Doe v. Trs. of Ind. Univ.

Decision Date26 October 2020
Docket NumberNo. 1:20-cv-00123-JRS-DML,1:20-cv-00123-JRS-DML
Citation496 F.Supp.3d 1210
Parties John DOE, Plaintiff, v. TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, Lauren Robel, Kathy Adams-Reister, Libby Spotts, Robert Billingham, Michael Courtney, Grant Vogtman, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

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

Michael C. Terrell, Tracy Nicole Betz, Vivek Randle Hadley, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants.

Entry and Order on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 46)

JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

Indiana University suspended Plaintiff John Doe ("John") after finding him guilty of sexual misconduct against a non-student minor. John brought suit against the Trustees of Indiana University, Provost Lauren Robel, Title IX Deputy Coordinator and Director of the Office of Student Conduct Libby Spotts, and IU Hearing Commission members Robert Billingham, Michael Courtney, and Grant Vogtman (collectively "IU," "University," or "Defendants") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, alleging a deprivation of procedural due process. Defendants moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 46.) For the following reasons, the Court dismisses John's suit without prejudice.

I. Standard of Review

A complaint must contain a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). "To meet this standard, a plaintiff is not required to include ‘detailed factual allegations,’ " but the factual allegations must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if it "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, courts "take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true," Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, Roberts v. City of Chicago , 817 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2016). Courts, however, need not accept the truth of mere legal conclusions. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678–79, 129 S.Ct. 1937. "[I]f a plaintiff pleads facts that show its suit [is] barred ... it may plead itself out of court under a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis." Whirlpool Fin. Corp. v. GN Holdings, Inc. , 67 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

II. Background

John Doe began his freshman year at Indiana University-Bloomington in September of 2019. (Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 43.) He planned to work toward eventually obtaining a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Soon after beginning classes, John was criminally charged with felony sexual misconduct against a sleeping minor, Jane Doe, and a warrant issued for his arrest. (Id. ¶ 45.) In October, an online news website reported on John's arrest and the sexual misconduct charge. (Id. ¶ 5.)

In early November, the University first learned of John's arrest through the article.

(Id. ¶¶ 6–7.) On November 11, based on the article, Title IX Deputy Coordinator and Director of the Office of Student Conduct Libby Spotts notified John that IU was summarily suspending him for violating IU's Code of Student Rights. (Id. ) The suspension would last one year at minimum. (Ex. 1 at 1, ECF No. 43-1.) The notification letter sent to John stated that Jane had alleged that John sexually assaulted her while she was visiting John's sister on July 4, 2019. (Id. ) Jane said she had fallen asleep at an off-campus residence and woke to find John's hands down her pants; she fell back asleep and woke again to find her pants off and John attempting to have sex with her. (Id. ) Consequently, IU said, John posed a "serious threat of harm to [him]self and/or others on the campus." (Compl. ¶¶ 6–7, ECF No. 43.) IU's summary suspension procedure permits the Provost to act without following normal procedures if she is "satisfied that the student's continued presence on the campus constitutes a serious threat of harm ...." (Ex. 1 at 2, ECF No. 43-1.) John requested a formal hearing reviewing the summary suspension decision before the University Hearing Commission, comprised of Defendants Robert Billingham, Michael Courtney, and Grant Vogtman. (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 43.) Spotts contacted John to schedule the hearing the next day. (Id. ¶ 55.)

