Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Quinnipiac University, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115089 (D. Conn. July 10, 2019)

School type: Private
State: Connecticut
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for summary judgment
Keywords: Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Selective enforcement, Title IX

This case involved allegations of intimate partner violence made against the Plaintiff in a dating relationship. Plaintiff made similar allegations against his ex-girlfriend, Jane Roe, which the university dismissed after an investigation. Plaintiff was found responsible and punished.

Plaintiff first alleged that summary judgment should be denied because two of the Defendant administrators destroyed their investigation and hearing notes, amounting to spoliation of evidence. To show spoliation, the prejudiced party must show that (1) the party who destroyed evidence was under a duty to preserve it, (2) the destruction of evidence was done with a “culpable state of mind,” and (3) a reasonable trier of fact might find that the evidence was relevant to the prejudiced party’s claim or defense. Here, because litigation had already started when the hearing took place, the parties were under a duty to preserve; negligence is a sufficiently culpable state of mind to show spoliation; and “the destroyed evidence relates directly to Plaintiff’s claims that he was subjected to an unfair investigatory process.” Therefore, the court found that the jury is entitled to determine whether the destroyed evidence likely supported Plaintiff’s claim of gender discrimination.

On Plaintiff’s Title IX claim, the court held that there were “undisputed facts and genuine disputes of material fact that preclude a grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Title IX claims for erroneous outcome and selective enforcement.” First, there are genuine questions as to whether the university applied different standards to the adjudication of Plaintiff’s intimate partner violence claims against Jane Roe than it did to Jane Roe’s intimate partner violence claims against Plaintiff. There is also a triable question as to whether the university’s decision to credit Roe’s statement that she was afraid of Plaintiff, but not Plaintiff’s statement that he was afraid of Roe, was motivated by gender bias. The spoliation of evidence also entitles a jury to conduct additional credibility assessments of the university’s witnesses to determine whether the proceedings were infected with gender bias.

The university did not meet its burden of showing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the disparate treatment, noting at oral argument simply that the parties were treated differently because Roe’s claims had merit and Plaintiff’s did not. This “fails to address the apparent procedural disparities claimed and substantiated by Plaintiff,” so summary judgment is not appropriate on the erroneous outcome and selective enforcement claims.

The court granted summary judgment to the university on Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claim, because (1) many of the allegations stem from the university’s treatment of Plaintiff as a respondent, not as a complainant, and that cannot sustain a deliberate indifference claim, and (2) QU did investigate Plaintiff’s claims that Roe was harassing him, even if that investigation was “not as robust as Plaintiff believes would have been appropriate.”

In his breach of contract claim, Plaintiff alleged 29 specific provisions of its handbook that the university allegedly violated in the course of his proceedings. Quinnipiac argued that a disclaimer in its handbook stating that everything was merely “informational” and did not constitute a contract prevented the breach of contract claim, but the court held that this was a question for the factfinder, and denied the motion.

The court also denied summary judgment on the breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact with regard to whether the university acted in bad faith.

The court granted summary judgment on the remaining state-law claims (tortious interference, NIED, IIED, etc.)