Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Pennsylvania State Univ., 276 F. Supp. 3d 300 (M.D. Pa. 2017)

School type: Public
State: Pennsylvania
Federal Circuit: Third
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Cross-examination, Due process

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

Plaintiff’s lawsuit stemmed from a he said/she said case in which the complainant alleged that Plaintiff attempted to kiss and digitally penetrate her without her consent, while Plaintiff alleged that the complainant tried to kiss him and that he rebuffed her advances.

Plaintiff was found responsible and suspended by the university’s investigator. After he declined to accept the charge and sanction, the matter was sent to a “Title IX Decision Panel” that upheld the findings in a hearing that Plaintiff alleges was procedurally deficient. Among other things, although Penn State policy allowed for Plaintiff to submit questions to be asked of his accuser, the Panel rejected 18 of his 22 proposed questions.

In the Third Circuit, a preliminary injunction is appropriate where (1) a party has shown a “reasonable probability” of success on the merits; (2) the party would suffer “irreparable harm” in the absence of the injunction; (3) the balance of harms to the moving and non-moving party favors the moving party; and (4) the injunction is in the public interest.

The court found that Plaintiff had shown a likelihood of success on his constitutional due process claim. In particular, the court noted that “Penn State’s failure to ask the questions submitted by [Plaintiff] may contribute to a violation of [Plaintiff]’s right to due process as a “significant and unfair deviation” from its procedures. The court noted that while Penn State’s procedure of allowing questioning through a hearing panel may, on paper, satisfy due process, “the instant case demonstrates the precarious balance hearing panel members must strike in their review of submitted questions.”

The case later settled after the university’s motion to dismiss was denied, see Doe v. Pennsylvania State University, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3184 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 8, 2018).