Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Middlebury College, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124540 (D. Vt. 2015)

School type: Private
State: Vermont
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Breach of contract

The court granted Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Plaintiff was accused of sexual misconduct while on a study-abroad program run by the School for International Training. His accuser was a fellow student in the study-abroad program, but was not a Middlebury student. The School for International Training held a hearing pursuant to its own judicial procedures and found Plaintiff not responsible. He was allowed to return to Middlebury and resumed classes there in the spring semester of 2015.

After the complainant expressed dissatisfaction with the process and threatened to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, Middlebury decided to open its own, de novo investigation into the case as a potential violation of Middlebury’s own sexual misconduct policy, which gives the college jurisdiction over off-campus conduct that “may represent a threat to the safety of the Middlebury community.” After an investigation but no hearing, Plaintiff was expelled from Middlebury in August 2015.

The standard for granting a preliminary injunction in the Second Circuit is when the moving party can show “(1) irreparable harm and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits of its claims to make them fair ground for litigation, plus a balance of the hardships tipping decidedly in favor of the moving party.”

The court found that Plaintiff had demonstrated irreparable harm because of the job offer he would lose if he were unable to complete his senior year of college on time:

While Plaintiff may recover money damages to compensate for lost wages, money damages cannot compensate for the loss of his senior year in college with his class, the delay in the completion of his degree, or the opportunity to begin his career in July 2016 with this particular employment. Further, Plaintiff would have to explain, for the remainder of his professional life, why his education either ceased prior to completion or contains a gap.

The court also found that Plaintiff had demonstrated sufficiently serious issues going to the merits of his breach of contract claim — namely, Plaintiff had alleged that Middlebury’s own policies did not authorize the second, de novo investigation undertaken by the college after Plaintiff was found not responsible by the study-abroad program’s disciplinary process.

The court then found that the balance of hardships tipped in Plaintiff’s favor. The court noted that Middlebury had allowed Plaintiff to remain on campus, without restriction, during the spring 2015 semester — an indication that the college did not believe him to be a threat to public safety. Therefore, allowing him to remain on campus during his litigation would not impose a substantial hardship on Middlebury, as demonstrated by its own actions. By contrast, Plaintiff would suffer substantial hardship if not allowed to complete his senior year of college.

Finally, the court found that granting the injunction did not go against the public interest in this case:

While the public interest lies in maintaining campus safety, Plaintiff remained a student at Middlebury, returning to campus following the study-abroad program during which the alleged assault occurred, with no further incidents and there is no indication Plaintiff poses a current threat to campus safety.

The case later settled.