Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Jackson v. Liberty Univ., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122104 (W.D. Va. August 3, 2017)

School type: Private
State: Virginia
Federal Circuit: Fourth
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract

The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Sarah Browning and Cameron Jackson were students at Liberty University (LU) when the alleged sexual misconduct took place. Browning attended a party with the football team where she performed oral sex on several team members. Later that night she and Jackson had what Jackson alleged to be consensual sex; Jackson and Browning continued to engage in casual sex on several occasions after this encounter. Later, rumors began to circulate that Browning was gang-raped by the football team, and LU mounted an investigation. Prior to her meeting with school administrators, Browning asked her friend Jane Doe if she should claim that she was raped, presumably because the student code (“the Liberty Way”) prohibits premarital sex between the opposite sexes. Browning denied the rumors during the meeting, but was later expelled for using legal drugs. She subsequently sent a Snapchat message proclaiming “Fuck LU! I can take down that whole football team.”

Browning brought a complaint for sexual assault with LU, alleging that three members of the football team had raped her. Plaintiff wasn’t allowed to review the records and was not present at the final hearing that found him to be in violation of LU’s sexual misconduct policies. He was expelled and had an adverse notation placed on his transcript. Liberty then issued a press release naming the three football players found to be in violation of the sexual misconduct policy. As a result of the publicity, Jackson claimed he was harassed by people on campus. Jackson’s appeal based on procedural deficiencies and new evidence was denied, and he brought Title IX, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligence and defamation claims against the University. The University moved to dismiss all claims except the Title IX claim.

On Jackson’s state law contract claims, the court held that “the Liberty Way” was not a contract because it lacked mutuality, and was too indefinite to be enforceable. Since promissory estoppel is not a “cognizable cause of action in the Commonwealth,” the court dismissed it along with the contract claims. On Jackson’s negligence claims, the court held that Virginia case law “does not support a college or its administrators having the duties of care asserted in these circumstances.” On Jackson’s defamation claims, the court held that he had successfully stated a claim of defamation by implication, since one could reasonably infer from the University’s press release that he had committed sexual assault.

The case subsequently settled.