Gomes v. University of Maine System, No. CIV.03-123-B-W.

Citation365 F.Supp.2d 6
Decision Date08 April 2005
Docket NumberNo. CIV.03-123-B-W.
PartiesStefan GOMES and Paris Minor, Plaintiffs, v. UNIVERSITY OF MAINE SYSTEM, Trustees of the University of Maine System in their official Capacities on behalf of the University of Maine System, Peter S. Hoff, individually, Robert Kennedy, in his official Capacity as Interim President of the University of Maine, Elizabeth J. Allan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Committee of the University of Maine, David Fiacco, individually and as Judicial Officer of the Student Conduct Code Committee, Robert Dana, individually and as Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Maine, and Robert E. Whelan, individually and as Chair of the Student Conduct Code Appeals Committee of the University of Maine, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine

Frederick F. Costlow, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Bangor, ME, Harrison L. Richardson, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Portland, ME, Mary F. Kellogg, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Bangor, for Paris Minor and Stefan Gomes, Plaintiffs.

Paul W. Chaiken, Rudman & Winchell, Timothy A. Pease, Rudman & Winchell, Bangor, ME, for University of Maine System, Trustees of the University of Maine System, Peter S. Hoff, Elizabeth J. Allan, David Fiacco, Robert Dana and Robert E. Whelan, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

WOODCOCK, District Judge.

On September 25, 2002, following a disciplinary hearing, the Student Conduct Code Committee (Hearing Committee) of the University of Maine found that the Plaintiffs, Stefan Gomes and Paris Minor, undergraduates at the University, had sexually assaulted a female student and, thereby, violated the Student Conduct Code. The University suspended them for one year. After the Plaintiffs' administrative appeals failed, they turned to this Court for relief, asserting the disciplinary process was substantially flawed. Although the University's disciplinary process was not ideal and could have been better, this Court concludes it was fundamentally fair and accorded the Plaintiffs the essential elements of due process. This Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. THE LAW SUIT

The Plaintiffs filed a cause of action against the University of Maine System, the Trustees of the University of Maine System, and six individuals, Peter S. Hoff, Robert Kennedy,1 Elizabeth J. Allan David Fiacco, Robert Dana, and Robert Whelan, individually and in their respective official capacities at the University. The University subjected the Plaintiffs to discipline for allegedly committing a sexual assault on June 10, 2002. The Complaint (Docket # 1) contained ten counts, alleging the Defendants committed a number of constitutional, contractual, and tort violations in disciplining the Plaintiffs. On February 23, 2004, this Court granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts I, IV and V. Gomes v. Univ. of Maine Sys., 304 F.Supp.2d 117 (D.Me.2004). This Court also granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count II to the extent it claimed violations of substantive or procedural due process relating to territorial limitations of University jurisdiction. Id. On all other counts, this Court denied the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Id. The Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on the remaining counts.2

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS
A. The Allegation

Following an incident on June 10, 2002, a female University student (Complainant) accused two male University students of sexually assaulting her. Consolidated Statement of Material Facts (SMF)3(Docket # 95) ¶¶ 1, 2 The two male students, former members of the University football team, are the Plaintiffs in this case.4 Am. Compl. (Docket # 42) ¶¶ 1, 2.

B. The Student Conduct Code: An Overview

The University has adopted a Student Conduct Code (Code), which sets forth the procedures it follows upon notice of a potential violation.5 Under the Code, the University designates a campus official, denominated the "Officer," to investigate alleged violations of the Code, to notify the respondent of his conclusions, and, if appropriate, to impose sanctions. Code §§ V.A., B. If the Officer concludes there is doubt whether a violation occurred or what sanction should be imposed, he may refer the matter directly to the Hearing Committee. Id. § V.B.4.c., d.

The Hearing Committee consists of three to seven members, at least one must be a student and one a Presidential designee. Id. § V.D.2.a. The President appoints the Chair. Id. The Hearing Committee is charged with holding a hearing to receive evidence, determining whether the respondent violated the Code, and, if so, imposing a sanction. Id. § V.D.4. If the Hearing Committee suspends or dismisses the respondent, the Code provides for two appeals. Id. § V.E. The first appeal is to a new person or group (the Appeal Committee); the second appeal is to the President or designee. Id. § V.E.2. The appeals are limited to a review of the procedures followed and the appropriateness of the sanction. Id. § V.E.1.a., b.

