Doe v. St. John's University, Minnesota
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion to Dismiss 11 is GRANTED, and the Complaint 1 is DISMISSED with prejudice. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY. (Written Opinion) Signed by The Hon. Paul A. Magnuson on 10/26/2017. (LLM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civ. No. 17-2413 (PAM/LIB)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
St. John’s University,
This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.
following reasons, the Motion is granted.
On October 28, 2016, a female student at the College of St. Benedict reported to a
campus security officer that Plaintiff John Doe, a student at Defendant St. John’s
University, had sexually assaulted her late the previous evening. (Compl. (Docket No. 1)
¶ 58.) The Dean of Students of St. John’s informed Plaintiff of the charges that day, and
met with Plaintiff to discuss the allegations and the investigation process. (Id. ¶ 59.)
Because the incident involved an alleged sexual assault, St. John’s policy required the
University to engage in a formal resolution process, including the appointment of an
outside investigator. (Compl. Ex. 2 (College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University
Sexual Misconduct Complaint Procedures) (Docket No. 1-2) at 16 (“Procedures”).) 1
The University chose an attorney who specializes in higher education law to conduct the
The Procedures also provide that, at the University’s discretion, St. John’s “Life Safety”
or St. Benedict’s Campus Security could be appointed to investigate a complaint of
sexual assault. (Procedures at 16.)
Plaintiff objected to the appointment, contending that because the
attorney’s law firm had represented the University on a previous Title IX matter, she
would be biased in favor of the University. (Compl. ¶ 62.) St. John’s denied Plaintiff’s
request to remove the attorney, and she proceeded to investigate the complaint. (Id. ¶
The University’s sexual misconduct procedures require that the investigator
interview the complainant, the respondent, and any other witnesses the investigator
(Procedures at 17.)
Both parties have the opportunity to suggest
witnesses for the investigator to interview, and both parties are allowed to submit “any
and all information and evidence believed to be relevant to the complaint.” (Id.) The
procedures provide that the investigation report should issue within 25 days of the
complaint’s filing. (Id. at 18.)
Two weeks after the complaint was filed and in the midst of the investigation,
Plaintiff filed his own complaint. He alleged that the complainant, known as Jane Doe,
engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with him on the same evening as she alleged
that he assaulted her.
(Compl. ¶¶ 69-70.)
The investigator also investigated this
allegation, although again, Plaintiff objected to her participation in the proceedings.
The investigation report is not included in the documents attached to the
Complaint. But the investigator provided the report, as well as the entire investigation
file, to a three-person adjudication panel appointed by the University. (Procedures at 4,
20.) The Procedures give each party the opportunity to review the complete investigation
file and the report, to make a written response to it, and to submit a rebuttal to the other
party’s response. (Id. at 19.) The Procedures, however, do not require an adversarial
hearing, and the adjudication panel did not hold one.
The panel reviewed the file and, pursuant to the standard of review set forth in the
Procedures, determined that it was “more likely than not” that Plaintiff violated the
University’s sexual misconduct policy. (Id. at 21.) In February 2017, the Dean of
Students determined that the appropriate sanction was Plaintiff’s suspension from St.
John’s until Jane Doe’s anticipated graduation date of May 2019. (Compl. ¶ 75.)
Plaintiff appealed. The Procedures provide for an appeal only for new or newly
discovered evidence or a procedural error. (Procedures at 24.) The adjudication panel
denied Plaintiff’s appeal because he had no new evidence and did not allege a procedural
error. Plaintiff was suspended from St. John’s, and transferred to a different institution.
Plaintiff contends that the Procedures violate Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., because they do not provide sufficient
due process to accused students, and he seeks a declaratory judgment to that effect. He
alleges a claim for “erroneous outcome from a flawed proceeding” under Title IX,
seeking damages for mental and emotional distress, past and future economic harm, and
other similar damages. (Compl. ¶ 107.) He also raises a claim for deliberate indifference
under Title IX, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing,
and negligence. The University asks the Court to dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims.
When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assumes the
facts in the Complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185,
187 (8th Cir. 1986). The Court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations,
Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal
conclusions that the plaintiff draws from the facts pled. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901
F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
545 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations,” it must
contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements,” will not pass muster under Twombly. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). This standard “calls for
enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of
[the claim].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
Title IX prohibits educational institutions that receive federal funds from
discriminating against their students on the basis of sex.
