Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Nokes v. Miami University, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136880 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 25, 2017)

School type: Public
State: Ohio
Federal Circuit: Sixth
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Cross-examination, Due process

The court granted Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. In the Sixth Circuit, a preliminary injunction is appropriate where (1) the plaintiff has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm absent the injunction; (3) the issuance of an injunction would not cause substantial harm to others; and (4) the injunction would be in the public interest.

Plaintiff was a student at Miami University along with his accuser, Jane Doe. At some point in the semester, Plaintiff and Jane Doe engaged in sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol. Five months after the sexual contact, Roe claimed Plaintiff had sexually assaulted her and reported him to the university’s Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (“OESCR”). The university charged him with two separate counts of sexual misconduct for sexual contact that happened outside his residence hall and contact that happened inside the residence hall, both on the same night. During the hearing, Jane Doe submitted written witness statements on her behalf, which made it impossible for Plaintiff to question them. A school administrator stated the panel would have to take all the witness statements as facts since they couldn’t question them. The university found Plaintiff responsible for sexual misconduct because Doe had allegedly been too intoxicated to consent and suspended him for two years. Plaintiff sued Miami University alleging constitutional due process violations and Title IX sex discrimination.

As an initial matter, the court rejected Defendants’ claim that Plaintiff was required to show that the outcome of his case would have been different absent the alleged constitutional violations.

The court held Plaintiff might not have received proper notice because the initial notice “specifically” focused on Plaintiff’s alleged force against Doe and not Doe’s level of intoxication. The university, however, questioned Plaintiff on how much Doe had to drink and whether she was unable to consent due to alcohol consumption. Since Plaintiff was not notified that the university would use Doe’s intoxication as evidence that she couldn’t consent, he was unable to form a proper defense against it.

The court also held that Plaintiff’s inability to question the witnesses against him — whose testimony was offered only in the form of written statements — may have violated his due process rights.

On the question of irreparable harm, the court found that Plaintiff had met this burden both because of the harm to his reputation, but also because of “the cyclical nature of job opportunities in his field, and other complications that will prevent him from applying for competitive internships necessary to advance due to his lack of enrollment.”

In terms of the potential harm to others, the court noted that the university had allowed Plaintiff to remain on campus during the disciplinary process after finding at a suspension hearing “that Plaintiff did not pose a direct threat to Jane Roe or the student body.” The court also held that the public interest is best “served ‘by the robust enforcement of constitutional rights.’”

The case subsequently settled.