Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Painter v. Adams, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171565 (W.D.N.C. Oct. 17, 2017)

School type: Public
State: North Carolina
Federal Circuit: Fourth
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for summary judgment
Keywords: Due process, Exculpatory evidence

The court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s due process claim.

Plaintiff was found guilty of sexual misconduct, was suspended from school, and lost his commission in the Army. Plaintiff had two hearings regarding the allegations and was found responsible both times. He sued the university alleging due process violations in both hearings.

Defendants argued Plaintiff’s complaint was deficient because he failed to name UNC, UNC-C or the Board of Governors as parties. The court declined to dismiss the claim on those grounds because Plaintiff could easily fix the deficiency by amending the complaint.

Defendants also claimed Eleventh Amendment immunity against the suit, but the court mentioned two exceptions to state immunity: ex parte Young and the state waiver doctrine. “Ex parte Young authorizes ‘suits against state officers for prospective equitable relief from ongoing violations of federal law.’” Since Plaintiff is seeking “expungement of the school’s disciplinary findings against him,” the relief is prospective and the school is not immune from suit. However, any of Plaintiff’s claims seeking “retrospective relief and money damages” were dismissed pursuant to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

The state waiver doctrine states that “[f]or claims brought under Title IX . . ., the acceptance of federal funding waives the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Although the university receives federal funding, Plaintiff’s Title IX claims were dismissed at an earlier stage of the proceeding; therefore, the state waiver doctrine does not apply in this case.

On the substance of Plaintiff’s claim, he alleged that he was unable to submit exculpatory evidence at the hearing, which the court found could amount to a due process violation. First, the court held that “[r]eputational harm alone is enough to implicate a protected liberty interest,” and also that “one’s ability to access or continue with post-secondary educational opportunities may well implicate protected liberty interests.” The court held that whether Plaintiff’s due process rights had been violated was a genuine issue of material fact and therefore the claim should not be dismissed at the summary judgment stage.

The case subsequently settled.