Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. University of the Sciences, No. 2:19-cv-00358 (E.D. Pa. July 29, 2019)

School type: Private
State: Pennsylvania
Federal Circuit: Third
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Basic fairness, Breach of contract, Single investigator, Title IX

The court granted the university’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice.

Two sorority sisters, Jane Roes 1 and 2, each alleged that Plaintiff had sex with them without their affirmative consent. Defendant adjudicated the claim using a single-investigator model, where an investigator reviewed evidence, interviewed witnesses, and then determined by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff was responsible. Following the determination of responsibility, an administrative panel convened to decide on a sanction and expelled Plaintiff.

Plaintiff advanced three theories of Title IX sex discrimination: erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, and deliberate indifference. He also alleged breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

An erroneous outcome claim requires a Plaintiff to cast articulable doubt on the outcome of a proceeding and to establish a causal link between that erroneous outcome and gender bias. The court held that Plaintiff had not shown articulable doubt (which is noteworthy because several courts in other jurisdictions have held that a lack of an opportunity for cross-examination creates articulable doubt), calling Defendant’s single-investigator model an “expansive process.” The court also held that Plaintiff had alleged only “generalities” in his effort to establish gender bias, which is insufficient.

Plaintiff had also alleged selective enforcement because he had also been drinking at the time of his sexual encounter with Roe 2, and yet she hadn’t been punished. However, as the court pointed out, Plaintiff never accused her of any wrongdoing, so that argument was unavailing. The court also rejected Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference argument.

On the breach of contract claim, the court acknowledged that the disciplinary procedures in the student handbook were part of the contract between a student and a university, but found that Defendant had not violated any of its procedures. Plaintiff had alleged that Defendant’s single-investigator model violated its promise of “fairness to all,” but the court disagreed. Under Pennsylvania contract law, the requirement of “fundamental fairness” in a school disciplinary proceeding just requires notice and some sort of opportunity to be heard, both of which Defendant had provided.

The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.