Doe v. Purdue Univ.

Decision Date01 June 2020
Docket NumberCAUSE NO.: 4:19-CV-56-TLS-JPK
Citation464 F.Supp.3d 989
Parties John DOE, Plaintiff, v. PURDUE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

Eric J. Rosenberg, Rosenberg & Ball Co., LPA, Granville, OH, for Plaintiff.

Matthew M. Humble, William P. Kealey, Stuart & Branigin LLP, Lafayette, IN, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, JUDGE

On August 9, 2019, Plaintiff John Doe filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 23] against Purdue University, Vice President Alysa C. Rollock, Dean Katherine L. Sermersheim, Senior Associate Director Christie Wright, Investigator Jeff Rooze, and yet to be identified individuals who served on a disciplinary panel. Am. Compl., p. 1, ECF No. 23. In essence, the Plaintiff alleges that (1) he was discriminated against on the basis of sex during a university investigation that resulted in his expulsion and (2) the disciplinary process violated his right to due process. Accordingly, the Plaintiff brings claims for violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 1); violations of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (Count 2); violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 3); and a declaratory judgment that Purdue University's policies, as applied to the Plaintiff, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count 4). Id. pp. 51–66.

This matter is before the Court on the DefendantsRenewed Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 29], filed on August 30, 2019. The Defendants argue (1) this Court is without jurisdiction, (2) the Plaintiff failed to state a due process violation, (3) the Plaintiff failed to exhaust his state law remedies, (4) the Plaintiff failed to state an equal protection claim, and (5) the Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed as a matter of law. The Court concludes that the Plaintiff's claims for economic damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be dismissed. However, in all other respects, the Defendants’ arguments are denied. Therefore, the DefendantsRenewed Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 29] is granted in part and denied in part.

LEGAL STANDARD

"A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint itself."

Bonnstetter v. City of Chicago , 811 F.3d 969, 973 (7th Cir. 2016). "To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must provide enough factual information to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face’ and ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’ " Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc. , 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). The Court presumes that all well-pleaded allegations are true, views these well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accepts as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc. , 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bonnstetter , 811 F.3d at 973 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

BACKGROUND
A. The Sexual Contact Between the Plaintiff and Jane Roe

In August 2018, the Plaintiff and Jane Roe became acquainted with each other on a social media app. Am. Compl. ¶ 22, ECF No. 23. On August 16, 2018, the Plaintiff invited Jane Roe to a party. Id. ¶¶ 23–24. Jane Roe arrived at the party with her friend. Id. ¶ 24. Around 11:30 P.M., Jane Roe and her friends decided to leave for another party. Id. ¶ 25. Jane Roe asked the Plaintiff whether he would like to join them, and he agreed to leave with them. Id.

At the second party, the Plaintiff and Jane Roe danced and kissed. Id. The Plaintiff asked Jane Roe whether she wanted to go somewhere "more private." Id. ¶ 26. Jane Roe agreed, and they found an overstuffed chair away from the dancing area of the party. Id. Jane Roe straddled the Plaintiff's lap and continued to kiss him while the Plaintiff consensually touched Jane Roe's vagina. Id.

As the second party ended, the Plaintiff, Jane Roe, and various other students decided to return to the Purdue University campus. Id. ¶ 29. At some point, Jane Roe asked the Plaintiff whether he would like to come up to her dorm room. Id. ¶ 30. At the dorm room, the Plaintiff and Jane Roe began kissing. Id. ¶ 31. Jane Roe then removed her shirt and bra and performed oral sex on the Plaintiff. Id. The Plaintiff manually stimulated Jane Roe's vagina. Id. ¶ 36. After a few minutes, Jane Roe stopped performing oral sex. Id. The Plaintiff and Jane Roe agreed to stop engaging in sexual contact. Id. The Plaintiff then left her room without engaging in any further sexual contact. Id. ¶ 37.

B. Purdue University's Investigation

After August 16, 2018, Jane Roe falsely alleged that the Plaintiff sexually assaulted her.1 Id. ¶ 38. Ultimately, a resident advisor at Purdue University learned of her false allegations and reported the Plaintiff to Purdue University. Id. ¶ 39.

