Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Z.J. v. Vanderbilt University, 355 F. Supp. 3d 646 (M.D. Tenn. 2018)

School type: Private
State: Tennessee
Federal Circuit: Sixth
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Cross-examination, Erroneous outcome, Exculpatory evidence, Title IX

The court granted the university’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint.

Plaintiff’s Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim failed because “Z.J. has neither alleged any statistics, patterns, or anecdotal evidence showing gender bias in reporting, investigation, or punishment under Vanderbilt’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, nor alleged any policy or practice designed to produce gender-specific outcomes,” nor has he “alleged a single statement by any university official evidencing gender bias before or during the disciplinary process.”

Z.J. also alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress, but the standard for an IIED showing under Tennessee law is particularly exacting. Other claims (defamation, breach of contract) also failed. Among other things, Z.J. alleged a breach of contract based on Vanderbilt’s alleged failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, but the court held that

[T]he Sexual Misconduct Policy procedures specify what must be disclosed to a respondent. If there is no requirement that Vanderbilt disclose a complainant’s statements and answers to questions to a complainant, then ‘failure to do so cannot be deemed an intentional act of hiding information.’

Z.J. also alleged a breach of contract based on the fact that he had no opportunity to cross-examine his accuser; here, the court brought into stark relief the difference between students’ rights at public and private universities:

Admittedly, as the Court has previously recognized, in the context of a procedural due process claim against a public university a different result regarding the viability of this claim would likely arise. … However, Vanderbilt is a private university and Z.J. brings a breach of contract claim. The Court therefore does not resolve questions of constitutional due process.