Doe v. The University of Alabama in Huntsville et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND PARTIAL DISMISSAL ORDER - For the reasons discussed above, the Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Ms. Does § 1983 claims against UAH. The original complaint contains no § 1983 individual capacity claim against Dr. Wren, S ergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt. Ms. Does Title IX claim against UAH and Ms. Does § 1983 official capacity claims for injunctive relief against Dr. Wren, Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt will proceed. The Court returns these claims to Judge Davis for proceedings consistent with this memorandum opinion. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 3/31/2016. (KEK)
2016 Mar-31 AM 09:38
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
IN HUNTSVILLE, BRENT WREN,
PhD., Sgt. JOHN BESWICK, and
REGINA YOUNG HYATT, PhD.,
Case No.: 5:14-cv-02029-HGD
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND PARTIAL DISMISSAL ORDER
This case involves a public university’s investigation into a student’s claims
that another student sexually assaulted her in a university dorm. Plaintiff Jane Doe
alleges that defendant University of Alabama in Huntsville discriminated against her
because of her sex in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20
U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.1 Ms. Doe also alleges that UAH, Associate Provost and NCAA
Representative Brent Wren, UAH Police Sergeant John Beswisk, and Dean of
Students Regina Young Hyatt violated her rights to equal protection under the
Fourteenth Amendment. Ms. Doe seeks relief from the individual defendants under §
Ms. Doe improperly identified the University of Alabama in Huntsville as a defendant to this
action. The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, for and on behalf of the University
of Alabama in Huntsville, is the proper defendant. (Doc. 13, p. 1). The Court refers to the Board
as UAH throughout this opinion.
This case is assigned to Magistrate Judge Harwell Davis. On August 31, 2015,
Judge Davis entered a report and recommendation concerning the defendants’ Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. (Doc. 17). In his report, Judge Davis recommended that
the Court grant the defendants’ motion and dismiss this action with prejudice. (Doc.
17, p. 27). Judge Davis explained to the parties that they had fourteen days in which
to file objections to the recommendation. (Doc. 17, pp. 27-29). Ms. Doe filed
objections to the recommendation. (Doc. 19).2 The defendants did not object to
Judge Davis’s report.
Because the parties have not consented to dispositive
jurisdiction by a magistrate judge, the Clerk randomly selected the undersigned to
review Judge Davis’s report and Ms. Doe’s objections.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When a party objects to a report and recommendation regarding a motion to
dismiss, the district court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the
report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” Id. at § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C). The Court reviews de novo legal conclusions in a
report and reviews for clear error factual findings to which no objection is made.
Garvey v. Vaughn, 993 F.2d 776, 779 n.9 (11th Cir. 1993); see also LoConte v.
Ms. Doe also filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 18). Because this
case is assigned to Judge Davis and is before the undersigned only for a review of Judge Davis’s
report and Ms. Doe’s objections, the Court does not rule on the pending motion. As explained in
greater detail below, should Judge Davis grant Ms. Davis’s motion for leave to file an amended
complaint, supplemental factual allegations in the amended complaint provide additional support
for Ms. Doe’s Title IX claim. (See Doc. 18-1).
Dugger, 847 F.2d 745, 749 (11th Cir.1988); Macort v. Prem, Inc., 208 Fed. Appx.
781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006). A district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or
part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. §
When evaluating a motion to dismiss, a district court accepts as true the
allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff. See Brophy v. Jinagbo Pharms. Inc., 781 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir.
Ms. Doe lodges three specific objections to Judge Davis’s report. First, Ms.
Doe complains that the report omits certain alleged facts relevant to her Title IX
claim. Second, Ms. Doe objects to Judge Davis’s conclusion that she has failed to
sufficiently allege that UAH acted with deliberate indifference to known sexual
harassment. Third, Ms. Doe asks the Court to allow discovery before dismissing with
prejudice her § 1983 claims.
Ms. Doe’s Title IX Claim
Ms. Doe’s Title IX claim arises out of UAH’s handling of her sexual assault
complaint against UAH hockey player Lasse Uusivirta. Construing the facts that Ms.
Doe alleged in her original complaint in the light most favorable to Ms. Doe, the
Court finds that Ms. Doe has sufficiently alleged that UAH acted with deliberate
indifference to known sexual harassment.
In her objections, Ms. Doe recites many of the alleged facts that give rise to an
inference that UAH acted with deliberate indifference:
UAH Police Sergeant John Beswisk “first attempted to talk Ms. Doe out of
doing anything about the attack by mentioning that ‘people who hang out at
the hockey dorms share girls all the time’ and that it ‘was completely
normal and okay to have sex with someone that [Doe] didn’t know.’” (Doc.