IU conducted the hearing on November 15. (Id. ¶ 9.) Minutes before it began, John reviewed IU's case file, which contained only his correspondence with the University and the docket from his pending criminal case. (Id. ¶ 73.) At the hearing itself, IU called no witnesses and presented no documents. (Id. ¶ 75.) But John and his sister testified, presenting a different story than the one Jane told police. They confirmed that Jane had visited John's sister on July 4, 2019, and that Jane had spent time in John's room. (Id. ¶ 66.) But John and his sister testified that John's sister was also present, so John was never alone with Jane and was never physically in a position to sexually assault her. (Id. ¶¶ 68–71, 80–81.) John and his sister also testified that Jane had exhibited "odd behavior" that afternoon when she was caught by John and his sister with her pants down, apparently peeing in a garbage can in the corner of the room. (Id. at ¶ 72.) John and his sister testified that they believed Jane was "humiliated," and that none of the three ever spoke of the matter again. (Id. ¶ 72.) While John's sister was testifying, a commissioner asked her about Jane's possible motive for making a false accusation, but Spotts interjected and instructed the sister not to answer, reasoning that Jane was not available to rebut the sister's testimony. (Id. ¶ 103.) At the end of the hearing, Spotts identified the following as evidence in the record: John's testimony, his sister's testimony, the charges filed against John, and an online news report about John's arrest. (Id. ¶ 77.) At no point did IU speak with Jane or ask her to provide a statement. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 93–97, 106.) In total, the hearing lasted about two hours. (Id. ¶ 75.)

On November 18, the Hearing Commission notified John that it had found him responsible for personal misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence and would uphold his summary suspension. (Id. ¶¶ 78–79.) John appealed. (Id. ¶ 83; Ex. 3, ECF No. 43-3.) Provost Lauren Robel affirmed the suspension, citing the criminal charge against him in support. (Ex. 4 at 1, ECF No. 43-4.)

John remains suspended, but events after the Commission's decision are relevant. On February 17, 2020, John entered into a pre-trial diversion program under Indiana Code § 33-39-1-8(d). (Ex. 6, ECF No. 43-6.) Through the program, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charge against John on May 17, 2020. (Id. ) The agreement prohibits John from contacting Jane for eighteen months from the date of signing, (id. ), extending on a state judge's no-contact order from September 26, 2019, (ECF No. 41-3). And, although he wants to return to IU, John applied to transfer to Purdue "in an effort to mitigate his damages during the pendency of this action." (Compl. ¶ 112, ECF No. 43.) He was obligated to report and did report the existence of IU's disciplinary action in the application. (Id. ¶ 112.)

John sued the Trustees, the commissioners, Spotts, and Robel under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, alleging that they deprived him of procedural due process at his disciplinary hearing. John seeks injunctive relief, including reinstatement as a student at IU, a new and procedurally proper hearing, expungement of his records at IU of any information related to the disciplinary hearing, and rescission of any failing grades stemming from the suspension. (Id. at 40.) He also asks the Court to enjoin Defendants from enforcing any associated discipline and sanctions and from subjecting him to further improper disciplinary proceedings. (Id. at 42.) Defendants moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 46.)

III. Discussion

The Due Process Clause guarantees certain procedures when a state actor deprives someone of "life, liberty, or property." U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, § 1. Because John has not adequately pleaded a deprivation of any of those three interests, John fails to state a claim.

A. John has failed to plausibly allege that his liberty interest was deprived.

Defendants argue that no cognizable liberty interest is at stake in this case, but John maintains that the University deprived him of his occupational liberty to pursue a career in business management.1 (Compl. ¶ 44, ECF No. 43.) To state a claim under this theory, known as the stigma-plus test, John must allege (1) that the state disclosed information that damaged his reputation, (2) that the reputational harm made it "virtually impossible" for him to find employment in his chosen profession, and (3) that his legal status was altered, depriving him of a previously held right. See Doe v. Purdue Univ. , 928 F.3d 652, 661 (7th Cir. 2019) (citations omitted).

1. John has failed to plead state disclosure.

The first prong of state disclosure roughly corresponds to the publication requirement of defamation law. Just as self-defamation is not actionable, self-publication of harmful material is inadequate to establish a liberty interest—"a plaintiff can't himself spill the beans and then blame the defendant for ruining his reputation." Purdue , 928 F.3d at 661 (citing Olivieri v. Rodriguez , 122 F.3d 406 (7th Cir. 1997) ). The publication requirement of the stigma-plus test is met when disclosure of damaging information is (1) "compelled," (2) "certain," and (3) "not self-published." Purdue , 928 F.3d at 662. Notably, dissemination by the defendant and not by the plaintiff is a strict requirement...

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