Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Case Western Reserve University, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74520 (N.D. Ohio May 2, 2019)

School type: Private
State: Ohio
Federal Circuit: Sixth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion for summary judgment
Keywords: Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Title IX

The court granted Case Western’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court noted that under Ohio law, the relationship between a private university and its students is contractual, but stated that courts must defer to universities’ disciplinary decisions unless there has been such a “substantial departure from accepted academic norms” that the decisionmaker “did not actually exercise professional judgment.” This holding illustrates the challenge of applying standards originally intended for academic decisionmaking to non-academic misconduct cases.

Plaintiff alleged several instances in which he believed CWRU failed to follow its own policies. He alleged that CWRU administrators had not informed him of the availability of support services and academic accommodations until during finals week, but the court found that the facts suggested he had in fact been informed earlier and had declined accommodations.

Plaintiff also complained that CWRU did not give him specific notice of the allegations against him, or inform him of his right to bring a support person, prior to his first meeting with the investigator. In a troubling holding that illustrates the limits of breach of contract claims, the court did not disagree this had occurred, but held that Plaintiff had not identified any provision in the policy requiring the university to give detailed notice or to notify an accused of his right to bring a support person.

The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s Title IX erroneous-outcome claim, which had survived a motion to dismiss, finding that the facts as developed simply did not draw a sufficient causal connection between the allegedly erroneous outcome and gender bias. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s selective enforcement claim, despite the fact that both parties had been intoxicated and only Plaintiff was disciplined.