Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. St. John’s University, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177373 (D. Minn. Oct. 26, 2017)

School type: Private
State: Minnesota
Federal Circuit: Eighth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Title IX

University’s motion to dismiss granted.

Plaintiff, a student at St. John’s University, allegedly sexually assaulted Jane Doe, a student at a different school. Two weeks after Jane Doe reported the assault, Plaintiff filed his own complaint against her, alleging she had “engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with him.” After an investigation into both claims, a three-person adjudication panel found Plaintiff responsible for violating St. John’s sexual misconduct policy. Plaintiff sued the university alleging Title IX violations, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence.

The court held Plaintiff did not sufficiently plead a Title IX erroneous outcome claim because he “sets forth no facts that tie the allegedly flawed outcome of his proceeding with any gender bias.” The court emphasized that for a plaintiff to plead an erroneous outcome claim, he “must specifically allege a causal connection between the outcome and discrimination.” Plaintiff in this case only presented conclusory allegations, which the court found was not enough to sustain an erroneous outcome claim.

The court pointed out that the fact that males are more frequently accused and found guilty of sexual assault is not in and of itself evidence of gender bias: “Merely because all or nearly all of the claims of sexual misconduct at St. John’s involve a female accuser and male accused does not mean that the University is discriminating against men in its procedures for handling claims of sexual misconduct, nor does the alleged ‘significant gender-based statistical disparity demonstrate[] the existence of discrimination.’”

The court also held, for similar reasons, that Plaintiff had not met the burden necessary to satisfy a deliberate indifference claim. The court said Plaintiff failed to “point to a particular decisionmaker who knew that the proceedings were biased against males accused of sexual misconduct . . . and that decisionmaker’s failure to take corrective action was unreasonable.”

The court rejected Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim because “[t]he University’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures do not constitute a contract between the University and its students.” Many jurisdictions do consider such policy documents to create a contractual relationship between a private university and its students, but “Minnesota courts are generally reluctant to find contractual obligations between students and their schools based upon student handbooks.”

Moreover, the court held that even if there was a contract between them, Plaintiff’s claim that he should have been allowed to conduct his own investigation and should have been given an unredacted copy of the investigative report are not promises made in the university’s policies.

Plaintiff also alleged the university had been negligent. The court said: “It may be that the University’s procedures were negligent, but without a duty underlying the University’s actions, there can be no claim for negligence.”