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Stenzel v. Peterson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 13, 2017

DEBRA PETERSON, in her individual and official capacity, TROY GILBERTSON, in his individual and official capacity, BEMIDJI STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendants.

          Melvin R. Welch, WELCH LAW FIRM, for plaintiff.

          Kathryn M. Woodruff, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, for defendants.



         This case arises from alleged sexual violence that occurred on Defendant Bemidji State University's (“BSU”) campus in August 2014. Plaintiff Tyler Stenzel filed this case against BSU and school officials Debra Peterson and Troy Gilbertson (collectively “individual Defendants”) regarding the school's disciplinary actions against Stenzel. Stenzel alleges two claims: violation of Title IX (Count I); and Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing (Count II). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss because as to the Title IX claim, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that BSU's actions were motivated by gender. As to the claim alleging a Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, the Court finds that BSU is protected by immunity from state-law claims under the Eleventh Amendment.



         BSU follows the Minnesota Colleges and Universities (“MnSCU”) Board of Trustees' Sexual Violence Policy when responding to allegations of “sexual violence.” BSU's Policy is consistent with MnSCU's Policy. (Aff. of Troy Gilberston (“Gilbertson Aff.”) Exs. 1-2, Mar. 15, 2017, Docket No. 9.) Both the BSU Policy and MnSCU Policy (collectively, “the Policy”) define “sexual violence” as “a continuum of conduct that includes sexual assault, non-forcible sex acts, dating and relationship violence, stalking, as well as aiding acts of sexual violence.” (Id., Ex. 1 at 1 & Ex. 2 at 1.) The Policy defines “sexual assault” to include “an actual, attempted, or threatened sexual act with another person without that person's consent.” (Id., Ex. 1 at 1 & Ex. 2 at 2.) The definition includes “[i]ntentional and unwelcome touching, or coercing, forcing, or attempting to coerce or force another to touch a person's intimate parts (defined as primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttocks, or breast).” (Id., Ex. 1 at 2 & Ex. 2 at 2.)

         The Policy dictates BSU's response to sexual violence. (Id., Ex. 3 at 1.) The Policy protects the rights and privacy of “the complainant and respondent, ” when an allegation of sexual violence is reported. Under the Policy, students are “strongly encouraged” to report sexual abuse and BSU employees are “urged to encourage and assist complainants.” (Id. at 1-2.)

         Once a complainant reports sexual violence to BSU, an officer designated by BSU's President conducts an investigation (“designated officer”). (Id., Ex. 4 at 2, 4.) The designated officer is charged with ensuring that the complaint is made in writing, and providing the respondent with information about the “existence and general nature of the complaint.” (Id. at 5.) The designated officer must conduct an impartial investigation and manage all data in accordance with the applicable privacy laws. (Id.) Following the investigation, if the dispute remains unresolved, the “decision process” is followed. (Id. at 7.) In the decision process, the designated officer prepares an investigatory report and forwards it to the decisionmaker (a high-level administrator designated by BSU's President), who may ask for further investigation before making a decision. (Id.) The decisionmaker meets with the “complainant, respondent, or other involved individuals” and takes into account “the totality of the circumstances” to determine an appropriate corrective action. (Id.)

         If the corrective action includes a suspension of ten or more days, the student may contest the corrective action under Minn. Stat. § 14. (Id. at 8.) A Minnesota Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) hears the appeal, makes findings of facts and law, and forwards those findings to BSU's President to make a final decision. (Id.)


         On August 23, 2014, Stenzel, a first-year BSU student, attended an on-campus event with a group of friends, including complainant Brittany Demers. (Compl. ¶ 17, Feb. 24, 2017, Docket No. 1.) The two “were friendly and spent time with one another outside of class.” (Id. ¶ 19.) The group returned to Stenzel's dorm room around 10:30 p.m., and, shortly thereafter, Stenzel and Demers allegedly went to Demers's dorm room together. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) While in the dorm room, Stenzel alleges that Demers undressed and initiated sexual contact, which Stenzel claims he stopped before the two went to bed. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29, 31-32.) In contrast, Demers previously described that Stenzel accessed Demers's dorm room without Demers's knowledge and had sexually penetrated Demers without consent. (Id. ¶¶ 58(a), 58(c).) That night, Stenzel slept in Demers's dorm room. (Id. ¶ 34.)

         The following day, Demers implied that she was uncomfortable with what happened the previous evening. (See id. ¶ 35.) Demers's discomfort caused her to send several text messages about the incident, to both her roommate and Stenzel. (Id. ¶¶ 35-37.) In one text message, Demers's roommate asked how Stenzel raped Demers, and Demers responded “‘I'm pretty sure he went inside of me when I was sleeping' . . . ‘like 98% sure.'” (Id. ¶ 40.)

         Stenzel alleges that, on August 25, 2016, he spoke with a BSU employee and discussed “nonconsensual sexual contact the previous night.” (Id. ¶¶ 46, 178.) Stenzel asserts that BSU did “no follow-up and began no investigation” into Demers. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 178.) On the same day, Demers underwent a physical examination. (Id. ¶ 44.)

         On or around August 27, 2016, Demers reported to law enforcement that Stenzel raped her. (Id. ¶¶ 48-49.) Around the same time, Demers requested and obtained a harassment restraining order from a Minnesota district court and swore in an affidavit that Stenzel gained access into her dorm room using keys that Demers's roommate provided him. (Id. ...

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