Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Purdue University, No. 4:19-cv-000056 (N.D. Ind. June 1, 2020)

School type: Public
State: Indiana
Federal Circuit: Seventh
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Due process, Exculpatory evidence, Qualified Immunity

The court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s due process and equal protection claims.

Plaintiff’s lawsuit stems from a sexual encounter he had with a fellow student that he claims was consensual, but she claims was not. Plaintiff alleged that the university’s investigation of him was riddled with procedural unfairness: specifically, that he was not allowed to review potentially exculpatory evidence including security camera footage or recordings of witness interviews; that he was not allowed to see the evidence against him except through a brief review of a preliminary investigative report on which he could only take handwritten notes; that he was not allowed to listen to the complainant’s testimony or ask questions of her; and that he was not permitted to view the final report submitted to the hearing panel.

Plaintiff alleged that Purdue’s treatment of him violated his due process rights. The first question in a due process analysis is whether someone has a protected liberty or property interest that they cannot be deprived of without due process of law. The court held that Plaintiff had a protected liberty interest in his future career as an attorney or financial professional, and that Plaintiff had submitted evidence that a finding of responsibility would jeopardize that career. The next question, once a court finds there is a protected liberty or property interest, is exactly what process is due. Here, the court held that “because the Defendants withheld evidence they used to find the Plaintiff guilty of violating university policy, the disciplinary process was fundamentally unfair.” Because the Plaintiff conceded that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on their individual-capacity claims, the due process claim proceeded only insofar as it seeks “injunctive relief against Purdue University and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities.”

The Defendants also argued that Plaintiff had not exhausted his state-law remedies, claiming that before alleging constitutional due process violations, he should have first pursued those claims as state-law tort claims. The court disagreed, citing the Seventh Circuit’s earlier opinion in Doe v. Purdue University and also noting that because state contract law gives great deference to the decisions of university officials, it is not a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for alleged constitutional due process violations.

The court also refused to dismiss Plaintiff’s equal protection claim, finding that his complaint sufficiently alleged several ways in which the university may treat students differently on the basis of gender. Plaintiff alleged that the university would bring “university-initiated” complaints against male students in cases where the complainant did not wish to file a complaint, but not against male students, and the court held this “selective inaction” could constitute an equal protection violation.