Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Brown University, 166 F. Supp. 3d 177 (D.R.I. 2016)

School type: Private
State: Rhode Island
Federal Circuit: First
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Title IX

University’s motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff, who was suspended from Brown for alleged sexual misconduct, alleged that the university discriminated against him on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. He also alleged that the university breached its contract with him by failing to follow its own procedures. The court denied most of Brown’s motion to dismiss, allowing a substantial number of Plaintiff’s claims to proceed to the next stage of litigation.

Many accused-student plaintiffs have filed Title IX claims, and many have failed because of the way courts have interpreted pleading standards (the requirements a plaintiff’s complaint must meet in order to set forth a plausible claim for judicial relief). Although a motion to dismiss is brought at the early stages of litigation—before the parties have engaged in discovery—a number of judges have dismissed plaintiffs’ Title IX claims for failing to offer particularized evidence of sex discrimination. Because it is difficult to obtain this kind of specific evidence without discovery, students alleging sex discrimination in campus judicial proceedings have faced an extremely high bar for Title IX claims as a result.

In his decision, Chief Judge William Smith recognized this conundrum and explicitly declined to follow the interpretation of the pleading standards used by other courts ruling in similar cases. Instead, he allowed Plaintiff’s Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim (a claim alleging that, because of gender bias, an innocent student was found responsible) to proceed:

Requiring that a male student conclusively demonstrate, at the pleading stage, with statistical evidence and/or data analysis that female students accused of sexual assault were treated differently, is both practically impossible and inconsistent with the standard used in other discrimination contexts. … Once again, this is a motion to dismiss, not summary judgment; the question is not whether these examples would be admissible evidence or sufficient to get to a jury, but rather whether these facts, taken as true, are enough to state a plausible claim.

Chief Judge Smith also allowed several of Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claims, based on the allegation that Brown did not follow its own procedures, to move forward. Significantly, the court ruled that while Brown may have been following guidance issued by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by removing Plaintiff from campus before he had been found responsible for anything, Brown’s reliance on OCR did not absolve the institution of the responsibility to follow its own procedures, which guarantee students access to and use of Brown’s facilities.