Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Case Western Reserve University, No. 19-3520 (6th Cir. Apr. 6, 2020)

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 Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the university on Plaintiff’s Title IX and breach of contract claims.

The complainant in the case, Jane Roe, alleged that when she came back to stay at Plaintiff’s fraternity house after she had been drinking, Plaintiff performed a number of sexual acts on her without her consent. Plaintiff admitted that he digitally penetrated and performed oral sex on Jane without her consent (because of her level of intoxication), but denied that he penetrated her vaginally or forced her to perform oral sex on him.

When given a choice between two options for resolving the case, Plaintiff chose a “streamlined hearing process” that — unlike the other, more formal option he could have selected — did not involve a hearing with cross-examination. After he was found responsible, Plaintiff sued the university alleging violations of Title IX and breach of contract.

Analyzing Plaintiff’s Title IX claim under the erroneous outcome theory, the court ruled that Plaintiff had failed to cast articulable doubt on the outcome of the case because he acknowledged engaging in at least some nonconsensual sexual contact with Jane Doe, even if he disputed the extent of that contact. The court did, however, note that the university should have been more specific about the factual basis underlying its finding of responsibility, finding that “it may behoove the University, going forward, to articulate the precise basis for finding a violation and the precise basis for the punishment administered.”

With regard to Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court held that although the relationship between a private university and its students is contractual in nature, with the contract being defined by the terms of university policies, “universities need not strictly adhere to those policies.” Rather, the inquiry is limited to whether the university abused its discretion, which the court found it had not.