independent hearing officer—unassociated with the District, the incident at hand, or both—would
lead to an “undue judicialization” of school discipline cases. 162 Courts following this approach
also draw heavily from administrative law procedures, some of which allow individuals who have
engaged in fact-finding to also serve as adjudicators at a hearing. 163 In doing so, these courts
emphasize that the due process hearing is not meant to be a “judicial or quasi-judicial trial,” at
which every precaution must be taken against the appearance of bias. 164
Though courts taking the Fifth Circuit’s approach steer clear of finding a presumption of
bias resulting from a hearing officer’s dual roles in the disciplinary process, their approach allows
the student to show actual bias of the hearing officer or a member of the hearing panel, which in
some cases has resulted in a finding of bias that violated due process. 165 The discipline at issue in
Riggan was the result of a student’s conduct toward a high school principal. 166 The student was
disciplined for photographing the male principal’s car in front of the house of a female teacher. 167
In that case, the trial court held that because of the personal nature of the student’s conduct that
resulted in discipline, the principal should have removed himself from presiding over the student’s
disciplinary hearing. 168 The court in Riggan articulated surprisingly vigorous language by stating
that due process violations may occur when an administrator is “in any way unable to function
fairly as a trier of fact.” 169 Other circuits have similarly found due process violations where a
student was able to prove egregious forms of actual bias on the part of an individual presiding at
her hearing. 170 Thus, in severe cases where the factual scenario allows a plaintiff to show open and
undisguised bias, courts taking the Fifth Circuit approach do not permit administrators to play a
role in the student’s adjudication. 171 However, the same courts generally refuse to presume bias in
cases where a decision-maker has been extensively involved in the case, even where the hearing
officer initiated the discipline charges or rendered the initial decision on the discipline being
162 Gorman, 837 F.2d at 15.
163 Id. (upholding the constitutionality of social security adjudications in which hearing officers are permitted to
operate as investigators who gather facts prior to issuing a decision on a recipient’s case) (citing Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389 (1971)).
164 Linwood, 463 F.2d at 770 (“[t]he type of administrative hearing here involved need not take the form of a judicial
or quasi-judicial trial”).
165 See, e.g., Riggan v. Midland Indep. Sch. Dist., 86 F. Supp. 2d 647 (W.D. Tex. 2000).
166 Id. at 650-51.
168 Riggan, 86 F. Supp. at 657 (“The conduct alleged in this particular situation is of such an obviously personal nature
that any reasonable administrator would have deferred to another uninvolved individual to conduct any investigation
or to mete out any discipline”).
169 Id. at 656 (quoting Murray v. West Baton Rouge Parish Sch. Bd., 472 F.2d 438, 443 (5th Cir. 1973)).
170 Heyne, v. Metro. Nashville Pub. Schs., 655 F.3d 556, 568 (6th Cir. 2011) (finding a due process violation where
the administrator presiding over the white student’s disciplinary, which involved an altercation between that student
and an African-American student, had earlier recommended to staff that African-American students be treated more
leniently in order to maintain racially balanced discipline statistics and had admitted to reducing the African-American
student’s discipline for the same incident at the threat of a lawsuit).
171 See Id.
172 See, e.g., C.B. by & Through Breeding, 82 F.3d at 388.