Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Vanderbilt University, No. 3:18-cv-00569 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 30, 2019)

School type: Private
State: Tennessee
Federal Circuit: Sixth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Basic fairness, Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Selective enforcement, Title IX

University’s motion to dismiss granted.

After his expulsion from Vanderbilt University for sexual misconduct, Plaintiff brought suit alleging Title IX violations, breach of contract, and assorted other state-law claims. Vanderbilt used an investigative model to adjudicate Plaintiff’s case, under which there was no hearing or opportunity for confrontation. The parties’ review of the evidence was limited to reviewing and commenting on the preliminary investigative report, which contained a “summary” of the information and documents relied upon by the investigators. 

Setting the tone for the rest of the opinion, the court noted early on that courts have a “limited role to play” in how colleges address sexual assault on their campuses, and that the court’s review of a university’s disciplinary procedures is “substantially circumscribed.”

The court first dismissed Plaintiff’s Title IX claims, finding his allegations of gender bias to be wholly conclusory and finding that he had not presented any evidence of a similarly situated female who was treated more favorably by the university.

Turning to Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims, the court noted that in Tennessee, a party alleging breach of contract must demonstrate three things: (1) the existence of a contract; (2) nonperformance amounting to a breach; and (3) damages resulting from the breach. While the court confirmed that student handbooks and other policy documents do create a contractual relationship between a private university and its students, the court held that Plaintiff had not plead any facts suggesting that the university did not follow the procedures set forth in the Student Handbook, and accordingly dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims. 

Plaintiff also alleged a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, which the court noted creates a duty to provide basic fairness. But that duty can be met by complying with the terms of the student handbook and sexual misconduct policy, both of which are “designed to be fair.” Since Plaintiff had not identified any deviation from those policies, it dismissed this claim as well, along with the remainder of Plaintiff’s state-law claims.