Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Rider University, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7592 (D.N.J. Jan. 17, 2018)

School type: Public
State: New Jersey
Federal Circuit: Third
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Biased statements, Breach of contract, Title IX

Defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff and a fellow Rider University student, Jane Roe, had a sexual encounter one night. Also in the room were Plaintiff’s roommate and Jane Roe 2. Later, Roe lodged a sexual assault complaint against Plaintiff. Roe and Roe 2’s account of what transpired in the room changed from when they talked to Public Safety to when they filed their case with the Lawrence Township Police Department. The Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute because of the inconsistent statements. Plaintiff was subsequently suspended and his suspension was upheld by the university’s community standards panel.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant’s sexual misconduct investigation was not impartial. Specifically, an email he received from the University included the following statement: “There are numerous articles/studies that reveal that it is not unusual — and indeed typical — for sexual assault victims to give inconsistent statements.” Additionally, Defendant’s website provides the following advice on how to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted: “BELIEVE the survivor.”

Plaintiff alleges Title IX sex discrimination under theories of erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, and deliberate indifference. For each theory to prevail, Plaintiff has to plead enough facts to show a plausible inference of gender bias. “Courts have found that specific allegations of procedurally flawed proceedings coupled with conclusory allegations of gender discrimination are not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.” The court compared Plaintiff’s factual allegations to caselaw and concluded that he had not “alleged that any of the University administrators, Public Safety Officers, the community standards panel, the board, or the appeals panel made statements indicating gender bias, which Courts have found sufficient to demonstrate gender bias.” Further, potential bias in favor of the victim and against the perpetrator (such as the “BELIEVE the survivor” webpage) is not the same as gender bias. The court thus granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Title IX claims.

Plaintiff also brought breach of contract claims against the university. Read in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the court decided that he had at least sufficiently alleged that Defendant breached two of its policies. First, the policy requires “a trained investigator or investigators to promptly, fairly and impartially investigate the complaint,” but Plaintiff alleged that the detective assigned to his case was neither fair nor impartial. Second, the policy requires that “[t]he Board will be composed of three (3) impartial and trained, professional staff members of the University community appointed by the Title IX Coordinator (or designee).” But since all three members reported to the same dean who initially urged the female students to make a report, there was a clear conflict of interest. Defendant’s motion to dismiss was thus denied.

On Plaintiff’s breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim, the court decided that the dean’s behavior demonstrated “ill motives without any legitimate purpose to deprive Plaintiff of the fruits of the contracts.” Defendant’s motion to dismiss was thus denied.

All other claims brought by Plaintiff — negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, promissory estoppel and violation of New Jersey Consumer Fraud (“NJCFA”) — were dismissed.