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Doe v. The Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia

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

June 28, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE RECTOR AND VISITORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff John Doe, who has completed all of the requirements to receive his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia ("University"), was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman off campus ("Jane Roe") in April of 2017.[*] On May 1, 2019, Doe was advised that his degree would be withheld pending final resolution of proceedings conducted pursuant to the University's Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence ("Title IX Policy") and the accompanying Procedures for Reports Against Students ("Title IX Procedures"). The University has scheduled a Review Panel Hearing for Monday, July 1, 2019, at which Doe faces the possible penalty of expulsion.

         On June 25, 2019, Doe filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the University has impermissibly exceeded the jurisdictional limits of its Title IX Policy and Procedures and deprived him of due process. That same day, Doe filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The court held a hearing on the motion via teleconference on June 27, 2019. For the following reasons, the plaintiffs motion will be granted in part.

         Background

         I. Title IX Policy and Procedures

         The University's Title IX Policy "prohibits specific forms of behavior that violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); and/or the Virginia Human Rights Act," including "Sexual Assault" and "Sexual or Gender-Based Harassment," which are collectively referred to as "Prohibited Conduct." Title IX Policy 2, Dkt. No. 3-2. The Policy "applies to Students who are registered or enrolled for creditor non-credit-bearing coursework ("Students"); University employees . . . ("Employees"); and contractors, vendors, visitors, guests or other third parties ("Third Parties"). Id. The Policy further provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

This policy pertains to acts of Prohibited Conduct committed by or against Students, Employees and Third Parties when:
(1) the conduct occurs on University Grounds or other property owned or controlled by the University;
(2) the conduct occurs in the context of a University employment or education program or activity, including, but not limited to, University-sponsored study abroad, research, on-line, or internship programs; or
(3) the conduct occurs outside the context of a University employment or education program or activity, but has continuing adverse effects on or creates a hostile environment for Students, Employees or Third Parties while on University Grounds or other property owned or controlled by the University or in any University employment or education program or activity.

Id. at 3.

         Students are "subject to disciplinary action, up to and including separation from the University," if the University determines that they committed a Prohibited Act in violation of the Policy. Id. at 4. The Title IX Procedures applicable to reports of Prohibited Conduct committed by Students set forth two resolution processes: (1) a Formal Resolution process, "which involves an investigation, and review and sanction (if applicable) by a Review Panel"; and (2) an Alternative Resolution process. Title IX Procedures 11, Dkt. No. 3-3. The Formal Resolution process was initiated in the instant case.

         The Formal Resolution process begins with a Notice of Investigation issued to the complainant and the respondent. During the investigation, both parties have the opportunity to meet with the investigator, submit evidence, and identify witnesses. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator prepares a Draft Investigation Report, which summarizes the information gathered and outlines the contested and uncontested information. The complainant and the respondent then have the opportunity to meet with the investigator, submit additional comments and information, and identify additional witnesses.

         Upon receipt and consideration of any additional information submitted by the parties, the investigator prepares a Final Investigation Report, which includes a recommendation as to whether there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of responsibility for a violation of the Title IX Policy. If the respondent contests the recommended findings, the respondent may submit a written statement explaining his reasons for doing so. The Final Investigation report, along with any responses from the parties, are then provided to a Review Panel for further proceedings.

         If either party contests the investigator's recommended findings, "the Review Panel will hold a Hearing to determine (1) whether the concerns stated by the contesting party raise substantial doubts about the thoroughness, fairness and/or impartiality of the investigation; and, if not (2) whether there is sufficient evidence to support the Investigator's recommended finding(s) by a Preponderance of the Evidence." Id. at 17. "Typically, a Hearing will be held within fifty-five (55) calendar days from the date of the Notice of Investigation, subject to extension for good cause." Id. The Title IX Procedures explain that "[t]he Hearing is an opportunity for the parties to address the Review Panel, in person[, ] about issues relevant to the Standard of Review to be applied by the Review Panel." Id. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Review Panel will "determine, by majority vote, (1) whether the concern(s) stated by the contesting party raise substantial doubt about the thoroughness, fairness, and/or impartiality of the investigation; and, if not, (2) whether there is sufficient evidence to support the Investigator's recommended findings(s) by a Preponderance of the Evidence." Id. "If the Review Panel finds no cause for substantial doubt about the thoroughness, fairness, and/or impartiality of the investigation and affirms that there is sufficient evidence to support a recommended finding of responsibility by a Preponderance of the Evidence, it will then determine, by majority vote, the appropriate sanction(s) for the Prohibited Conduct." Id. at 19. Available sanctions include expulsion and suspension. Sanctions imposed by the Review Panel ...


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