Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Syracuse University, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77580 (N.D.N.Y. May 8, 2019)

School type: Private
State: New York
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Biased statements, Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, State action, Title IX, Training materials

University’s motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part: Plaintiff’s Title IX and breach of contract claims survive.

According to Plaintiff, he and his accuser Jane Doe had consensual oral and vaginal sex that she later alleged was non-consensual. She also alleged they had non-consensual anal sex. According to Plaintiff’s complaint, “initially she reported that the vaginal sex was consensual but that the oral sex and alleged anal sex were non-consensual, but in a later interview she claimed she had withdrawn consent during the vaginal sex.” Syracuse’s Conduct Board found Plaintiff responsible for engaging in non-consensual vaginal sex after Jane had withdrawn her initial consent, and suspended him. It did not find him responsible on the oral and anal sex charges.

Plaintiff brought a Title IX claim under the “erroneous outcome” theory, which requires him both to cast articulable doubt on the outcome of the proceeding and to allege a causal connection between the erroneous outcome and gender bias. The court found that Plaintiff’s factual allegations were sufficient to cast articulable doubt on the proceeding’s outcome. The court also found that Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged gender bias based on (1) the investigator’s previous experience advocating for sexual assault victims; (2) the influence on university officials of trauma-informed training, particularly in light of “the Conduct Board’s finding that Jane’s ‘actions throughout the process are consistent with a traumatic event such as she described in her statement’”; (3) the pending OCR investigation into Syracuse’s handling of sexual misconduct claims.

Plaintiff also alleged a violation of his due process rights, based on Syracuse’s obligation to follow New York State’s “enough is enough” law, which includes — among other things — the requirement of trauma-informed training. The court dismissed this claim, holding that a state-action claim “must include more than an obligation to follow, or adherence to, state law. Regulation by the government does not turn private activity into state activity.”

With regard to Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court found that he had sufficiently plead breach of contract by identifying a number of specific policy provisions allegedly violated by Syracuse, including a failure to adhere to the promised evidentiary standard and a failure to provide Plaintiff with a recording of his accuser’s testimony “in violation of the terms” of Syracuse’s conduct policies.