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Doe v. University of St. Thomas

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 1, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS, Defendant.

          Beau D. McGraw, MCGRAW LAW FIRM, PA, for plaintiff.

          David A. Schooler and Ellen A. Brinkman, BRIGGS & MORGAN, PA, for defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM Chief Judge United States District Court

         This case arises from alleged sexual misconduct that occurred on Defendant University of St. Thomas's (“UST”) campus in December 2015. Even though the Ramsey County Attorney decided not to prosecute Plaintiff John Doe, UST initiated disciplinary proceeding and suspended Doe. Doe filed an Amended Complaint regarding the disciplinary process, alleging six causes of action. UST moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant UST's motion to dismiss Counts I through V, but deny UST's motion to dismiss Count VI.

         BACKGROUND

         I. UST SEXUAL MISCONDUCT POLICY

         A. Prohibited Conduct

         In December 2015, UST's Sexual Misconduct Policy (the “Policy”) prohibited students from engaging in “[a]ll forms of sexual misconduct.” (Am. Compl., Ex. 1 at 2, May 20, 2016, Docket No. 34.) Students who “engaged in sexual misconduct . . . [were] subject to disciplinary action.” (Id. at 3.) The Policy defined “sexual misconduct” to include “non-consensual sexual intercourse.” (Id.) The Policy also defined “consent” to engage in sexual acts as “conduct or words that indicate[d] a person freely agree[d].” (Id.) In defining “consent, ” the Policy explicitly stated “[c]onsent to one form of sexual activity [did] not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity” and “[s]ilence or failing to resist a sexual act [did] not constitute consent.” (Id.)

         B. Response and Resolution Process

         The Policy included a process to address allegations of sexual misconduct. (Id. at 7-8, 10-17.) The Policy set forth guidelines UST would follow when investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, but also stated the “provisions [were] intended to be flexible so as to allow UST to meet its legal obligations while fulfilling its educational mission.” (Id. at 10.) The Policy permitted “[t]he Title IX Coordinator [to] authorize departures from the[] provisions when warranted by the circumstances.” (Id.)

         UST applied its formal sexual-misconduct resolution process when a complaint alleged nonconsensual intercourse. (Id. at 13.) Under this process, the “Response Manager” - the Dean of Students - would first take interim actions to protect the parties and assign a “Process Advisor” to “explain the response and resolution process and provide information about available resources.” (Id. at 10-12.) Next, the Response Manager would assign one or more “Factfinders” to “conduct[] an investigation into the facts of the incident” and notify both the complainant and the respondent. (Id. at 14.) Following the notices, the Process Advisor would hold a meeting with the respondent to review the allegations, discuss available resources, review UST's Policy, and answer any questions. (Id. at 14-15.) The Policy also indicated UST would provide the respondent a written summary of all allegations and defenses during the factfinding process. (Id. at 14.)

         With regard to the Factfinders' investigation, the Policy stated the Factfinders would conduct interviews, offer written summaries, and afford both the complainant and the respondent an opportunity to respond. (Id.) As part of the response, both the complainant and the respondent could identify witnesses, documents, and other evidence; offer questions to ask witnesses; and supply responsive statements. (Id.)

         After completing the investigation, the Factfinders would “weigh the evidence and determine whether it [was] more likely than not (using a ‘preponderance of the evidence' standard) that the [r]espondent [was] responsible for the misconduct alleged.” (Id. at 15.) If the Factfinders found the respondent responsible, a determination would be made that the Policy had been “violated, ” a report would be prepared, and the Response Manager would determine appropriate sanctions. (Id.) Finally, UST would provide a written notification of the Factfinders' decision and give both the complainant and the respondent an opportunity to appeal. (Id. at 15-16.)

         II. INCIDENT

         On December 11, 2015, Doe - a freshman at UST - attended an on-campus party. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 30.) Doe, the alleged female victim (“Jane Doe”), and others left to attend an off-campus party. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) Shortly thereafter, Jane Doe indicated she wanted to go back to her dorm room and Doe offered to walk with Jane Doe. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Doe and Jane Doe engaged in consensual kissing in the dorm's common room. (Id. ¶ 46.) The pair eventually ended up in the bathroom connected to Jane Doe's dorm room. (Id. ¶¶ 52-55, 93-95.) Doe and Jane Doe gave varying accounts regarding how they ended up in the bathroom. (Id.) While in the bathroom, Doe digitally penetrated Jane Doe. (Id. ¶ 62.) Doe and Jane Doe both agreed Jane Doe's vagina bled after the digital penetration. (Id. ¶¶ 68-69.) Jane Doe also alleged in two police reports that she did not consent to the digital penetration. (Id. ¶¶ 95-97, 107-08, 112.)

         Doe does not dispute that Jane Doe did not verbally consent to the digital penetration. Doe alleges, however, that Jane Doe did not object to removal of her pants and that Jane Doe stroked his penis, which Doe interpreted as consent to the digital penetration. (Id. ¶¶ 59-62.)

         III. INVESTIGATIONS

         Jane Doe reported the incident to UST on December 13, 2015, and the St. Paul Police Department a day later. (Id., Ex. 2.) Police arrested Doe on December 14, 2015, but the Ramsey County Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute. (Id.; Am. Compl., Ex. 5.)

         UST also investigated the incident. Doe received a written notice from the Dean of Students informing Doe that Jane Doe made a complaint. (Am. Compl., Ex. 6.) The letter provided notice of interim actions UST would take, including (1) a no contact order applicable to both parties; (2) removal of Doe from his on-campus residence during the investigation; and (3) a prohibition against Doe being on campus except for specified purposes, such as going to class. (Id.) Doe received a second letter from the Dean of Students on December 15, 2015, advising Doe about the Policy, identifying the Factfinders, and informing Doe about his rights. (Am. Compl., Ex. 7.)

         UST held a meeting with Doe and his attorney to explain Jane Doe's allegations and the process UST would follow. (Am. Compl. ¶ 130; id., Ex. 4.) The Factfinders investigated the incident and interviewed several witnesses, including Doe, Jane Doe, and witnesses identified by Doe. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 132-42; id., Ex. 8.) Doe also provided additional evidence, which the Factfinders reviewed and considered as part of the investigation. (Am. Compl., Ex. 8.) When the Factfinders concluded the investigation, the Factfinders informed Doe he had been found responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse and would be suspended from UST until fall semester 2017, pending his right to appeal. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 144, 153.)

         Doe appealed. (Id., Exs. 11-12.) A five-member board and an Appeal Officer considered the appeal and found no grounds to change the determination. (Id. ¶¶ 154-55.) The Appeal Officer ultimately upheld the original determination of the Factfinders, but adjusted the sanction - extending the suspension period until spring semester 2018. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 154-55; id., Ex. 12.)

         IV. ...


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