Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Kim v. University of Northern Iowa, No. 6:19-cv-02037 (N.D. Iowa Mar. 19, 2020)

School type: Public
State: Iowa
Federal Circuit: Eighth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Cross-examination, Due process, Erroneous outcome, Qualified Immunity, Selective enforcement, Title IX

The court granted the university’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims.

Plaintiff was expelled from the university after a sexual encounter during which the complainant alleged she was incapacitated by alcohol. His lawsuit alleged Title IX, due process, and breach of contract claims.

The court first considered whether Plaintiff had stated a Title IX claim under the “erroneous outcome” theory, which requires a Plaintiff to plead facts both casting articulable doubt on the outcome of a disciplinary proceeding and connecting that allegedly flawed outcome to gender bias. While the court acknowledged that there were “several deficiencies” in the disciplinary process “that could have affected the outcome’s accuracy,” the court held that these issues were not themselves evidence of gender bias.

Plaintiff also alleged that both federal and local pressure (UNI had been fined $110,000 by the Department of Education for violating the Clery Act, and had been sued by a female student for allegedly mishandling her claim of sexual misconduct) prompted the university to conduct biased proceedings. The court held, however, that these types of pressures can only create a “backdrop” for gender bias in cases where there is also case-specific evidence of bias. Plaintiff’s primary evidence of case-specific bias was the university’s use of a trauma-informed approach to sexual misconduct proceedings, but the court rejected this, holding that “bias in favor of a trauma victim is not the equivalent of… bias against male students.”

Plaintiff also alleged a Title IX violation under a “selective enforcement” theory, which would require him to demonstrate that similarly situated female students were treated more favorably. Plaintiff claimed that he needed discovery in order to prove this, because any relevant evidence was in the sole possession of the university. While the court acknowledged that Plaintiff might not, prior to discovery, have enough information to prove such a claim, it also held that he would need “some additional factual allegation” to support his theory beyond mere speculation. The court also held that although Plaintiff alleged that the complainant in his case was treated more favorably, she was not similarly situated because he did not file a complaint against her.

The court next dismissed Plaintiff’s due process claims on grounds of qualified immunity, finding that “the deficiencies complained of” — including the lack of cross-examination — “are not clearly established rights”:

The only clearly established procedural due process requirements universities must follow are adequate notice, a definite charge, and a hearing with an opportunity for the student to present the student’s side of the case and with all necessary protective measures. Defendants abided by each of those here.

On Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court held that he had plead facts sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, but dismissed the claim on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, finding that the university was an arm of the state.