Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Noakes v. Syracuse University, 369 F. Supp. 3d 397 (N.D.N.Y. 2019)

School type: Private
State: New York
Federal Circuit: Second
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Title IX

The court denied the university’s motion to dismiss a student’s Title IX claim in this mistaken-identity sexual misconduct case. A female student was assaulted outside a bar by an unknown black male assailant. After seeing Plaintiff in the same bar several months later, she determined that he had been her assailant, although she was heavily intoxicated at the time of the assault. He claims he was not the assailant.

Plaintiff’s Title IX claim alleges that Syracuse was under intense pressure from OCR to address sexual misconduct on campus, and that it discriminated against him as a result. The court, following the Second Circuit’s decision in Doe v. Columbia, allowed his claim to proceed, finding that the flaws he identified in the investigation, coupled with his allegations that the university was under intense pressure to address sexual assault on campus, were sufficient to plead gender discrimination at this stage.

The court dismissed his Title VI racial discrimination claim, however, holding that “unlike plaintiff’s Title IX claim, plaintiff here does not situate his claims of racial discrimination within the context of a larger movement that urged universities to believe the claims of alleged white victims over the denials of their alleged black attackers.”

The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims, which were based on handbook promises of “fundamental fairness” and “adequate notice,” holding that these are the kinds of “general statements of policy” that can’t form the basis of a valid contract under New York law.