288 F.3d 349 (8th Cir. 2002), 01-1725, Williams v. Lindenwood University

Docket Nº:01-1725
Citation:288 F.3d 349
Party Name:Williams v. Lindenwood University
Case Date:May 01, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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288 F.3d 349 (8th Cir. 2002)

Ronell WILLIAMS, Appellant,



No. 01-1725.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 1, 2002

        Submitted: Nov. 14, 2001.

        Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied: June 6, 2002.

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        Matthew H. Hearne, St. Louis, MO, argued (Mark Belz, on the brief), for appellant.

        John T. Shaw, St. Charles, MO, argued (Dale L. Rollings, on the brief), for appellee.

        Before McMILLIAN, FAGG and MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judges.

        MCMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

        Ronell Williams ("plaintiff") is a black male who attended Lindenwood University before being expelled for disciplinary violations arising out of a party held in student housing. Plaintiff appeals from a final order entered in the United States District Court 1 for the Eastern District of Missouri granting summary judgment in favor of Lindenwood University on plaintiff's claims for breach of contract and racial discrimination. See Williams v. Lindenwood University, No. 4:00CV00010 (E.D.Mo. Feb. 13, 2001) (hereinafter "slip op."). For reversal, plaintiff argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the university because (1) he raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether his expulsion and denial of readmission was based on his race and (2) he produced evidence that the

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university's proffered explanations for the expulsion and denial of readmission were pretexts for racial discrimination. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.

        Jurisdiction was proper in the district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal pursuant to Fed. R.App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         I. Facts

        The facts herein are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as the nonmoving party. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

        While plaintiff was a student at Lindenwood University, he lived with Chad Moore, who is also black, in a mobile home used by the university for student housing ("the trailer"). Lindenwood University students who live in student housing agree to abide by certain rules, including that alcohol is not allowed on campus ("the alcohol policy"), visitation by members of the opposite sex is prohibited ("the visitation rule"), and that students are responsible for the actions of their guests while on campus.

        On February 16, 1999, plaintiff, Moore, two white female students named Kristen Bruening and Stephanie Denbrow (together, "the students"), and three unidentified black males who were not students (together, "the nonstudents") participated in a party in the trailer. There was alcohol at the party in violation of the alcohol policy. Denbrow's and Bruening's presence in the trailer was a violation of the visitation rule. 2 Williams was responsible for the actions of the nonstudents while they were on campus.

        Denbow testified in her deposition that she initially went to the trailer that night on her own accord to do laundry, and that Moore and plaintiff were both present when she arrived. Bruening testified in her deposition that she accompanied Denbow to the trailer, and that at approximately 9:00 p.m., both Moore and plaintiff announced to them that other guests would be coming over. Denbrow and Bruening decided to wait in the trailer to socialize with Moore, plaintiff, and others who would be arriving later that evening. More than an hour later, the nonstudents arrived at the trailer. Bruening testified that there was already alcohol present before the nonstudents arrived. The uncontroverted testimony of the students at the party was that plaintiff did not ever drink any of the alcohol, while Moore, Denbrow, 3 Bruening, and the nonstudents did drink it. The students all testified that the nonstudents did not misbehave or act inappropriately during the party or ever cause anyone to feel unsafe. Moore testified that he did not see anyone in danger at the party and that no one made any sexual or inappropriate remarks. Similarly, Bruening testified that she never felt threatened during the party. Bruening testified that, at different times, both Moore and plaintiff left the party for a little while and returned later. Moore testified that when

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he returned to the party, he turned on the stereo in his room.

        At approximately 2:00 a.m., campus security officer Byron Steele, who is black, and another campus security officer heard noise from the trailer, determined that its occupants were in violation of Lindenwood University's "quiet hours policy," and approached the trailer to confront them. Steele testified in his deposition that when he arrived at the trailer, neither of the women appeared to be in any trouble and no one asked for any help; rather, everyone was "just partying and running around." Steele described the nonstudents' appearance as "pretty nice."

        Steele testified that when he and the other campus security officer entered the front of the trailer, he saw Moore and Bruening trying to run out the back door. Breuning admitted that she and Moore went out the back door of the trailer when she saw security coming, and that Steele had to call her at home at 3:00 a.m. to let her know that he was aware she had been present at the party. Moore, too, testified that he left with Bruening when the campus security officers arrived, and said that he found out what happened from plaintiff when he returned to the trailer later, after the campus security officers had left. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he was cooperative with the campus security officers, answered all of their questions, and told them who the nonstudents were. Steele confirmed that it was plaintiff who spoke with him and that only plaintiff took responsibility for living in the trailer.

        At approximately 2:20 a.m., Steele wrote out a three-page behavioral incident report detailing his observations. In the report, Steele did not mention that the nonstudents acted belligerently or violently, or that they did anything to make Steele feel unsafe.

        Steele also reported the incident to Joseph Steenbergen, the Lindenwood University Dean of Students. Dean Steenbergen claimed that he learned from Steele that the nonstudents were members of a gang, that they said that they were going to "go through" the campus security officers, and that they were criminals with outstanding arrest warrants. Dean Steenbergen testified that Steele seemed "pretty scared" by the incident, that the nonstudents cursed at Steele, that Steele thought they were going to fight, and that this was the first time Steele had ever told him anything like that.

        After speaking with Steele, Dean Steenbergen expelled the students from the university. Each of the students appealed their expulsion to the Lindenwood University Dean of Admissions, David Williams. Dean Williams heard all of the appeals and met individually with each of the four students while the university investigated the incident. Moore, Bruening, and Denbrow were readmitted within days. Plaintiff was denied readmission ostensibly because he created a dangerous situation by bringing criminals and gang members to campus and because he instigated all of the violations of Lindenwood University policy.

        Throughout Lindenwood University's investigation of the incident, there arose several instances where (1) university administrators drew conclusions about the incident which were not corroborated by the students, Steele, or the behavioral incident report, and (2) university administrators made remarks about plaintiff and the nonstudents which the students interpreted as racially discriminatory.

         A. Disputed Facts about the Incident

        Lindenwood University officials said that Steele identified the nonstudents as gang members because he saw in the trailer a photograph of them in which they

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appeared to be "throwing gang signs." However, Steele testified that he did not know whether the nonstudents were members of a gang or even if they were "throwing gang signs" in plaintiff's photograph; only that that was "kind of what it looked like." Steele also testified that plaintiff was not in the photograph and, when asked whether the nonstudents were the same individuals that were in the photograph, he answered "I think maybe one of them."

        Steele also said that he did not recall plaintiff telling him that the nonstudents...

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