Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Haidak v. Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 23482 (1st Cir. Aug. 16, 2019)

School type: Public
State: Massachusetts
Federal Circuit: First
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Cross-examination, Due process, Title IX

The court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s due process claim stemming from his suspension without notice or a hearing, but upheld the dismissal of the due process claim with regard to his expulsion hearing. The court also upheld the dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title IX sex discrimination claim.

The case stems from a dysfunctional dating relationship between Plaintiff and his ex-girlfriend, Lauren Gibney. While they were studying abroad in Barcelona, an incident of dating violence occurred about which their accounts differ dramatically. Gibney claims that Plaintiff was the initial aggressor, while Plaintiff claims that Gibney was.

Gibney filed a written complaint with the university, and the university issued a no-contact order that both parties repeatedly violated by continuing their romantic relationship for some period of time after the Barcelona incident. Initially, however, Gibney denied that the post-Barcelona contact had been unwanted, rather than mutual. As a result, the university deemed Plaintiff to constitute “a direct and imminent threat” to the safety of the community and suspended him indefinitely pending his hearing, which had not yet been scheduled.

Approximately five months later, the university finally held Plaintiff’s hearing, and he was permanently expelled. He then filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the university violated his constitutional due process rights both for suspending him without notice and a hearing, and for expelling him without the proper process, including allowing him to cross-examine Gibney.

The court held that while UMass had violated Haidak’s due process rights by suspending him without notice prior to holding a hearing, the procedures employed at the hearing at which he was ultimately expelled did not violate his due process rights. The court also affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of Haidak’s Title IX sex discrimination claim.

The court did, however, recognize a due process right to cross-examination through a neutral third party in cases involving serious disciplinary charges: “[W]e agree with a position taken by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, as amicus in support of the appellant — that due process in the university disciplinary setting requires “some opportunity for real-time cross-examination, even if only through a hearing panel.”

The court also held that the third-party questioning must be meaningful:

When a school reserves to itself the right to examine the witnesses, it also assumes for itself the responsibility to conduct reasonably adequate questioning. A school cannot both tell the student to forgo direct inquiry and then fail to reasonably probe the testimony tendered against that student.