C. The Gomes — Minor Investigation and University Procedure: An Overview

David Fiacco, as Director of Judicial Affairs, was the designated Officer within the meaning of the Code. The Complainant's allegations against the Plaintiffs constituted potential violations of Section III of the Code and, by reference, the University of Maine Rape and Sexual Assault Policy and Guidelines. Id. § III.; SMF ¶ 3. On July 16, 2002, pursuant to his request, Mr. Fiacco received information from the Old Town Police Department confirming a complaint of sexual assault had been lodged against the Plaintiffs. SMF ¶¶ 2, 133. On August 17, 2002, the Complainant signed a University incident report, stating a potential violation of the Code.6 Id. ¶¶ 2, 3. This triggered an investigation by Mr. Fiacco, who referred the case to the Hearing Committee for an administrative hearing. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.

The Hearing Committee, chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Allan, consisted of five members. Id. ¶ 6. The Hearing Committee held a hearing on September 24, 2002, and by letter dated September 25, 2002,7 the Chair informed the Plaintiffs that it had concluded they had violated the Code by committing a sexual assault. Id.; Minor Dep. Ex. 8; Gomes Dep. Ex. 5. The Hearing Committee suspended the Plaintiffs from the University through May 31, 2003 and made the suspensions effective immediately. SMF ¶ 7; Minor Dep. Ex. 8; Gomes Dep. Ex. 5. The Hearing Committee ruled the suspensions would not be stayed pending any appeal "for the protection of other persons." SMF ¶ 6; Minor Dep. Ex. 8; Gomes Dep. Ex. 5. It required the Plaintiffs to petition the University before returning as students and to comply with certain pre-conditions before doing so. SMF ¶ 7; Minor Dep. Ex. 8; Gomes Dep. Ex. 5. The earliest date they could file a reinstatement petition was August 31, 2003, and, if allowed to return to the University, they were to be placed on disciplinary probation for one calendar year from the date of their return. Minor Dep. Ex. 8; Gomes Dep. Ex. 5. Neither Plaintiff has petitioned to re-enroll at the University. SMF ¶ 14.

The Plaintiffs appealed the Hearing Committee's decision to the Appeal Committee. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. The Appeal Committee consisted of three members: Robert Whelan, the Chair; Ann Pooler; and Mike Scott. Id. ¶ 9. On October 16, 2002, the Appeal Committee concluded the Hearing Committee did not commit procedural error and found the sanctions appropriate.8 Id. ¶ 10. The Plaintiffs exercised their right to a second appeal before the President's designee. Id. ¶ 11. President Hoff named Mark Anderson, the University's Interim Chief Financial Officer, as his designee for this appeal. Id.; Hoff Dep. at 53-54. Mr. Anderson reviewed the decision of the Appeal Committee and the Hearing Committee to determine whether procedures were followed and the sanctions were appropriate. SMF ¶¶ 11, 12; Costlow Dep. Ex. 60. On November 18, 2002, he concluded that the procedures "were in substantial conformity to the requirements of the code and afforded the Respondents fundamental fairness." Costlow Dep. Ex. 60. He also determined that "the sanctions imposed on the Respondents were appropriate given the findings of the committee." Id.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In this regard, `material' means that a contested fact has the potential to change the outcome of the suit under the governing law if the dispute over it is resolved favorably to the nonmovant." Navarro v. Pfizer Corp., 261 F.3d 90, 93-94 (1st Cir.2001). "By like token, `genuine' means that the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in favor of the nonmoving party." Id. at 94 (citing McCarthy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 56 F.3d 313, 315 (1st Cir.1995)). The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining whether this burden is met, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences in its favor. Nicolo v. Philip Morris, Inc., 201 F.3d 29, 33 (1st Cir.2000). Once the moving party has made a preliminary showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, the nonmovant must "produce specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a trialworthy issue." Triangle Trading Co. v. Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir.1999) (citation and internal punctuation omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "As to any essential factual element of its claim on...

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