20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).
Department of Education regulations require that schools promulgate grievance
procedures “providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee
complaints alleging any action which would be prohibited” by Title IX, including sexual
misconduct. 34 C.F.R. § 106.8(b). “Title IX bars the imposition of university discipline
where gender is a motivating factor in the decision to discipline.” Yusuf v. Vassar
College, 35 F.3d 709, 715 (2d Cir. 1994).
In addition to the Title IX and regulatory framework, many of Plaintiff’s claims
depend on a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter that the Department of Education’s Office
of Civil Rights issued in 2011. (Compl. ¶ 24.) This letter sets forth guidance for
institutions on processing claims of sexual misconduct. The guidelines provide, among
other things, that the complainant and the accused be afforded access to information in
the investigation, that there should be an appeals process, and that the decisionmakers
should be trained in resolving complaints of sexual misconduct. (Id.) Plaintiff contends
that this letter, as well as many publicized incidents of campus sexual misconduct
nationwide, pressured colleges “to convict all accused male students.” (Id. ¶ 98.)
The only basis for Plaintiff’s declaratory judgment claim is that St. John’s
allegedly violated Title IX’s regulations regarding grievance procedures.
university’s failure to promulgate a grievance procedure that complies with Title IX
“does not itself constitute ‘discrimination’ under Title IX.” Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep.
Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 292 (1998). Rather, “the Department of Education [has the
power to] enforce [a regulatory] requirement administratively.” Id.
Thus, there “is no
private right of action to enforce grievance procedures and other regulations under Title
IX.” Doe v. Univ. of St. Thomas, 240 F. Supp. 3d 984, 989 (D. Minn. 2017) (Tunheim,
C.J.) (citations omitted). Plaintiff’s declaratory-judgment claim is therefore dismissed.
To allege a claim that a disciplinary proceeding reached an erroneous outcome on
the basis of sex discrimination, a plaintiff must plausibly plead both facts that cast doubt
on the outcome of the proceeding and “a causal connection between the flawed outcome
and gender bias.” Yusuf, 35 F.3d at 715. A mere allegation that a procedurally flawed
proceeding led to an erroneous outcome “combined with a conclusory allegation of
gender discrimination is not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id.
plaintiff must specifically allege a causal connection between the outcome and
See id. (“A plaintiff must thus also allege particular circumstances
suggesting that gender bias was a motivating factor behind the erroneous finding.”).
Allegations that might suffice to show a motivating factor are things such as comments
by members of the disciplinary board or other university officials evidencing gender bias,
or a “pattern of decision-making that . . . tend[s] to show the influence of gender.” Id.
In addition to alleging almost nothing regarding the merits of the assault complaint
itself, other than his belief that his accuser was lying, Plaintiff sets forth no facts that tie
the allegedly flawed outcome of his proceeding with any gender bias. He disagrees with
the University’s decision not to remove the investigator, but he offers no evidence that
would allow the Court to conclude that this decision was a result of gender bias. There
are no allegations, for example, that there had been criticism of the University in media
reports for its handling of sexual assault complaints, Doe v. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d
46, 57 (2d Cir. 2016), or that the University proceeded with the case despite a
prosecutor’s doubts about the veracity of the complaint, among other serious procedural
irregularities, Wells v. Xavier Univ., 7 F. Supp. 3d 746, 748 (S.D. Ohio 2014). Indeed,
Plaintiff only alleges that he believed the investigator was biased because she worked for
the law firm that represented the University in another Title IX proceeding. This is
plainly insufficient to raise a genuine issue as to gender discrimination. Nor can the
University’s compliance with its own procedures, which did not require an adversarial
hearing or allow Plaintiff to conduct his own independent investigation, establish any
gender bias whatsoever.
Plaintiff claims that Jane Doe gave conflicting statements and was therefore not
credible, but this allegation does not establish either that the outcome of the proceeding
was flawed or that the proceeding was infected by gender discrimination.
Plaintiff does not explain what these alleged “conflicting statements” were—he says only
that there was no evidence that Jane Doe “objected to the sexual contact” and that he
contended in his own complaint that she touched his penis repeatedly (and without his
permission) before the alleged sexual assault. (Compl. ¶ 92.) These are not conflicting
statements, but is merely evidence that detracts from his accuser’s allegations. The
decisionmakers were entitled to weigh this evidence in making their determination.
