Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Alger, 228 F. Supp. 3d 713 (W.D. Va. 2016)

School type: Public
State: Virginia
Federal Circuit: Fourth
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for summary judgment
Keywords: Due process, Notice

The court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (and denied the university’s) on his claim that he was deprived of a protected property interest without due process.

Plaintiff, a freshman at James Madison University, was accused of sexual misconduct by a fellow freshman in his dorm who claimed both that she said no to sex and that she was too drunk to consent.

JMU held a hearing after which Plaintiff was found “not responsible.”

The complainant appealed. She submitted new evidence to the appeal board that Plaintiff did not have the opportunity to respond to. The appeal board, giving no deference to the hearing board’s decision, determined that Plaintiff should be suspended through 2020, but provided no reason for its decision.

Plaintiff alleged that he had a protected property interest in his continued enrollment at JMU, and that the university had deprived him of that interest without due process. The court agreed, finding that JMU had denied Plaintiff due process in several ways. Finding that “[d]ue process requires some kind of reasoning for the disciplinary action taken, as a number of courts have recognized,” the court held that JMU had violated Plaintiff’s due process rights when the appeal board provided no reason for its decision to reverse the hearing board’s finding.

[T]he appeal board effectively reversed the decision of the hearing board without any explanation whatsoever and without ever expressing a finding that Doe was responsible for sexual misconduct. It did so without hearing any live testimony, even though a new issue of credibility had arisen, and after considering additional evidence submitted by Roe, some of which was not even provided to Doe until after a final decision was made. Furthermore, Doe was not permitted to be present at the appeal hearing.

The court also held that JMU had violated Plaintiff’s due process rights because he did not have a meaningful opportunity to be heard before the appeal board:

In short, Doe was given no opportunity to respond to some of the evidence (e.g., the social worker’s statement), was hampered by the rules prohibiting contact with witnesses or limited by time constraints in responding to others (e.g., the allegations that Roe’s roommate lied, and the new appeal statement, including the explanation of the voice-mail), and was not permitted to appear before the appeal board.