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Doe v. Alger

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

March 31, 2016

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
JONATHAN R. ALGER, et al., Defendants.


Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

In August 2014, plaintiff “John Doe”[1] enrolled as a freshman at James Madison University (JMU or University), a public institution, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. During his first week on campus, he met another freshman, “Jane Roe, ”[2] and the two had sex. A couple of months later, Roe filed a charge of sexual misconduct against Doe with JMU officials, accusing him of rape. In December, a hearing board held an evidentiary hearing on the charge. Roe and Doe both attended and presented evidence, including witness testimony. The hearing board determined that Doe was not responsible for sexual misconduct.

Roe appealed the hearing board’s decision. In January 2015, a three-person appeal board met and reversed the hearing board’s decision, suspending Doe for five and a half years. The appeal board based its decision on the record of the evidentiary hearing and new evidence submitted by Roe. Doe was not permitted to appear before the appeal board, and his ability to respond to the new evidence was limited. JMU’s vice president of student affairs, defendant Mark Warner, affirmed the appeal board’s decision, and the University’s president, defendant Jonathan Alger, refused to set it aside.

Seeking immediate readmission to JMU, Doe filed this suit against Alger and Warner in their official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his original complaint, Doe claimed that Alger and Warner deprived him of his property interest in his continued enrollment and of his liberty interest in his good name without procedural due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

In response, Alger and Warner moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The court granted that motion, but it also gave Doe leave to file an amended complaint, which he has done. The amended complaint makes the same procedural due process claims as the original complaint; however, it contains additional factual allegations.

Alger and Warner now move again to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).[3] They argue that, as before, Doe fails to plead a constitutionally protected property or liberty interest, much less that that they deprived him of such a right without procedural due process. Accordingly, they contend that he fails to state a procedural due process claim based on either a property or liberty interest and that his amended complaint must be dismissed.

For the reasons stated below, the court concludes that Doe states a procedural due process claim based on a property interest, but not on a liberty interest. It will thus grant Alger and Warner’s motion in part and deny it in part, and dismiss with prejudice Doe’s procedural due process claim based on a liberty interest.


The facts recited in this section and relied on below are taken from Doe’s amended complaint and documents attached to it. Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int’l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606 (4th Cir. 2015). For purposes of Alger and Warner’s motion, the court accepts the complaint’s well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes them in the light most favorable to Doe. Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 189 (4th Cir. 2010).

A. Doe applies to and is accepted by JMU.

In fall 2013, Doe, a Virginia resident, applied to JMU, a public university. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5, 7, Dkt. No. 30.) The following spring, JMU notified him that he had been accepted for admission as a freshman beginning that August. (Id. ¶ 8.) Doe accepted the offer and paid the required deposit. (Id. ¶ 17.) He later paid the full tuition and fees ($9, 270) for the fall 2014 semester. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Upon payment of his deposit for admission, Doe became a JMU student under the University’s student rights policy. (Id. ¶ 13; Policy on Student Rights 2, Am. Compl. Ex. A, Dkt. No 30-1.) That policy, in relevant part, provides:

Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Students’ rights and responsibilities as described here are not definitive; rather they are indicative of the direction of a growing and changing educational environment. . . .
James Madison considers individuals as students upon receipt of deposit for admission until their official graduation date.
. . . .
Violation Procedure Rights All students have the right to fair and equitable procedures, which shall determine the validity of charges that they have violated university regulations. . . .
1. Each student has a right to expect the procedures shall be structured to facilitate a reliable determination of the evidence for the charges, provide a fundamental fairness to the parties involved, and be effective as an instrument for the maintenance of the community.
2. Each student has the right to know in advance the range of sanctions for university policies. The definition of the adequate cause for separation from the university should be clearly formulated and made public.
. . . .
5. In case reviews, the technical rules of evidence in civil and criminal cases shall not apply.
. . . .
Accused Student Rights (Sexual Misconduct)
A student accused of [committing] Sexual Misconduct has the following rights:
1. The right to a fair and impartial case review.
2. The right to a presumption of being not responsible for a violation until proven responsible by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the case review.
. . . .
4. The right to be present during the entire case review . . . and to know and respond to all information used in the proceeding. . . .
6. The right not to have his or her past sexual history discussed during the case review, except as it relates to the specific incident in question.

(Policy on Student Rights 2, 3, 5 (boldface type deleted).)

B. Doe enrolls at JMU and meets Roe.

In August 2014, Doe enrolled at JMU and moved into an on-campus dorm. (Am. Comp. ¶¶ 35, 36.) He and Roe, who lived in the same dorm, met for the first time on August 22, when they and their friends gathered and mingled at the dorm. (Id. ¶¶ 36–37.)

Later that night, after the group had separated, Doe and Roe exchanged text messages and agreed to meet back at the dorm in the early morning hours of August 23. (Id. ¶ 38.) Eventually, the two ended up at Roe’s room, where they had sex. (Id.) Over the next day or so, Doe and Roe continued to “exchange[] . . . friendly communications, ” and on the evening of August 24, they hung out at Roe’s room, at her request. (Id. &p ...

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