Plaintiff has not pled any facts that demonstrate that either the decisionmakers or the
outcome of the proceeding was erroneous.
Plaintiff believes that the allegedly erroneous outcome of his proceeding “can only
be explained by gender bias against males in cases involving allegations of sexual
assault.” (Id. ¶ 94.) But he pleads no facts to support this conclusion. Merely because
all or nearly all of the claims of sexual misconduct at St. John’s involve a female accuser
and male accused does not mean that the University is discriminating against men in its
procedures for handling claims of sexual misconduct, nor does the alleged “significant
gender-based statistical disparity demonstrate the existence of discrimination.” (Id.
¶ 95.) “It is a simple fact that the majority of accusers of sexual assault are female and
the majority of the accused are male, therefore enforcement is likely to have a disparate
impact on the sexes.” Austin v. Univ. of Or., 205 F. Supp. 3d 1214, 1225 (D. Or. 2016);
Nat’l Sexual Violence Res. Ctr., Statistics About Sexual Violence, https://www.nsvrc.org
-violence_0.pdf (noting that fewer than one out of every ten sexual assault victims is
male) (last visited October 16, 2017); see Doe v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., No. 2:152478, 2016 WL 5515711, at *5 (C.D. Cal. July 25, 2016) (stating that a court cannot infer
“that a higher rate of sexual assaults committed by men against women, or filed by
women against men, indicates discriminatory treatment of males accused of sexual
assault in the consequent proceedings”); see also Doe v. Univ. of Colo., Boulder, --- F.
Supp. 3d ---, 2017 WL 2311209, at *8 (D. Colo. May 26, 2017) (noting that most courts
to consider the issue have found that “pro-victim bias . . . does not equate to anti-male
Even if he had alleged enough facts to cast doubt on the determination that he was
responsible for sexual misconduct, Plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient to plausibly
allege the required causal connection between the allegedly erroneous outcome and
intentional discrimination on the basis of sex. His erroneous-outcome claim is therefore
To sufficiently allege a deliberate-indifference claim under Title IX, Plaintiff must
allege that a University official “who had authority to institute corrective measures had
actual notice of, and was deliberately indifferent to, the misconduct” of which Plaintiff
complains. Mallory v. Ohio Univ., 76 F. App’x 634, 638 (6th Cir. 2003) (citation
omitted). Plaintiff must also show that the University’s response to the misconduct was
“clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” Patterson v. Hudson Area
Schs., 551 F.3d 438, 446 (6th Cir. 2009).
Plaintiff argues only that the University was deliberately indifferent because it
found him responsible for the sexual assault despite what he contends was insufficient
evidence. But as discussed, Plaintiff has not made out a claim of any gender bias in the
proceedings. And even if he had, Plaintiff must do more than allege that because there
was gender bias, the University was deliberately indifferent.
He must point to a
particular decisionmaker who knew that the proceedings were biased against males
accused of sexual misconduct, and he must show that that decisionmaker’s failure to take
corrective action was unreasonable. He has not attempted to meet this burden, and this
claim is likewise dismissed.
Breach of Contract
Plaintiff contends that the University’s written sexual misconduct policies and
procedures, which are contained in the St. John’s Undergraduate Student Policy Book,
constituted a contract between him and the University. (Compl. ¶ 114.) He argues that
the University violated this contract by refusing to allow him to conduct his own
investigation and by failing to give him an unredacted copy of the investigative report.
The University’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures do not constitute a contract
between the University and its students, however. See Rollins v. Cardinal Stritch Univ.,
626 N.W.2d 464, 470 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001) (“Minnesota courts are generally reluctant
to find contractual obligations between students and their schools based upon student
handbooks.”). Thus, Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim fails at the first step, because
there was no contract.
Moreover, the University’s policies and procedures do not require that the
University allow an accused student to conduct their own investigation, nor do they
specify that the accused will be provided with an unredacted copy of the investigative
report. Even if the policies and procedures could be construed as a contract, Plaintiff has
failed to allege any breach of that contract.
