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Doe v. St. John's University

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 26, 2017

John Doe, Plaintiff,
v.
St. John's University, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PAUL A. MAGNUSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 28, 2016, a female student at the College of St. Benedict reported to a campus security officer that Plaintiff John Doe, a student at Defendant St. John's University, had sexually assaulted her late the previous evening. (Compl. (Docket No. 1) ¶ 58.) The Dean of Students of St. John's informed Plaintiff of the charges that day, and met with Plaintiff to discuss the allegations and the investigation process. (Id. ¶ 59.) Because the incident involved an alleged sexual assault, St. John's policy required the University to engage in a formal resolution process, including the appointment of an outside investigator. (Compl. Ex. 2 (College of St. Benedict and St. John's University Sexual Misconduct Complaint Procedures) (Docket No. 1-2) at 16 (“Procedures”).)[1]The University chose an attorney who specializes in higher education law to conduct the investigation. Plaintiff objected to the appointment, contending that because the attorney's law firm had represented the University on a previous Title IX matter, she would be biased in favor of the University. (Compl. ¶ 62.) St. John's denied Plaintiff's request to remove the attorney, and she proceeded to investigate the complaint. (Id. ¶ 63.)

         The University's sexual misconduct procedures require that the investigator interview the complainant, the respondent, and any other witnesses the investigator deems relevant. (Procedures at 17.) Both parties have the opportunity to suggest witnesses for the investigator to interview, and both parties are allowed to submit “any and all information and evidence believed to be relevant to the complaint.” (Id.) The procedures provide that the investigation report should issue within 25 days of the complaint's filing. (Id. at 18.)

         Two weeks after the complaint was filed and in the midst of the investigation, Plaintiff filed his own complaint. He alleged that the complainant, known as Jane Doe, engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with him on the same evening as she alleged that he assaulted her. (Compl. ¶¶ 69-70.) The investigator also investigated this allegation, although again, Plaintiff objected to her participation in the proceedings.

         The investigation report is not included in the documents attached to the Complaint. But the investigator provided the report, as well as the entire investigation file, to a three-person adjudication panel appointed by the University. (Procedures at 4, 20.) The Procedures give each party the opportunity to review the complete investigation file and the report, to make a written response to it, and to submit a rebuttal to the other party's response. (Id. at 19.) The Procedures, however, do not require an adversarial hearing, and the adjudication panel did not hold one.

         The panel reviewed the file and, pursuant to the standard of review set forth in the Procedures, determined that it was “more likely than not” that Plaintiff violated the University's sexual misconduct policy. (Id. at 21.) In February 2017, the Dean of Students determined that the appropriate sanction was Plaintiff's suspension from St. John's until Jane Doe's anticipated graduation date of May 2019. (Compl. ¶ 75.)

         Plaintiff appealed. The Procedures provide for an appeal only for new or newly discovered evidence or a procedural error. (Procedures at 24.) The adjudication panel denied Plaintiff's appeal because he had no new evidence and did not allege a procedural error. Plaintiff was suspended from St. John's, and transferred to a different institution.

         Plaintiff contends that the Procedures violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., because they do not provide sufficient due process to accused students, and he seeks a declaratory judgment to that effect. He alleges a claim for “erroneous outcome from a flawed proceeding” under Title IX, seeking damages for mental and emotional distress, past and future economic harm, and other similar damages. (Compl. ¶ 107.) He also raises a claim for deliberate indifference under Title IX, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence. The University asks the Court to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims.

         DISCUSSION

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assumes the facts in the Complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). The Court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions that the plaintiff draws from the facts pled. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” will not pass muster under Twombly. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). This standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         A. ...


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