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New Cases and Developments

NACUA's Legal Resources staff summarizes current higher education cases and developments and provides the full text of selected cases to members. New cases and developments are archived here for up to 12 months.  Cases provided by Fastcase, Inc.

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Contract Administration; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Practice of Higher Education Law

Hewlett v. Utah State University, et al. (D. Utah Feb. 8, 2018)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Defendant Relopez assaulted Plaintiff at an off-campus fraternity party while both were students at Utah State University (USU). Plaintiff brought section 1983 claims and a breach of contract claim against USU, Individual Defendants, and various Greek fraternity entities for not doing more to protect and help her. At issue was whether Individual Defendants were protected by qualified immunity and whether UTU’s Code of Policies and Procedures for Students constituted a valid contract. The court found that qualified immunity protected the Individual Defendants from Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims because they did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. The court directed the parties to examine whether they should certify a question to the Utah Supreme Court to obtain a ruling about whether a university policy can be enforced as a contract.

2/13/2018
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Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Due Process; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

John Doe v. Miami University, et al. (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2018)

Opinion affirming-in-part and reversing-in-part the district court’s grant of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff was suspended from Miami University (MU) after a hearing panel found him responsible for violating MU’s Student Conduct Regulations. Plaintiff brought Title IX claims against Defendants under theories of erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, deliberate indifference, and hostile environment, and section 1983 claims alleging deprivations of substantive due process, procedural due process, and equal protection. The court found that Plaintiff’s erroneous outcome claim could proceed, reasoning that Plaintiff plead facts to (1) cast “some articulable doubt on the accuracy” of the proceedings and (2) implicate gender bias.  The court also allowed Plaintiff’s equal protection claim to proceed based upon the inferences of gender discrimination and allowed Plaintiff’s procedural due process claim to proceed based on allegations of bias and a lack of access to the evidence.   

2/13/2018
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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Campus Police, Safety & Crisis Management

Gischel v. University of Cincinnati, et al. (S.D. Ohio Feb. 5, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a male student at the University of Cincinnati (UC) who was expelled following a UC finding that he sexually assaulted a female student, brought Title IX claims against UC under theories of selective enforcement, erroneous outcome, and deliberate indifference; section 1983 claims against UC officials for violations of the equal protection clause, substantive due process, and procedural due process; and a malicious prosecution claim against a UC Police Department detective. After dismissing Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference and selective enforcement claims for failing to plead facts that would amount to harassment or identify a similarly-situated female student who was treated more favorably than Plaintiff, the court allowed Plaintiff’s erroneous outcome claim and procedural due process claims to proceed because Defendants denied Plaintiff the opportunity to cross examine the complainant on her level of intoxication and on alleged police bias stemming from a purported relationship between the complainant and the UC detective.   The court also found  plausible gender bias, in part, arising from a pending OCR Title IX investigation and also from the alleged romantic relationship between the detective and the complainant. The court also allowed Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim to proceed, based on the same allegations of a romantic relationship between the complainant and the detective. 

2/8/2018
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Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Schmotzer v. Rutgers University-Camden, et al. (D.N.J. Jan. 24, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting Defendant Dever’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a former Rutgers University-Camden (RUC) women’s volleyball player, alleged that RUC was deliberately indifferent to her complaints of sexual assault and harassment by her volleyball coach, Defendant Dever. The court previously granted RUC’s motion for summary judgement after finding that Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred. At issue in the present litigation was whether Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Dever were also time-barred. Plaintiff argued that her memories of the sexual harassment were repressed until 2014 and that she timely filed her lawsuit within 2 years of regaining her memory of the events. The court found that the statute of limitations had expired on Plaintiff’s claims because she had a reasonable basis for believing she had a claim when the sexual relationship ended in 2010. Plaintiff’s knowledge of her injury was clear based on her contact with Defendant Dever’s wife thirteen months after the end of the relationship. Assuming that Plaintiff could establish repression of her memories from the day she confronted Defendant Dever’s wife to the day her memories resurfaced, Plaintiff did not file her claims until 16 months later. Combining the thirteen months of knowledge Plaintiff had prior to confronting Defendant Dever’s wife and the sixteen months Plaintiff waited to file her claims after her memories resurfaced, the court found that those 29 months exceeded the two-year statute of limitations. 