Plaintiff also contends that promises made to him in emails were contractual in
But Plaintiff’s Complaint did not include any of these alleged promises to
support his breach-of-contract claim, and he cannot amend the Complaint in briefing
opposing a motion to dismiss. Morgan Distrib. Co. v. Unidynamic Corp., 868 F.2d 992,
995 (8th Cir. 1989). Moreover, even his briefing fails to point to any specific promise
that the University allegedly breached, referring the Court to the “supporting documents,
which were attached to Plaintiff’s Complaint” as promises clear and definite enough to
allow his breach-of-contract claim to proceed. (Pl.’s Opp’n Mem. (Docket No. 21) at
17.) Two of the seven exhibits to the Complaint are the St. John’s sexual misconduct
policy and the Procedures (Compl. Exs. 1, 2); as discussed, these cannot support a
breach-of-contract claim. A third exhibit is the no-contact order issued immediately after
the claimed sexual assault. (Id. Ex. 3.) This order contains no promises to Plaintiff.
Another exhibit is an e-mail from Plaintiff’s attorney to St. John’s, objecting to the
investigator’s appointment. (Id. Ex. 5.) This email cannot constitute any sort of promise
on the part of the University. The three remaining exhibits are e-mails to Plaintiff from
the University. One is a general email from the Dean of Students, informing Plaintiff of
the investigator’s appointment and giving him information regarding how to object to her
appointment. (Id. Ex. 4.) Another is an email from the Dean of Students to Plaintiff’s
attorney about Plaintiff’s objections to the investigator’s appointment to investigate both
the initial complaint and Plaintiff’s own claim of nonconsensual sexual contact against
Jane Doe. (Id. Ex. 6.) The final email is from the investigator to Plaintiff, informing him
of the close of evidence date for her investigation and reminding Plaintiff to provide her
with all information and documents by that date. (Id. Ex. 7.) None of these emails
contains any promises, and none supports a breach-of-contract claim. This claim must be
Without a viable breach-of-contract claim, or any plausible allegation of a
contractual relationship, Plaintiff’s covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim likewise
fails. Univ. of St. Thomas, 240 F. Supp. 3d at 994.
Plaintiff contends that, by providing procedures for determining a student’s
responsibility for sexual assault, St. John’s had the obligation to implement that process
to ensure that students are not wrongly held responsible. Plaintiff notes that another
Judge in this District has allowed a similar negligence claim to proceed. See id. at 995.
In that case, however, the plaintiff alleged that that university “made a plethora of errors
during the disciplinary process that amounted to a breach of [its] alleged duty of care.”
Id. (citing 15 paragraphs of the complaint). Plaintiff here makes few specific allegations
of any negligence in the procedures St. John’s employed, aside from contending that the
University’s decision to combine his own sexual assault allegations with those of Jane
Doe was improper, and that he does not believe the University appropriately investigated
his complaint. (See Compl. ¶ 73.) Plaintiff also contends that the failure to hold a
hearing at which he could testify and confront the accuser, and the prohibition on
conducting his own investigation, constituted negligence. (Id. ¶ 93).
But Plaintiff does not explain what duty underlies these very thin allegations. It
may be that the University’s procedures were negligent, but without a duty underlying the
University’s actions, there can be no claim for negligence. In addition, unlike in the case
against St. Thomas, Plaintiff here has alleged no specific facts to support his negligence
claim, asking the Court to allow him to proceed to discovery in the hopes of uncovering
those facts. But a lawsuit is not a “fishing expedition,” and Twombly and Iqbal require
more than a mere conclusory allegation of negligence.
E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van
Expedited, Inc., 679 F.3d 657, 675 (8th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff’s negligence claim fails. 2
Plaintiff concedes that, despite the Complaint’s allegation of diversity jurisdiction
(Compl. ¶ 5), there is no diversity jurisdiction here. Thus, even if Plaintiff had succeeded
in plausibly alleging negligence, the Court would decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the negligence claim and would dismiss it without prejudice. See
United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (“[I]f the federal claims
are dismissed before trial, . . . the state claims should be dismissed as well.”).
Plaintiff has failed to plausibly plead any facts to support his claims. Accordingly,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 11) is
GRANTED and the Complaint (Docket No. 1) is DISMISSED with prejudice.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
Dated: October 26, 2017
s/ Paul A. Magnuson
Paul A. Magnuson
United States District Court Judge
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