Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Vassar College, No. 7:19-cv-09601 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 2019)

School type: Private
State: New York
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Breach of contract, Notice, Title IX

The court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Plaintiff, the captain of Vassar’s soccer team, was accused of sexual misconduct by a fellow student. Plaintiff and his accuser, Jane Doe, presented dramatically different accounts of the encounter underlying the complaint. Plaintiff alleged that they engaged in mutual sexual touching until he realized that she was intoxicated and immediately ceased; Jane alleged not only that she was too drunk to consent, but also that the sexual touching was non-consensual.

Vassar’s adjudicator determined that Jane’s account was more credible, based primarily on text messages corroborating her account and by the testimony of one of her witnesses, whom the adjudicator found particularly credible.

Plaintiff alleged that Vassar violated its own policies in the adjudication of the case (by, among other things, allowing Jane to identify witnesses beyond the deadline that he was given to do so) and that it discriminated against him on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX.

In the Second Circuit, a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must show (1) that he would suffer irreparable harm absent the injunction and (2) that he has a likelihood of success on the merits OR that there are sufficiently serious questions going to the merits of the case to warrant injunctive relief.

The court held that Plaintiff — who was given a one-semester suspension — would not suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction:

[T]he Court concludes on the record before it that the harm that Plaintiff will suffer from suspension for a single semester at [the] beginning of his senior year is not irreparable. As the Second Circuit has held, the harms a plaintiff might suffer from a delay in graduation are quantifiable and can be adequately remedied by money damages, should the plaintiff prevail on the merits of his case.

The court also found that the college had not violated its own policies in allowing Jane Doe to identify a witness in writing after its stated deadline: “[T]he College Regulations do not specify the manner in which parties are required to give notice of their witnesses to Vassar, and Jane’s e-mail correspondence indicated that she had orally identified Jake well before the deadline.” The court also found that Plaintiff had identified no evidence pointing to bias: “Plaintiff’s attack on the findings boils down to his belief that the complainant should not have been believed.”