Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. University of South Carolina, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38108 (D.S.C. Feb. 12, 2018)

School type: Public
State: South Carolina
Federal Circuit: Fourth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Due process, Title IX

Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction was denied.

Plaintiff and a female student, Jane Roe, engaged in a sexual encounter. Roe alleges that Plaintiff blocked her from leaving his apartment and then sexually assaulted her. Plaintiff says their encounter was wholly consensual. Roe filed charges through the university, and Plaintiff was found responsible for one of the charges (“non-consensual sexual penetration,” but not “offensive touching” and “dangerous behaviors—intimidation, coercion, and abuse”). Plaintiff, an international student from Iran attending USC on a student visa, was then restricted from visiting some areas of campus.

Roe appealed the decision. Plaintiff cross-appealed, alleging that Roe had filed her appeal too late. The panel considering the appeal found that the original hearing panel had improperly considered Plaintiff’s visa status when deciding on his punishment. In a new hearing, Plaintiff was found guilty of non-consensual sexual penetration as well as “offensive touching” and “dangerous behaviors—intimidation, coercion, and abuse,” but not “failure to comply” with university policies. The new panel decided that Plaintiff’s punishment would be suspension from USC for 2.5 years. This suspension meant that Plaintiff’s visa status would also be terminated, legally forcing him to return to Iran. Plaintiff sued USC alleging constitutional violations (due process and double jeopardy), as well as Title IX sex discrimination. He sought an injunction and damages. Plaintiff claimed that Roe had filed her appeal after the university’s deadline, that an administrator had modified the original incident report, that the second panel had wrongly not considered his visa status, and that Roe had made new allegations against him in the second hearing.

In evaluating Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, the judge considered four factors: 1) the likelihood of his success on the merits; 2) whether an injunction was necessary to avoid irreparable harm; 3) the balance of equities in the case; and 4) whether an injunction would be in the public interest.

The judge found that Plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his case. First, Roe’s filed appeal was timely under USC’s defined window of “five business days,” as the university only counted days that class was in session for students as “business days.” Next, Plaintiff could not prove that the incident report was substantially altered; rather, testimony from the accused administrator indicated that he had only added demographic information at a later date. The instructions given to the second panel, which directed them to ignore Plaintiff’s visa status, were deemed to not deprive Plaintiff of any due process. Further, Roe’s “new” allegations in the second hearing were taken directly from the original incident report, and therefore, Plaintiff was considered to have adequate notice of them. For these reasons, the judge concluded that his claims were unlikely to succeed, as he would likely be unable to show he was denied due process. He would also be unlikely to succeed on his Title IX claim, as he could not show any gender bias led to the investigation’s or the panel’s findings. Finding Plaintiff was unlikely to prevail on his claims, the judge deemed any considerations of irreparable harm moot, and, declaring that the public interest and equity factors did not tip to either party’s side, denied Plaintiff’s request for an injunction.