On August 28, 2018, Purdue University's Office of Institutional Equity instituted an investigation against the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 82. The Plaintiff was summarily suspended from the university pending an investigation of Jane Roe's allegations. Id. ¶ 83. Purdue University explained that it had been informed of conduct that, if substantiated, may constitute a violation of university policy. Ex. 13, Suspension Letter, p. 3, ECF No. 23-13.2 Namely, Purdue University alleged that on August 16, 2018, the Plaintiff became aggressive at a party and digitally penetrated Jane Roe's vagina without consent. Id. It further alleged that the Plaintiff returned to Jane Roe’ dorm room and "sexually assaulted [her] by forcing her to perform oral sex ..., inserting [his] finger(s) into her vagina, inserting [his] finger(s) into her anus, and attempting to insert [his] penis into her vagina, all without her consent." Id. It was further alleged that the Plaintiff bit and strangled Jane Roe. Id.

On August 30, 2018, the Plaintiff learned that Defendant Christie Wright and Defendant Jeff Rooze were investigating Jane Roe's allegations. Am. Compl. ¶ 85, ECF No. 23. Defendant Wright requested an interview with the Plaintiff. Id. During the interview, Defendants Wright and Rooze were uninterested in any exculpatory evidence. Id. ¶ 86. Rather, Defendants Wright and Rooze were interested in supporting Jane Roe's allegations. Id. Defendants Wright and Rooze rejected the Plaintiff's request to observe security camera film which would have undermined the credibility of Jane Roe and other witnesses. Id. Defendants Wright and Rooze also refused to provide the Plaintiff with exculpatory evidence such as the audio recordings of the interviews with Jane Roe and other witnesses. Id. ¶ 87.

Some point thereafter, Defendants Wright and Rooze issued a "Preliminary Report." Id. ¶ 87. Purdue University denied the Plaintiff's repeated requests for a copy of the Preliminary Report. Id. Purdue University also denied the Plaintiff's requests for copies of the audio recordings, documents, and other information gathered during the investigation. Id. Instead, Purdue University only allowed the Plaintiff to review a copy of the Preliminary Report from a secure location. Id. ¶ 88. The Plaintiff took handwritten notes regarding the information in the Preliminary Report. Id. ¶ 89. Thereafter, Defendants Wright and Rooze submitted the Preliminary Report to administrators at Purdue University. See id. ¶ 90. However, these Defendants refused to include exculpatory evidence within the Preliminary Report. Id. ¶ 87.

On December 11, 2018, the Plaintiff submitted a "Response" to the Preliminary Report. Id. In his Response, the Plaintiff disputed Jane Roe's version of events and highlighted inconsistencies in her story. See Response to Preliminary Investigators Report, pp. 1–4, ECF No. 23-21. After the Plaintiff presented his Response, Defendants Wright and Rooze prepared a "Concealed Report" that was submitted to a Panel of Adjudicators tasked with determining whether the Plaintiff violated university policy. See Am. Compl. ¶ 90, ECF No 23. The Defendants did not allow the Plaintiff to view the Concealed Report. Id. ¶¶ 90, 97.

C. The Disciplinary Hearing

On December 18, 2018, the Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant Katherine L. Sermersheim. Id. ¶ 91. Defendant Sermersheim, who is the Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students, stated that a "Formal Resolution Process" was scheduled for December 21, 2018. Id. The letter stated that the Plaintiff may have a support person present during the hearing, but that this support person could not act as legal counsel or otherwise participate in the hearing. Id. The letter informed the Plaintiff that he would be given "a few minutes if there are any remarks you wish to share with us, and then I will open it up to the panel members and myself for questions we have for you." Id. The letter cautioned that the Panel had "reviewed the complaint, written responses, and the Investigator's Report. Accordingly, the purpose of the meeting is not to conduct another investigation but simply to be able to hear directly from the parties and get clarification on any questions we might have after having reviewed the written materials." Id.

On December 21, 2018, Defendant Katherine L. Sermersheim convened a Panel from the Advisory Committee on Equity to determine whether the Plaintiff violated university policy. Id. ; see also Ex. 17, Final Determination, p. 3, ECF No. 23-17. The only witnesses were Defendant Wright, Defendant Rooze, the Plaintiff, and Jane Roe. See Am Compl. ¶¶ 6, 93,...

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