Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Haas et al., No. 2:19-cv-00014 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2019)

School type: Public
State: New York
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Cross-examination, Due process, Erroneous outcome, Evidentiary standard, Qualified Immunity, Selective enforcement, Title IX

Stony Brook University’s motion to dismiss granted on Plaintiff’s due process claim, but denied on Plaintiff’s Title IX sex discrimination claim.

A female student (“BG”) accused Plaintiff, in a text message, of attempting to initiate non-consensual anal intercourse during the course of an otherwise consensual sexual encounter. Plaintiff had been extremely intoxicated and indicated to his accuser that he did not remember such an incident taking place. BG subsequently filed a complaint against Plaintiff with the university, and Plaintiff filed a counter-complaint alleging that his level of intoxication rendered him unable to consent to the sexual encounter.

The court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against SBU and two administrators in their official capacities.

Plaintiff also alleged that the two administrators had violated his due process rights in their individual capacities. He claimed that the university deviated from its procedures in several significant ways (such as by allowing the complainant to introduce evidence after the permitted time frame, limiting Plaintiff’s ability to introduce rebuttal evidence), but the court simply noted that the university’s code “designated the presiding officer as the final arbiter of the admissibility of information,” and rejected those claims.

The court also rejected Plaintiff’s claim that due process requires a higher evidentiary standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” holding that “[s]uch a standard is the accepted standard in the vast majority of civil litigations and … courts have rejected the notion that the safeguards applicable to criminal proceedings should be applied in the school disciplinary context.”

Plaintiff also alleged that limitations on his ability to cross-examine BG and a key witness violated his due process rights. Under SBU’s procedure, Plaintiff was permitted to question BG through the hearing panel, which the court found sufficient, noting that the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Doe v. Baum is not binding on the Second Circuit and that the First Circuit in Haidak v. University of Massachusetts had recently approved of a procedure that allows cross-examination through a neutral third party.

With regard to Plaintiff’s claim that a key witness did not appear at the hearing and was thus unavailable for questioning, the court held that this did not constitute a due process violation, at least not in this case where BG admitted that a second, inconsistent statement by the witness had been “authored at her direction” with her telling him what content should be included.

The court also held that even if Plaintiff had adequately pled a due process violation, the administrators would be entitled to qualified immunity because the law surrounding the exact nature of the process due in campus judicial settings is still unsettled.

Turning to Plaintiff’s Title IX claims, the court first dismissed Plaintiff’s Title IX claims against the two individual administrators on the grounds that “only the institutional recipient of federal funds can be held liable under Title IX; individuals, who are not recipients, cannot be held liable.”

The court refused to dismiss Plaintiff’s Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim against the university, however, finding that Plaintiff had pled facts casting articulable doubt on the outcome of the proceeding and that he had “alleged sufficient irregularities in the adjudicative process to permit an inference of bias.” The court held:

Among other things, Plaintiff sets forth facts that suggest the evidence of his intoxication was substantial and that BG even admitted he was intoxicated at the time of the encounter at issue, yet the hearing panel found BG not responsible for the charges lodged against her by Plaintiff. Also, there is the failure to follow procedures, including the failure to exclude the information BG did not timely submitted to the panel or adjourn the hearing to allow for its review, not holding the hearing in a timely fashion, and taking live testimony from character witnesses.

The court did, however, dismiss Plaintiff’s Title IX “selective enforcement” claim, given that “Absent from the Complaint are any allegations that disciplinary proceedings were not initiated against similarly situated females or that similarly situated females found guilty of the same offense received a less severe penalty.”