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Doe v. University of St. Thomas

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 21, 2019

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

          Beau D. McGraw, McGraw Law Firm, PA, for plaintiff.

          David A Schooler, Ellen A. Brinkman, and Maren F. Grier, Briggs & Morgan, PA, for defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff John Doe (“Doe”) brought this action against the University of St. Thomas (“UST”), a private university, stemming from UST's investigation of a sexual misconduct complaint made against him. Doe originally brought six causes of action; however, the Court dismissed five of them, and the only remaining cause of action is one based on negligence. UST now moves for summary judgment on the negligence claim. The Court finds that UST owed Doe a duty of reasonable care, but because UST did not breach its duty of care, the Court will grant the Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. UST'S SEXUAL MISCONDUCT POLICY

         The events giving rise to this action occurred in December 2015. At that time, UST had a Sexual Misconduct Policy (the “Policy”) that set forth guidelines UST would follow when investigating allegations of sexual misconduct. (Decl. of Linda Baughman (“Baughman Decl.”), ¶ 3, May 30, 2018, Docket No. 150.) The Policy's “provisions [were] intended to be flexible so as to allow UST to meet its legal obligations while fulfilling its educational mission.” (Baughman Decl., Ex. 1 (“UST Policy”) at 15, Docket No. 150-1.)

         The Policy contained both formal and informal resolution processes. At the initiation of the formal resolution process, a “Response Manager” would be appointed to take interim actions and manage the investigation as it began. (Id. at 16-17.) The Response Manager would also appoint “Factfinders.” Factfinders were responsible for “conduct[ing] an investigation into the facts of the incident” and notifying both the complainant and the respondent of the results. (Id. at 21.) The Factfinders would conduct interviews, offer written summaries of the charges and results to the complainant and respondent, and give both the complainant and the respondent an opportunity to participate at various points along the way. (Id. at 23.) Both the complainant and the respondent could identify witnesses, provide documents and other evidence, submit questions for the Factfinders 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 24.) If the Factfinders made such a finding, a determination would be made that the Policy had been “violated, ” a report would be prepared, and the Response Manager would determine the appropriate sanctions. (Id. at 24.) UST would then provide a written notification of the Factfinders' decision to both the complainant and respondent and give both the opportunity to appeal. (Id. at 25-26.) If the respondent was a student, the Vice President for Student Affairs would be designated as the Appeal Officer. (Id. at 26.) The Appeal Officer would have the option to consider the appeal directly or to appoint an appeal board. (Id. at 26-27.) If appointed, an appeal board would consider the appeal and present a non-binding recommendation to the Appeal Officer, who would then make the final determination. (Id. at 27.)

         To assist students in the process, the Response Manager would also appoint Process Advisors, who would “explain the response and resolution process and provide information about available resources” to both the complainant and the respondent. (Id. at 18.) Additionally, students were allowed a support person. (Id. at 21.) A support person could “accompany [the student] throughout the response and resolution process . . . to consult with and advise” the student. (Id.)

         II. THE INCIDENT

         Doe was a freshman at UST in 2015. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1, May 20, 2016, Docket No. 34.) On the night of December 11, 2015, both he and Jane Doe, the complainant, attended an off-campus party. (Id. ¶ 30, 36.) Later that evening, Doe walked Jane Doe back to her dorm room and the two began consensually kissing in the dorm's common room. (Id. ¶ 46.) The two eventually ended up in the bathroom connected to Jane Doe's dorm room, where they continued kissing and removed some of their clothing. (Id. ¶¶ 56-60.) Then, Doe digitally penetrated Jane Doe. (Id. ¶ 62.) Jane Doe did not verbally consent nor did she verbally object. (Decl. of Vern Klobassa (“Klobassa Decl.”) ¶ 4, May 30, 2018, Docket No. 170, Ex. 1 (“Factfinders' Report”) at 9, Docket No. 171.) Doe left the dorm room shortly thereafter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 70.) The next morning, Jane Doe reported the incident to UST, and UST began a formal investigation of the incident on December 14, 2015. (Klobassa Decl. ¶ 8, Ex. 5, Docket No. 175.)