19, p. 2, quoting Doc. 1, ¶ 18).
After Mr. Uusivirta confessed, Sergeant Beswick told Ms. Doe that “she had
‘no case at all.’” (Doc. 19, p. 2, quoting Doc. 1, ¶ 22).
Upon Sergeant Beswick’s recommendation, Ms. Doe “submitted her case to
the student conduct board. The UAH investigation was then closed on
January 14, 2013, with no arrest being made or further action taken.” (Doc.
19, p. 3, citing Doc. 1, ¶ 23).
The student conduct board “determined that [Mr. Uusivirta] should be
immediately expelled;” however, Assistant Provost Dr. Brett Wren
reviewed Mr. Uusivirta’s appeal and imposed a significantly reduced
penalty. (Doc. 19, p. 3, citing Doc. 1, ¶ 24).
UAH did not inform Ms. Doe that Mr. Uusivirta appealed the decision, and
she “saw her assailant on campus and had to inquire to get any information
whatsoever. During the next month Ms. Doe was fearful to be on campus,
seriously anxious and depressed, and missed several classes.” (Doc. 19, p.
3, citing Doc. 1, ¶¶ 27-29).
Dr. Wren did not make a decision regarding the appeal until March 21,
2013. “By the time Wren took action on Uusivirta’s appeal the hockey
season had ended (on March 2, 2013), the upcoming season’s schedule had
been announced, and the semester was past the mid-point. Brent Wren is a
public supporter of UAH hockey . . . . The new sanctions against
Uusivirta[:] 1) would not take place during that semester because it was past
the mid-point; 2) [placed] his suspensions specifically between hockey
seasons, while allowing him to return to campus and the training facility just
in time to begin practice for the following season; and 3) made no mention
of the withdrawal of his athletic scholarship, which the student board
specifically addressed.” (Doc. 17, pp. 3-4, citing Doc. 1, ¶¶ 30-32).
When Ms. Doe approached Dr. Wren to discuss his decision, Dr. Wren
“refused to speak [to her] without another woman present in the room. . . .
Then he refused to answer any of [Ms. Doe’s questions], simply reiterating
that UAH only expels students for academic misconduct.” (Doc. 19, p. 5,
quoting Doc. 1, ¶ 34).3
After Dr. Wren issued his decision, Ms. Doe contacted outside law
enforcement who arrested Mr. Uusivirta and charged him with first degree
rape. A UAH hockey coach posted Mr. Uusivirta’s bond. (Doc. 19, p. 5,
citing Doc. 1, ¶ 38).
The day after Mr. Uusivirta’s arrest, even though Mr. Uusivirta already had
admitted that Ms. Doe was unable to consent when he had sex with her,
UAH’s hockey coach posted on Twitter, “‘Things are not always as they
seem. Be careful to judge.’” (Doc. 19, p. 6, quoting Doc. 1, ¶ 39).
Mr. Uusivirta left the United States after he was released from jail. UAH
kept his name “on the UAH hockey roster until as late as April 2013, one
day before his attorneys informed the court that he had skipped bail.” (Doc.
19, p. 6, citing Doc. 1 ¶¶ 42, 41).
Ms. Doe’s original complaint contains factual allegations that plausibly suggest
that UAH’s “‘response to the harassment or lack thereof [was] clearly unreasonable in
light of the known circumstances’” and that UAH made Ms. Doe vulnerable to
harassment. Williams v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 477 F.3d 1282, 1295
Ms. Doe argues in her objections that Dr. Wren’s alleged statement to her is a “blatant
misrepresentation of written University policy.” (Doc. 19, p. 5). As support for this contention,
Ms. Doe’s relies on Section 6.21 of the UAH student handbook, which states that students
charged with sexual misconduct may be punished by “the full range of sanctions outlined in the
Student Code of Conduct including probation, suspension, and expulsion.” (Doc. 19, p. 5, n. 2).
Ms. Doe did not include this handbook language in either her original complaint or her proposed
amended complaint. Were Ms. Doe to cite this portion of the student handbook in a pleading,
these facts would provide support for her assertion that Dr. Wren misrepresented university
(11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Davis v. Monreo Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 648
As noted above, see supra note 1, Judge Davis did not have the benefit of
analyzing the defendants’ motions against the additional allegations pleaded in Ms.
Doe’s proposed amended complaint.
