Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Trustees of Boston College, 892 F.3d 67 (1st Cir. 2018)

School type: Private
State: Massachusetts
Federal Circuit: First
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for summary judgment
Keywords: Basic fairness, Breach of contract

University’s motion for summary judgment granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff, a male Boston College student, was accused of assaulting a female student by digitally penetrating her on a crowded dance floor during a school-sponsored event. Plaintiff claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity and that another student, J.K., was actually responsible for the assault. According to Plaintiff, J.K. said “Sorry, dude, that was my bad” when the female student turned around to scream at Plaintiff, and later sent around text messages asking if Plaintiff was ok.

The university hearing board struggled with the decision, and was considering returning a “no finding” verdict before an administrator discouraged them from doing so. Ultimately, the board found Plaintiff responsible for the lesser offenses of indecent assault and battery, and suspended him. Plaintiff appealed, and the college denied his appeal.

Plaintiff and his parents sued the College for breach of contract. While the court found that a number of Plaintiffs’ arguments were unavailing, the court did reverse the dismissal of summary judgment on two important grounds:

First, “under the standard of reasonable expectations,” Judge Juan Torruella wrote for a unanimous panel, “it is reasonable for a student to expect that the B.C. Student Guide’s language stating that ‘[t]he Board will meet in private to determine whether the accused is responsible or not[,]’ means exclusion of outside influences in the Board’s deliberations.”

The opinion also held that BC’s actions violated an obligation to treat Plaintiff with basic fairness:

Just like it is reasonable for a student to expect that a school’s basic fairness guarantee excludes outside influences in the Board’s deliberations, it is also reasonable for a student to expect that a basic fairness guarantee excludes having an associate Dean of Students request Board members to give special treatment to the prime alternative culprit in a case in which the key defense is that someone other than the accused student committed the alleged sexual assault.