has not heard back.

Joshua Lippes, lead attorney for the student-run nonprofit Sub-Board I, represented Hill as a private attorney and said he’s not surprised with the outcome of the case.

“This decision was expected. … I’ve never had a more slam-dunk case,” Lippes said. “There were just different degrees of what [the court] could do: send it back to UB for a new hearing, vacate it completely, or anything in between there. Even in the Attorney General’s argument, it was conceded … that [UB’s decision] shouldn’t be upheld.”

Lippes said Hill was hopeful for a favorable ruling throughout the year-long trial. He admired Hill’s determination to fight the ruling instead of accepting the penalties.

“The case examined two questions: was there substantial evidence to find him guilty of this and did they violate his due rights,” Lippes said. “The court found that they did violate his due process and that there was no evidence that he violated this offense. Ninety-eight percent of the evidence pointed to another person, so it’s absolutely ridiculous that fingers were pointed at Tyrone. We’re extremely happy with the outcome of the case.”

UB spokesperson John DellaContrada provided a statement from the university following the annulment.

“The university is strongly committed to ensuring that all student disciplinary matters are fair and equitable. In accordance with the court’s ruling, the university will revise its procedures to fully record all student administrative hearings,” DellaContrada said.

UB is one of the many colleges and universities nationwide that allow students an adviser throughout the disciplinary process, but doesn’t allow the adviser to speak on the student’s behalf during hearings.

Last September, students from UB’s Civil Liberties Union asked President Satish Tripathi to allow students a defender or representative to speak on a student’s behalf during administrative hearings. They argued that students facing consequences as serious as suspension or expulsion should not be expected to adequately speak for themselves.

Lippes said he’s hopeful that after the outcome of Hill’s case, the university will allow students’ advisers to speak on their behalf during the disciplinary trial. He said he expects students’ due process to be upheld in future cases.

“The Attorney General’s office is meeting with them to discuss the outcome of the hearing,” Lippes said. “Some of the procedures are already in place but ignored. Some [of UB’s actions] violate the law. They need to work on both of those fronts.”

Lippes also said the final paragraph of the memorandum was unusual for court cases of this manner.

“We are compelled to express our dismay at [UB’s] cavalier attitude toward [Mr. Hill’s] due process rights in this case, and we remind the respondent—and all other colleges and universities, particularly state-affiliated institutions—of their obligation to conduct student disciplinary proceedings in a manner that [follows the] fundamental notions of due process for the accused,” the last paragraph of the memorandum reads.

Lippes thinks the decision and the tone of the memorandum could affect how student judiciary programs are run across the country.

“Courts do not just address defendants like that, they usually only address the case at hand,” Lippes said. “The court is sending a clear message that they’re not going to stand for this anymore.”

Editor's note: The article originally stated the case was decided in Supreme Court when it was decided in the New York State Appellate Court, Fourth Department. It also stated a teammate filed a petition when the allegation was filed as a police report. 

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com and @Max_Kalnitz