The court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff has a complicated disciplinary history at the University of Maine at Farmington. In October 2017, a female student (Jane Roe 1) accused him of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, harassment, and stalking. He was found not responsible for most of the allegations, but was found responsible for harassment and stalking and was placed on disciplinary probation.
Around the same time, Plaintiff alleged that he had been the victim of sexual assault by another woman, Jane Roe 2. He claims the university did not investigate his claim, although the university claims that he did not identify his attacker and told the university he did not want to pursue a claim at that time.
In the fall of 2018, Plaintiff entered into some type of global settlement/release agreement with the university, agreeing to resolve his disputes with the university and waive any future claims.
In March 2019, Jane Roe 2 — the same woman Plaintiff had accused of sexual assault in the fall of 2017 — accused Plaintiff of physical and sexual assault. The university placed Plaintiff on interim suspension. In August 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a ruling in Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst that UMass had violated a student’s due process rights “by suspending him without a hearing when no exigent circumstances were present.” Plaintiff asked the university to reconsider his interim suspension in light of Haidak, and although they said they would review it, they were very slow to take action, and Plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit the following month.
As an initial matter, the university claimed that Plaintiff’s lawsuit was precluded by the settlement agreement he signed with the university. The court, noting that a release of claims via a settlement agreement was an affirmative defense, disagreed at this stage. Because Plaintiff had not provided the university with any detail about his claim against Jane Roe 2 until May 2019 (after she had accused him), the court held that Plaintiff’s May 2019 report may have provided a new starting point for assessing the appropriateness of the university’s response to his claim.
Defendants also moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s due process claim on ripeness grounds because there had not yet been a final decision in Plaintiff’s case. However, the court pointed out that in Haidak, the First Circuit considered the due process issues arising from Haidak’s interim suspension wholly separately from the due process issues arising from his expulsion, ultimately concluding that he had been denied due process in his suspension proceedings, but not in his expulsion proceedings. Since these are two different questions, the court held, Plaintiff in the instant case could bring a due process challenge arising from his interim suspension even though the ultimate outcome of his case was still undecided.