Although the Court finds that Ms. Doe’s
original complaint, standing alone, sufficiently pleads that UAH acted with deliberate
indifference and states a Title IX claim, the Court briefly reviews allegations
contained in the proposed amended complaint that further support her Title IX claim.
In her proposed amended complaint, Ms. Doe alleges that after the student
conduct board recommended that UAH immediately expel Mr. Uusivirta , Ms. Doe
“was informed that Dr. Hyatt, as Dean of Students had to verify the board’s decision.
This process took approximately one week, during which time the board met again
and reached the same decision.” (Doc. 18-1, ¶ 17). Section 7.5(k) of the UAH
student handbook provides: “Sanction recommendations will be reviewed by the
Provost/Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs prior to the dissemination of
the Notice of Decision and Sanction. The Provost/Executive Vice President can
return the decision to the Student Conduct Board or Hearing Officer for
reconsideration.” (Doc. 18-1, ¶ 18). Dr. Hyatt assumed the role of Provost/Executive
Vice President for purposes of reviewing the student conduct board’s decision. (Doc.
18-1, ¶ 18).
Without Ms. Doe’s knowledge, Mr. Uusivirta appealed the student conduct
board’s decision to Dr. Wren, who served as UAH’s NCAA representative. (Doc. 181, ¶ 20). Neither Dr. Hyatt nor the assistant dean of students informed Ms. Doe that
the recommended expulsion was on hold. (Doc. 18-1, ¶ 21). On March 21, 2013, Dr.
Wren vacated the expulsion and substituted lesser sanctions. (Doc. 18-1, ¶ 22).
These facts plausibly suggest that UAH may not have followed its own policy
regarding Mr. Uusivirta’s hearing. There was no process outlined in the student
handbook by which a student could appeal to Dr. Wren after the Provost/Executive
Vice President – or Dr. Hyatt as Dean of Students in this case – reviewed the student
conduct board’s recommendations regarding sanctions.
Additionally, neither Dr.
Hyatt nor Dr. Wren has the title of Provost/Executive Vice President for Academic
Affairs. If one or both of these individuals reviewed the student conduct board’s
decision, and the Provost/Executive Vice President of Student Affairs did not review
the decision, then UAH may have violated written university policy regarding review
of recommended sanctions.
If Ms. Doe receives an opportunity to amend her
complaint, these allegations would shore up Ms. Doe’s already adequately pleaded
Title IX claim.
Ms. Doe’s § 1983 Claims
§ 1983 Claims Against UAH
The Court adopts Judge Davis’s recommendation that the Court dismiss with
prejudice Ms. Does’ § 1983 claims against UAH. The Eleventh Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States provides that: “[t]he judicial power of the United
States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or
prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens
or subjects of any foreign state.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. “Although the express
language of the [Eleventh] [A]mendment does not bar suits against a state by its own
citizens, the Supreme Court has held that an unconsenting state is immune from
lawsuits brought in federal court by the state’s own citizens.”
Carr v. City of
Florence, 916 F.2d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1,
There are two exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity:
First, Congress can abrogate eleventh amendment immunity without the
state’s consent when it acts pursuant to the enforcement provisions of
section 5 of the fourteenth amendment. Atascadero State Hospital v.
Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 3145, 87 L.Ed.2d 171
(1985). Second, a state may waive its immunity expressly through
legislative enactment. “[I]n the absence of consent[,] a suit in which the
State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is
proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment.” Pennhurst State School &
Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79
L.Ed.2d 67 (1984).
Carr, 916 F.2d 1521, 1524-25 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal footnote omitted). Neither
exception applies here. Congress has not abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity
in § 1983 cases. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 338 (1979). And the State of
Alabama has not waived its immunity. See Ala. Const. art. I, § 14 (“[T]the State of
Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.”). The Court
must dismiss the § 1983 claim against UAH as a matter of law. No amount of
discovery will change this result.
Therefore, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Court will dismiss with prejudice Ms.
Doe’s § 1983 claims against UAH for lack of jurisdiction. See Pennhurst State Sch.
& Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984) (“[A] suit in which the State or one
of its agencies or departments is named as defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh
Amendment” regardless of the nature of the relief sought.); Shuler v. Bd. of Trustees
of Univ. of Ala., 480 Fed. Appx. 540, 544 (11th Cir. 2012) (finding no error in district
court’s decision to grant judgment in favor of UAB on plaintiff’s § 1983 claims
because the Board is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity); Eubank v. Leslie,
210 Fed. Appx. 837, 844 (11th Cir. 2006) (holding that “The University of Alabama
Board of Trustees is a state agency” and finding that “the district court did not err in
dismissing [the plaintiff’s] claim for injunctive relief on Eleventh Amendment
§ 1983 Official Capacity Claims Against Dr. Wren,
Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt
The Court accepts Judge Davis’s recommendation that the Court dismiss Ms.
