Judge Halts Penn State’s Suspension of Syrian Student Accused of Sexual Misconduct

October 30, 2015

Yesterday afternoon, a federal judge granted an emergency restraining order preventing Pennsylvania State University from enforcing its suspension of a student found responsible for sexual misconduct. In his complaint, filed Monday, the student alleges that Penn State’s use of a single-investigator model—in which one person (or, in this case, group of persons) acts as investigator, judge, and jury, collecting evidence and rendering a decision without a hearing—violated his due process rights.

The student, a Syrian national, also told the court that as a result of the suspension, he could lose his student visa and be forced to return to Syria, which is currently in the midst of a civil war.

When deciding whether to grant a temporary restraining order, courts consider whether the party seeking the order has shown

(1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that it will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is denied; (3) that granting preliminary relief will not result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party; and (4) that the public interest favors such relief.

Kos Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Andrx Corp., 369 F.3d 700, 708 (3d Cir. 2004).

In this case, the judge found that all of those criteria had been met, holding, among other things, that

Plaintiff has adequately demonstrated that he is reasonably likely to succeed on the merits of his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim brought pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in light of the potential inadequacy of the procedure afforded him by Defendants during a disciplinary hearing that resulted in his two-semester suspension from The Pennsylvania State University.

FIRE has long argued that the single-investigator model is manifestly unfair and deprives students of basic due process rights. The plaintiff in this case is making the same argument, and we are heartened to see a court taking it very seriously. We will keep you posted on developments in this case as it proceeds.