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Doe v. Quinnipiac University

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY, TERRI JOHNSON, AND SEANN KALAGHER, Defendants.

          RULING DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff John Doe filed this action against Defendants Quinnipiac University ("QU" or the "University"), Terri Johnson and Seann Kalagher on March 2, 2017 alleging violations of Title IX against QU on the basis of erroneous outcome (Count One), selective enforcement (Count Two) and deliberate indifference (Count Three), as well as breach of contract (Count Four) and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count Five). Additionally, he brings a claim of tortious interference with contract against Defendants Johnson and Kalagher (Count Six). Simultaneously, Plaintiff filed a Motion [Doc. # 2] for Temporary Restraining Order and for Preliminary Injunction ("Mot. for TRO/PI") "restraining Quinnipiac from holding a Hearing in a pending disciplinary proceeding against Plaintiff until such time as it can properly investigate the underlying claims and prepare an unbiased and adequate report for the Hearing Committee." (PL's Mot. for TRO/PI at 1.) The Court denied [Doc. # 22] Plaintiffs Motion for TRO as moot on consent with QU's agreement to postpone the hearing scheduled for the next day, March 3, 2017 so the parties could brief and be heard on Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. Argument on the Motion for Preliminary Injunction was held March 8, 2017. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs Motion is denied and the Hearing may proceed forthwith.

         I. Background

         A. Complaints Against Plaintiff: The Investigation and Plaintiffs Response

         Plaintiff is currently a student at QU involved in a Title IX disciplinary investigation (the "Investigation") which was initiated in June 2016 when a female student at the University, Jane Roe, filed a formal complaint against him alleging Intimate Partner Violence, Assault, Breach of Peace, Disturbing the Peace and Property Damage. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3.) According to Plaintiff, Roe brought this complaint against him one hour after he broke up with her following an 18-month on-and-off relationship and after Jane Roe "among others things, begged John Doe to see her; went to John Doe's home unannounced; went in to his home searching for John Doe; refused to leave when John Doe asked her to do so, thus forcing John Doe to leave his home; and fell asleep in John Doe's bed waiting for him to get home. Jane Roe continually texted John Doe and wrote that if he did not see her, he left her no option.'" (Id. ¶ 1.) One hour before she filed a complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she threatened, "I will make sure you can never go near me again." (Id.)

         As required by QU's Title IX Policy Against Gender-based Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct, the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Seann Kalagher appointed three impartial investigators (the "Investigators") from different areas of the University to conduct the Investigation. (See Ex. A (Title IX Policy) to Def.'s Objection to PL's Mot. for TRO/PI ("Def.'s Opp'n") at 15). During the Investigation, the Investigators interviewed a multitude of witnesses, including Plaintiff. (See Ex. B (Letter from Terri Johnson dated February 24, 2017) to Def.'s Opp'n). After Jane Roe 2, Jane Roe's sorority sister and a former girlfriend of Plaintiff, was interviewed, QU chose to undertake an investigation into her allegations as well and filed a formal complaint on Jane Roe 2's behalf. (Compl. ¶ 2). Plaintiff "told QU investigators that Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2 were both hurt that he had broken up with each of them and both had stalked and harassed him during their relationships." (Id.)

         In October 2016, the Investigators issued a 250-page investigative report (the "Report" or the "Investigation Report"), which they gave to Plaintiff at a meeting, marking the first time Plaintiff had seen the evidence against him. (Id. ¶ 3.) The Report found that there was "sufficient information to conclude there may have been violations of the Title IX policy and student code of conduct" including all of the charges alleged by Jane Roe (Intimate Partner Violence, Assault, Breach of Peace, Disturbing the Peace and Property Damage).[1] (Ex. 1 (Investigation Report) [Doc. # 11] to Compl. at 4.) The Investigators recommended that Plaintiff be suspended for a year if he accepted their findings.[2] (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff alleges that in reading the Investigation Report

he learned that QU did not follow Title IX's and QU's own policies and procedures in conducting the Investigation and in fact acted in direct contradiction of its own procedures, [treating] the two women complainants more favorably than John Doe because he is male, thereby discriminating against him based on sex in violation of Title IX. For example, the interviews were one-sided and included hearsay. The investigators completely ignored the evidence of stalking, harassment and assault by . . . Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2 against John Doe and never investigated or questioned the complainants about that evidence, ignored allegations that Jane Roe violated the confidentiality surrounding the investigation and the No Contact Order that issued against her, and provided benefits for Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2 but not for John Doe.

