Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Prasad v. Cornell University, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161297 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2016)

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

University’s motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part.

This ruling allowed an accused student’s Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim to proceed to the next stage of litigation, while dismissing several other claims (including breach of contract and a Title IX “selective enforcement” claim). This case involved a claim that sexual activity between Plaintiff and an unidentified female student was not consensual because the female student was too drunk to consent. It also involved the use of a “single investigator” system. Plaintiff did not receive a hearing; rather, two Cornell investigators interviewed the parties and witnesses, reviewed evidence, and issued a report recommending that Plaintiff be expelled. The report was reviewed by a panel of three faculty members, who accepted the investigators’ findings and recommendations.

The district court’s decision is noteworthy for two reasons.

First, the court recognized that discovery would likely be critical to Plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate sex discrimination, citing a case holding that “in most cases, plaintiffs will be unable to provide reliable statistics before they have access to discovery.”

Second, in ruling that Plaintiff had met his burden of alleging facts that cast doubt on the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding (one element of an “erroneous outcome” claim), the court relied heavily on Plaintiff’s allegations about the shortcomings of Cornell’s single-investigator model:

Plaintiff alleges a host of facts demonstrating particular evidentiary weaknesses in the case against him. These include allegations that the investigators failed to question certain witnesses about Doe’s outward signs of intoxication; accepted the victim’s account of her level of intoxication despite numerous statements to the contrary; misconstrued and misquoted witnesses’ statements; used an on-line BAC calculator and Doe’s self-reported weight and alcohol consumption to conclude that Doe was in a state of extreme intoxication; accepted Doe’s statement that she allowed Plaintiff to sleep in her bed because of her family’s “sailboat community values;” drew prejudicial conclusions without sufficient evidentiary support; and cast Plaintiff’s actions in highly inflammatory terms.

Given that the reviewers who ultimately expelled Plaintiff likely took the investigators’ report “at face value,” the court ruled that the plaintiff’s erroneous outcome claim could proceed.

The case ultimately settled.