Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

MacDonald v. University of Alaska, 1:20-cv-00001 (D. Alaska May 22, 2020)

School type: Public
State: Alaska
Federal Circuit: Ninth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Due process

The court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the University of Alaska’s investigation of him for alleged sexual misconduct violated his due process rights in two ways. First, he alleged that the conduct of the university’s first investigator ensured that Plaintiff would not be treated fairly in the investigation. Second, he alleged that the university’s failure to complete its investigation within 50 days (as required by university policy) constituted a due process violation.

As an initial matter, the court found that the potential harm from the allegedly biased investigator was entirely speculative at this stage, because the investigation had not been completed and because there are internal UA remedies of which Plaintiff could avail himself to challenge the investigator’s findings. The court also found that Plaintiff had not produced evidence demonstrating that the investigator was biased, and that his alleged bias would be irrelevant anyway since he had already been removed as the investigator and replaced.

The court also found that the delay in the investigation — even if it is a violation of UA’s own policies — did not rise to the level of a due process violation.

The university also alleged that the court should decline to exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of Younger abstention, which applies to

three categories of cases: ‘(1) parallel, pending state criminal proceedings, (2) state civil proceedings that are akin to criminal prosecutions, and (3) state civil proceedings that implicate a State’s interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts.’

The university argued that its Title IX proceedings were akin to criminal prosecutions, which is an argument that directly contradicts the argument made by many universities that few procedural protections are due because their disciplinary proceedings are not adversarial and are instead merely educational in nature. The court declined to rule on the Younger abstention argument at this point, inviting the university to submit additional briefing on it.