United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.
memorandum opinion and order entered on December 23, 2016,
the court granted summary judgment in plaintiff John
Doe's favor as to liability. Specifically, the court
ruled that defendants deprived Doe of a property interest-his
right to continued enrollment at James Madison
University-without due process of law. The court's order
required the parties to submit memoranda concerning the
appropriate remedy for the violation. That issue has been
fully briefed and argued and is now ripe for disposition.
Given the court's ruling as to liability, the parties
agree on many aspects of the relief to be granted and, at the
court's request, have submitted proposed alternative
orders (Dkt. No. 172) with their proposed formulations of
that relief. Several primary areas of disagreement
remain, however, and the court addresses those herein.
factual background of this case is set forth in detail in the
court's memorandum opinion on the summary judgment
motions, and the court will not repeat it here. In short, the
court concluded that Doe did not receive adequate process at
the appeal stage of the misconduct charge against him. That
finding necessitates certain declaratory and injunctive
relief, and the parties agree as to much of the relief to be
ordered. For example, the parties agree that the
prior finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct, as
well as the sanctions imposed as a result of it, should be
vacated, and they agree that Doe should be reinstated as an
undergraduate student at JMU in good standing. They also
agree that Doe should be permitted to elect, on or before
June 30, 2017, whether to withdraw as a JMU student in good
standing or to re-enroll as a student at JMU. Other relief,
on which the parties agree, includes the expungement of
certain records and certain injunctive relief to prohibit the
disclosure of Doe's identity and the now-vacated finding
that he was responsible for sexual misconduct.
also remain some areas of disagreement. Doe and defendants
have proposed different language as to a number of items in
their respective proposed orders to the court. With regard to
some of those disagreements, the court concludes that they do
not require any significant analysis. Instead, they are
issues that fall squarely within this court's broad
discretion to fashion an equitable remedy. The court will not
discuss them further, but will craft the order to reflect its
decisions on those issues. There are three issues, however, that
merit further discussion. The court will address each in
turn, after a brief discussion of the legal standards that
inform the court's analysis.
determining the proper remedy for the due process violations
here, the court is guided by several overarching principles.
To begin with, the injunctive relief Doe seeks is an
equitable remedy, and, in granting equitable relief, the
court has “broad” powers, “for breadth and
flexibility are inherent in equitable remedies.”
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 402
U.S. 1, 15 (1971). Indeed, “[i]n equity, as nowhere
else, courts eschew rigid absolutes and look to the practical
realities and necessities inescapably involved in reconciling
competing interests . . . .” Lemon v.
Kurtzman, 411 U.S. 192, 200-01 (1973) (plurality
all injunctions, an injunction to remedy a constitutional
violation is an “extraordinary remedy” and
requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that (1) he has
suffered an irreparable injury, (2) damages are unavailable
or inadequate to compensate him for that injury, (3) an
injunction is warranted based on the balance of hardships
between the plaintiff and defendants, and (4) the public
interest will not be disserved by an injunction. Doe v.
Rector & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 179
F.Supp.3d 583, 587 (E.D. Va. 2016) (citations omitted)
(hereinafter “Doe v. GMU”); see also
eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388, 391
(2006) (applying the same test where “a plaintiff
seek[s] a permanent injunction”); A Helping Hand,
LLC v. Baltimore Cty., 355 F. App'x 773, 775-76 (4th
Cir. 2009) (applying same in reviewing injunctive relief
where plaintiff prevailed in a civil rights action).
Defendants concede, as they must, that Doe can establish the
first two of these elements. As to the injunctive relief to
which they object, though, defendants dispute that the third
and fourth elements are satisfied. (Defs.' Opp'n to
Pl.'s Mem. Remedies 12, Dkt. No. 166.)
Injunction Prohibiting a New Appeal Board Hearing
first disagreement-and arguably the most important
one-concerns whether further proceedings should be permitted
as to Roe's charge against Doe. Doe argues that, if he
elects to re-enroll as a JMU student, defendants should not
be permitted to conduct another appeal board hearing on Jane
Roe's misconduct charge against him. Defendants counter
that the proper remedy for a violation of due process is a
new hearing to receive the process due. They therefore
contend that Doe is entitled only to a new appeal board
hearing with constitutionally adequate process and that an
injunction prohibiting them from conducting that appeal is
not an appropriate remedy.
court has carefully considered the arguments of the parties
and the authority on which they rely. As even plaintiff
acknowledges (Pl.'s Mem. Remedies 27, Dkt. No. 160),
“the typical remedy for a violation of due process in
the university disciplinary context is more process.”
Doe v. GMU, 179 F.Supp.3d at 588 & n.12. Indeed,
defendants cite to a number of cases (from both federal and
state courts) in which that was the remedy ordered.
(Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mem. Remedies 16-17
(citing, among others, Doe v. Brown Univ., No.
16-cv-017, 2016 WL 5409241 (D.R.I. Sept. 28, 2016);
Furety v. Temple Univ., 884 F.Supp.2d 223 (E.D. Pa.
2012); Huntsinger v. Idaho State Univ., No.
4:114-cv-00237, 2014 WL 5305573, at *2-3 (D. Idaho Oct. 15,
2014)).) Thus, the standard remedy in similar cases is a new
hearing that comports with due process. That is true in the
employment context as well. See, e.g., Detweiler
v. Va. Dep't of Rehab. Servs., 705 F.2d 557, 562
(4th Cir. 1983) (explaining that if the plaintiff- a
terminated employee who alleged a due process violation in
the hearing afforded him-could prove his allegation,
“he should be afforded a rehearing by the panel that
comports with the due process clause”). There are
exceptions to the general rule, though, and this court
recognizes that it has the broad authority to fashion a
different remedy, including the one sought by Doe. But for
the reasons discussed herein, the court does not believe the
remedy Doe seeks is appropriate.
support of his request, Doe relies heavily on the decision in
Doe v. GMU. 179 F.Supp.3d 583. There, after finding
that a college student accused of sexual misconduct had been
denied due process, the court granted the plaintiff's
request, similar to Doe's here, that the court enjoin the
university from pursuing any further hearings against him
stemming from that charge. There, like here, the plaintiff
had been found not responsible at his initial hearing and the
plaintiff admitted that the first hearing satisfied the
requirements of due process. Id. at 586. But when
the accusing student appealed, the university allowed the
appeal to proceed, despite the fact that it failed to state
an acceptable ground for an appeal under GMU's
disciplinary procedures. The defendants then committed
additional due process violations in processing both that
appeal and another level of review, including ex
parte meetings with the accusing student. Id.
After two levels of appeals, the plaintiff was found to have
violated the student code of conduct and was expelled.
Id. The court ruled that the defendants violated
plaintiff's right to due process by, among other things,
“permitting [the accusing student], without a proper
basis in GMU's internal disciplinary procedures, to
appeal the finding of no responsibility.” Id.
evident from that factual background, there are significant
differences between that case and this one. Most notably, in
that case, the court had held that the original appeal was
not proper under the university's procedures and should
not have been permitted. Thus, the plaintiff should never
have been subjected to an appeal in the first place. That
factor was noted by the court in enjoining further
proceedings against the ...