         III. THE INVESTIGATION

         Linda Baughman, the Dean of Students at UST, was the designated Response Manager. (Baughman Decl. ¶ 1.) On December 14, 2015, Baughman sent Doe an email to inform him about Jane Doe's complaint. (Baughman Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. 4, Docket No. 153.) Shortly thereafter, Doe received a second letter from Dean Baughman, which advised Doe about his rights under the Policy and identified the Factfinders. (Baughman Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. 7, Docket No. 156.) As the investigation commenced, Doe, Doe's father, and Doe's attorney attended a meeting with Dean Baughman and UST's Associate General Counsel Abigail Crouse, the purpose of which was to “answer questions [Doe] and his father ha[d] about the process, ” and to allow Doe's attorney to “learn . . . how the process works.”[1] (Am. Compl., Ex. 4 at 1, Docket No. 34-4.)

         In the ensuing weeks, the Factfinders conducted interviews, reviewed security footage, and reviewed evidence provided by both Doe and Jane Doe. The Factfinders first interviewed Jane Doe and Doe on December 21 and 22, respectively. (Factfinders' Report at 3.) Doe's lawyer was present at his interview. (Klobassa Decl. ¶ 12, Ex. 9 at 1, Docket No. 178.) After the interviews, Doe and Jane Doe provided the Factfinders with evidence and the names of witnesses they believed had relevant information. (Factfinders' Report at 7, 11.) Additionally, Doe and his attorney were asked to provide suggested questions for the witnesses they identified. (Klobassa Decl. ¶ 13, Ex. 10, Docket No. 179.)

         The Factfinders interviewed eleven other individuals during the investigation, including Jane Doe's roommate, her Resident Advisor, two health care professionals, and several individuals who interacted with both parties on the night of December 11 and the morning of December 12. (Factfinders' Report at 1-2, 4.) The Factfinders also viewed text messages between Doe and Jane Doe, security footage from Jane Doe's dorm, a report from the St. Paul police department, and Jane Doe's relevant medical records. (Factfinders' Report at 3, 7, 11.) After reviewing this evidence, the Factfinders separately interviewed both Doe and Jane Doe a second time, presented both with the evidence, and asked pertinent follow-up and clarifying questions. (Klobassa Decl. ¶¶ 10, 12; Ex. 7, Docket No. 177; Ex. 9, Docket No. 178.)

         On February 10, 2016, Doe and his attorney attended a meeting with Crouse and Dean Baughman. (Am. Compl. ¶ 144.) Doe was informed that “he had been found responsible for non-consensual sexual intercourse.” (Id.) As a result, Doe was suspended from UST for three semesters, which was-at that point-until the beginning of the 2017 fall semester. (Baughman Decl. ¶ 10, Ex. 9, Docket No. 157.) On March 10, 2016, Doe appealed the decision. (Decl. of Karen Lange (“Lange Decl.”) ¶ 3, May 30, 2018, Docket No. 165, Ex. 1 (the “Appeal”), Docket No. 166.) Karen Lange, the Vice President of Student Affairs, was named the Appeal Officer. (Lange Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 3 at 1, Docket No. 168.) She appointed an Appeal Board, who considered Doe's appeal and determined that none of the grounds to overturn a decision were applicable. (Id.) Lange agreed with the Board's recommendation and upheld the Factfinders' original determination.[2] (Id. at 2-3.)

         IV. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 20, 2016, Doe filed an Amended Complaint alleging that UST violated Doe's rights through its application of the Policy. The Amended Complaint alleged six causes of action: (1) Declaratory Judgment under Title IX (Count I); (2) Violation of Title IX - Erroneous Outcome (Count II); (3) Violation of Title IX - Deliberate Indifference (Count III); (4) Breach of Contract (Count IV); (5) Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing (Count V); and (6) Negligence (Count VI). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 158-211.) On March 1, 2017, the Court dismissed the first five counts. (Mem. ...


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