MANHATTAN (CN) – A would-be merchant marine facing deportation to Nigeria will collect $1, instead of $800,000, for a violation of his due-process rights, a federal judge ruled.
Sulaiman Oladokun’s life as an engineering student and cadet at the State University of New York Maritime College quickly disintegrated after the Nigerian citizen pleaded guilty to forging a Social Security card in early 2003.
Weeks after his plea, two Joint Terrorism Task Force agents arrested Oladokun on suspicion that he also faked his academic credentials to win his student visa.
In a recent seven-page order, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood described how Oladokun lost his right to fight the latter charges.
After Oladokun’s arrest, SUNY Maritime convened a hearing for his disenrollment, originally scheduled for March 27, 2003.
Though the school gave notice of a one-day scheduling change, it actually held the hearing four days before its originally scheduled date. Oladokun did not appear at the hearing, and the Board unanimously ruled against him.
“In response to Oladokun’s disenrollment, ICE dropped the original charges against him, and initiated proceedings to deport him based on his failure to maintain his student status as required under his visa,” Wood wrote.
Oladokun then filed a 2006 federal complaint against SUNY Maritime President John R. Ryan and Commandant of Cadets Richard Smith, seeking $818,000 in compensatory damages.
Though Wood agreed that a due-process violation had occurred, she also found that Oladokun could not prove that his attendance would have changed the outcome of the hearing.
“Assuming arguendo, as Oladokun’s submissions strongly suggest, that Oladokun’s academic credentials were valid, the outcome of the Board hearing still would be uncertain,” Wood wrote . “Given SUNY Maritime’s strict standards for cadet conduct, Oladokun’s uncontested guilty plea could have been ground for his disenrollment. At this point, it is impossible to know whether Oladokun would have been disenrolled on the basis of his guilty plea alone.”
The March 30 decision awards Oladokun nominal damages of $1, plus the opportunity to attend a new hearing upon his request and seek legal fees.
His attorney was not immediately available to comment on the ruling, or reveal whether Oladokun would seek a new hearing.