Doe’s § 1983 official capacity claims for damages against Dr. Wren, Sergeant
Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt because Eleventh Amendment immunity bars those claims.
See Jackson v. Ga. Dep’t of Transp., 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994) (“Under the
Eleventh Amendment, state officials sued for damaged in their official capacity are
immune from suit in federal court.”). Again, this is a question of law; discovery will
not change the analysis.
Ms. Doe’s official capacity claims for injunctive relief are another matter.
“Under the doctrine enunciated in Ex parte Young, . . . a suit alleging a violation of
the federal constitution against a state official in his official capacity for injunctive
relief on a prospsective basis is not a suit against the state, and, accordingly, does not
violate the Eleventh Amendment.” Grizzle v. Kemp, 634 F.3d 1314, 1319 (11th Cir.
2011). “In determining whether the doctrine of Ex parte Young avoids an Eleventh
Amendment bar to suit, a court need only conduct a ‘straightforward inquiry into
whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief
properly characterized as prospective.’”
Verizon Maryland, Inc. v. Pub. Serv.
Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002) (quoting Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of
Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 296, 298-299 (1997)). “[T]he inquiry into whether suit lies
under Ex parte Young does not include an analysis of the merits of the claim.” Id. at
646. Ms. Doe’s § 1983 official capacity claim for injunctive relief satisfies the Ex
parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity.4 Ms. Doe alleges that Dr.
Wren, Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt were policymakers for purposes of
Ms. Doe’s original complaint does not specifically seek injunctive relief under the headings for
her § 1983 claims. (See Doc. 1, pp. 11-14). However, the preamble to Ms. Doe’s original
complaint states that she seeks both injunctive relief and damages for both her Title IX and §
1983 claims. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1). Ms. Doe’s proposed amended complaint clarifies her prayer for
injunctive relief as follows: “Plaintiff requests that this Court enter an Order directing the
defendants to promulgate more effective policies and procedures to ensure that other students are
not victimized in a similar manner.” (Doc. 18-1, pp. 12, 15).
implementing UAH’s policies and practices concerning sexual assault investigations.
(Doc. 1, ¶ 61). Therefore, at the pleading stage, Ms. Doe has alleged facts suggesting
that all three of these defendants have official capacity to secure the prospective relief
that she seeks. Accordingly, the Court will not dismiss Ms. Doe’s § 1983 official
capacity claims for injunctive relief against Dr. Wren, Sergeant Beswick, and Dr.
§ 1983 Individual Capacity Claims Against Dr. Wren,
Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt
Although Ms. Doe states in her objections that she sued Dr. Wren, Sergeant
Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt in their individual capacities, neither the original complaint
nor the proposed amended complaint specifically asserts a claim against these
defendants in their individual capacities. If she intends to sue these defendants in
their individual capacities, Ms. Doe must provide a specific allegation “to ensure [the
defendants] receive sufficient notice with respect to the capacity in which he is being
sued.” Young Apartments, Inc. v. Town of Jupiter, Fla., 529 F.3d 1027, 1047 (11th
Cir. 2008).5 On the face of the complaint, Ms. Doe has not stated a § 1983 claim
In their motion to dismiss, the defendants stated “[t]he [c]omplaint does not plead § 1983
claims against the individual Defendants in their personal capacity. If however, the Court should
disagree and rule that the Complaint does adequately plead claims against individual Defendants,
then the Defendants would ask the Court for permission to amend this Motion to Dismiss to
address any personal capacity claims.” (Doc. 13, ¶ 12). Because the parties have not briefed the
issue of qualified immunity with respect to potential § 1983 individual capacity claims in this
case, the Court will not address the merits of such a claim at this juncture.
against Dr. Wren, Dr. Hyatt, or Sergeant Beswick in his or her individual capacity.
Therefore, there is no § 1983 individual capacity claim for the Court to address.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE
Ms. Doe’s § 1983 claims against UAH. The original complaint contains no § 1983
individual capacity claim against Dr. Wren, Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt.
Ms. Doe’s Title IX claim against UAH and Ms. Doe’s § 1983 official capacity
claims for injunctive relief against Dr. Wren, Sergeant Beswick, and Dr. Hyatt will
proceed. The Court returns these claims to Judge Davis for proceedings consistent
with this memorandum opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this March 31, 2016.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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