Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. White, No. 3:19-cv-04923 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2020)

School type: Public
State: California
Federal Circuit: Ninth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Due process, Qualified Immunity

The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss on grounds of qualified immunity.

Plaintiff, a female student at Sonoma State University, was accused by several classmates of engaging in masturbation during an “authentic movement” dance exercise in her Methods of Depth Psychology class. The investigation dragged on for close to a year and a half — during which time Plaintiff was removed from her classes — before Plaintiff was found not responsible. She brought suit alleging that the effective 14-month suspension had violated her due process rights.

Defendants asserted qualified immunity, arguing that “it was not clearly established that Plaintiff had a protected property or liberty interest in continued class attendance while under investigation for sexual misconduct in the context of post-secondary education in California.”

Reviewing case law from the Ninth Circuit and its district courts, as well as from other federal circuits, the court held that

[P]laintiff has not met her burden to show that at the time of the Title IX investigation, she had a clearly established property or liberty interest in her continued enrollment at Sonoma State. There are no binding Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit cases establishing such a right, and a number of district courts within the Ninth Circuit have recognized that there is a “dearth” of case law on the subject, with several recent decisions finding school officials entitled to qualified immunity. Looking outside the Ninth Circuit, there is no “robust consensus” holding that students have a protected property or liberty interest in continued enrollment in higher education at a public college or university.

As a result, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for qualified immunity.