Sojourner-Douglass College v. Middle States Association
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 1:15-cv-01926-JFM Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. . [16-1673]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
Plaintiff - Appellant,
MIDDLE STATES ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS, d/b/a
Middle States Commission on Higher Education, A Pennsylvania Not-for Profit
Defendant - Appellee.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore.
J. Frederick Motz, Senior District Judge. (1:15-cv-01926-JFM)
Submitted: March 31, 2017
Decided: April 13, 2017
Before KEENAN, WYNN, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
John H. Morris, Jr., Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Timothy F. McCormack,
Michelle M. McGeogh, BALLARD SPAHR, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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Sojourner-Douglass College (SDC) appeals from the district court’s order granting
summary judgment to Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (“the
Commission”). SDC filed a complaint contesting the independent appeals hearing panel
(“appeals panel”) decision affirming the Commission’s decision to withdraw SDC’s
accreditation. On appeal, SDC argues that the appeals panel violated federal regulations
and did not provide due process in declining to consider new financial information based
on appeal policy guidelines issued by the Commission. SDC also contends that there was
a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether there was a conflict of interest in the
participation of the Commission’s past attorney as counsel to the appeals panel and
whether this association contributed to the appeals panel’s evidentiary decision.
“We review de novo a district court’s award of summary judgment, viewing the
facts and inferences reasonably drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
Woollard v. Gallagher, 712 F.3d 865, 873 (4th Cir. 2013).
“Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows ‘that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’”
Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)).
The relevant inquiry on summary judgment is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury
or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). To withstand a summary judgment
motion, the non-moving party must produce competent evidence sufficient to reveal the
existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See Thompson v. Potomac Elec.
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Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (“Conclusory or speculative allegations do
not suffice, nor does a mere scintilla of evidence in support of [the non-moving party’s]
case.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). We will uphold the district court’s grant of
summary judgment unless we conclude that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the non-moving party on the evidence presented. See EEOC v. Cent. Wholesalers, Inc.,
573 F.3d 167, 174-75 (4th Cir. 2009).
In reviewing the decision of an accreditation agency, we consider only whether the
agency decision “is arbitrary and unreasonable or an abuse of discretion and whether the
decision is based on substantial evidence.”
Prof’l Massage Training Ctr., Inc. v.
Accreditation Alliance of Career Sch. & Colls., 781 F.3d 161, 171 (4th Cir. 2015)
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Thomas M. Cooley Law Sch. v. Am. Bar
Ass’n, 459 F.3d 705, 712 (6th Cir. 2006)). “Federal courts do not undertake to ‘re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [their] judgment’ for
that of the agency.” Id. at 174 (alteration in original) (quoting Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)). “In considering whether the [agency’s adverse determination]
was supported by substantial evidence, we confine ourselves to the record that was
considered by the accrediting agency at the time of the final decision.” Id. at 174-75.
We have noted that “elementary principles of administrative law call for
significant, though not total, deference to decisionmaking by accreditation agencies.” Id.
“When adjudicating common law due process claims against accreditation
agencies, courts should ‘focus primarily on whether the accrediting body’s internal rules
provide[d] a fair and impartial procedure and whether it [followed] its rules in reaching
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its decision.’” Id. at 172 (alterations in original) (quoting Wilfred Acad. of Hair and
Beauty Culture v. S. Ass'n of Colls. & Sch., 957 F.2d 210, 214 (5th Cir. 1992)). The
emphasis is on “procedural fairness” in the accreditation agency’s decision. Id.
With these standards in mind, we have reviewed SDC’s claims. We thoroughly
considered all the materials before this court, and find no reversible error. Accordingly,
we affirm for the reasons stated by the district court. Sojourner-Douglass Coll. v. Middle
States Ass’n of Colls. & Sch., No. 1:15-cv-01926-JFM (D. Md. filed Aug. 27 & entered
Aug. 28, 2015; May 5, 2016). We dispense with oral argument because the facts and
legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument
would not aid the decisional process.
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