1/26/2018
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Contract Administration; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Practice of Higher Education Law

John Doe v. Columbia College Chicago, et al. (N.D. Ill. Jan. 22, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a Columbia College Chicago (CCC) student who was suspended for sexual assault and who unsuccessfully brought Title IX claims against CCC, sought to amend the complaint to include a claim for breach of contract against CCC for purportedly violating its own policies. The court determined Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim “failed to allege that CCC’s actions or decisions were arbitrary or capricious, that they were without rational basis, or that they were a substantial departure from academic norms” since Plaintiff was provided notice and investigative materials in advance of his hearing, CCC’s investigation was prompt and thorough, CCC’s Panel considered the evidence in reaching its decision, and there was no indication that CCC treated male students accused of harassment differently than female students. 

1/26/2018
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Title IX; Investigations; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

John Doe v. Rider University (D.N.J. Jan. 17, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a Rider University (RU) student who was expelled for sexual assault, brought claims against RU for sex discrimination in violation of Title IX under the theories of erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, and deliberate indifference; negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and a number of contract claims, arising from RU’s investigation and adjudication of a sexual assault complaint against Plaintiff. The court found that all of Plaintiff’s Title IX claims failed because he did not sufficiently show that gender bias motivated Defendant’s conduct, either in statements made by administrators or through any patterns of RU’s decision-making. However, the court allowed Plaintiff’s breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims to proceed, based on two provisions in RU’s Policy and Student Handbook. In support of these claims, Plaintiff posited that the investigator assigned to his case did not follow-up on the complainant’s inconsistent statements and the Board members overseeing his case directly reported to the Dean of Students, who stated to Plaintiff that he was “going against” him. 

1/24/2018
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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Jane Doe v. Brown University, et al. (D.R.I. Jan. 16, 2018)

Memorandum and Order denying-in-part Defendant Brown’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and denying-in-part Defendant John Smith’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff Jane Doe, a female student who reported to Brown University that she was drugged and sexually assaulted at Phi Kappa Psi (PKP) fraternity house, brought claims against Defendants for deliberate indifference and retaliation under Title IX, negligent supervision and control of Alpha Chapter fraternity, negligent handling of physical evidence related to her case, premises liability, assault, and battery. The court found that Doe presented a plausible claim against Brown for deliberate indifference, based on her theory that Brown had mishandled physical evidence and caused additional harassment that affected her educational opportunities. The court further found that Plaintiff presented a prima facie Title IX retaliation claim, since Brown denied Plaintiff a medical school interview after she complained that Brown had mishandled her complaint. The court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s other claims, with the exception of a claim against PKP for negligently failing to take reasonable steps to control the dangerous behavior of its Alpha Chapter and a battery claim against Defendant Smith arising from the sexual assault.   

1/23/2018
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Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Buchanan v. Alexander, et al. (M.D. La. Jan. 10, 2018)

Ruling granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at Louisiana State University (LSU), alleged that Defendants infringed upon her freedom of speech, academic freedom, and procedural and substantive due process rights when LSU’s Board of Supervisors terminated her employment after finding that her remarks about marriage and sex to students—made while training students for preschool to third-grade instruction—violated the University’s Policy Statements on Sexual Harassment. Plaintiff also brought a facial and as-applied constitutional challenge to LSU’s sexual harassment policy, arguing that it was overbroad and lacked an objective test for offensiveness. The court found that Plaintiff’s First Amendment claims failed either because they were time-barred or because qualified immunity protected Defendants’ objectively reasonable actions, notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiff failed to show that her remarks were protected speech or germane to a legitimate pedagogical purpose. The court further found that LSU’s sexual harassment policy was constitutional, both facially and as-applied to Plaintiff, since its language required conduct to be objectively severe and examples provided in the policy illustrated that conduct must be sufficiently severe and pervasive. Last, the court found that Plaintiff was afforded procedural and substantive due process to satisfy constitutional standards leading up to her termination. 

1/22/2018
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