(Id.¶4.)

         Plaintiff had the opportunity to submit a response to challenge any information and documents, which he did (the "Response"), providing significantly more details and additional evidence supporting his version of events and identifying what he saw as the problems with the Investigation to date. (Id. ¶ 5.) At his request, QU accommodated Plaintiffs ADHD condition by providing him additional time to submit this Response. (Ex. B to Def.'s Opp'n at 2.) Although acknowledging Plaintiffs allegations of stalking and harassment against Roe and Roe 2, no one re-interviewed either woman regarding Plaintiffs claims about their behavior or investigated his side of the story.[3]

         B. The Title IX Grievance Hearing[4]

         The Title IX Grievance Committee (the "Committee") consists of three University staff members trained annually on Title IX issues. (Amended Ex. A ("Ex. A") [Doc. # 25] (QU Title IX Policy Against Gender-based Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct) to Def.'s Opp'n at 16.)

         According to QU's Policy:

The deputy Title IX coordinator for student affairs will convene the Title IX Grievance Committee (committee) to conduct a hearing once charges have been assigned following an investigation, and the accused student has not accepted responsibility or has not accepted the investigator's proposed sanction. The committee is responsible for determining whether it is more likely than not that the accused individual violated the Student Code of Conduct. If the accused student is found responsible, the committee shall assign appropriate sanctions in accordance with this policy and the Student Code of Conduct process. The goal of the hearing is to provide a resolution through an equitable process, respecting the rights of all participants.

(Id.)

         It appears that the Committee relies primarily on the Investigation Report in making its determination. (See Id. ("the hearing script ensures ... the investigator will present the results and findings of the investigation.").) However, Plaintiff is given an opportunity to challenge information and documents prior to the Hearing, which he did in the form of his voluminous Response-including screenshots of text messages, print outs of emails and other concrete evidence that may tend to undermine the hearsay contained in the Investigation Report. (Ex. A to Def.'s Opp'n at 14.) The parties agree Plaintiffs Response will also be provided to the Committee, although this procedure is not made clear in the text of QU's Policy. Although the Committee might ask questions of Plaintiff if they so choose, beyond Plaintiffs Response, Plaintiff is not guaranteed any opportunity to speak.[5] (Id. at 17-18.) The Committee deliberates privately after "conclusion of the investigation presentation and questioning" to decide, by majority, whether the accused student is responsible for the charged conduct code violations, after which there is a sanctions phase if any such violations are found. (Id. at 18.) Like the first phase, any sanctions imposed must be by a majority of the Committee, again after private deliberation. (Id.)

         C. Plaintiff Challenges the Fairness of the Investigation

         At some point after submitting his Response Plaintiff requested that Associate Vice President of Operations and Title IX Coordinator, Defendant Terri Johnson, who manages QU's compliance with Title IX, review the Investigation that was performed by the Investigators and postpone the Hearing until such underlying review was completed, as he claimed the Investigation was untimely, biased and in violation of the ADA. (Compl. ¶ 6.) The Title IX Coordinator reviewed Plaintiffs contentions, as well as the Investigation performed by the Investigators and found that the Investigation was timely, adequate, and fair. (Compl. ¶ 6; Ex. B to Def.'s Opp'n). Ms. Johnson indicated that there would not be another investigation performed as Plaintiff had requested and that the Hearing "will remain as scheduled and take place on March 3, 2017."[6] (Compl. ¶ 6.)

         Plaintiffs primary concern with the Investigation is that by not investigating his side of the events in question, he has been denied the opportunity to adequately defend himself against the most serious charge, intimate partner violence. QU's policy divides this charge of sexual misconduct into two specific categories-"relationship violence" and "stalking." (Ex. A to Def.'s Opp'n at 11.) "Relationship violence" is defined as "a pattern of behavior in an intimate relationship that is used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation." (Id.) Plaintiff argues evidence of Roe and Roe 2's behavior demonstrating lack of such fear and intimidation constitutes his primary defense. He alleges that despite four months of investigation including interviewing many witnesses regarding Jane Roe's and Jane Roe 2's complaints, "[a]t no point since the Investigation began has ...


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