Court Denies Preliminary Injunction for Student Suspended in Title IX Proceeding

A preliminary injunction can prevent a university from implementing Title IX sanctions against a student while a lawsuit is pending.  To obtain a preliminary injunction, the plaintiff must meet certain criteria, including showing a likelihood of success on the merits, a lack of adequate remedy at law, and a likelihood of irreparable harm without an injunction. A student, identified in the court’s order as John Doe, recently sought a preliminary injunction in a Title IX case in an Indiana federal court.

According to the court’s order, on the night of November 13, 2020, John hung out with another student, identified as Jane Roe, and some other friends in the common room of Jane’s suite.  John claimed he went back to his own place, but Jane messaged him asking him to come back at 2:00 a.m.

Jane later alleged John got into her bed and touched her sexually without her consent.  John agreed he had helped her into bed, but said he then went back to the common room with the others and denied getting into her bed or touching her.  He said Jane later got up and came back to the common room.

Jane disclosed the incident to her roommates on February 11, 2021.  Her roommate made a report to the university’s Public Safety Office that day and Jane filed a written Title IX complaint on February 25, 2021.

The university sent John notice of the complaint.  John alleged that the university withheld facts, failed to specify the allegations against him, and refused to provide a copy of the complaint.

The university gave John notice of a hearing on July 26.  The university sent John and his attorney the agenda for the hearing and a Statement of Rights and Process on August 2. John and his attorney met with the Title IX coordinator the next day and discussed the hearing procedure.

Jane, John, Jane’s roommate, and Jane’s suitemate testified at the Zoom hearing.  John’s attorney had the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.

The panel found John responsible for committing sexual assault.  The panel decided to suspend John as of the fall semester of 2021, with eligibility to return in spring 2023.  He would also be required to undergo Title IX sexual harassment training when he came back.

John appealed the decision on September 1.  The appeals officer affirmed the panel’s decision.

John sued the university, alleging Title IX violations. He sought preliminary and permanent injunctions and a temporary restraining order. The court granted a temporary restraining order until it ruled on the preliminary injunction motion.

John sought a preliminary injunction to stop the university from enforcing the suspension. John argued multiple violations of 34 C.F.R § 106.45 meant he was likely to succeed on the merits. He claimed the university broadened the definition of “rape” during the investigation to include the conduct Jane alleged. John alleged the hearing panel relied on statements of witnesses who were not available for cross-examination, in violation of 24 C.F.R. § 106.45(b)(6)(i). He also alleged the university threatened to suspend him if he shared information about the allegations and Title IX process to anyone other than his advisor/council. The university limited the grounds to appeal to “procedural irregularities” regarding the “investigation,” which he alleged violated 34 C.F.R. § 106.45(b)(8)(i).

The university argued that, pursuant to its contract with John, the appeal was his final remedy for grievances related to due process.  It contended John’s arguments did not show bias against him based on gender, as required for his Title IX claims. Additionally, the university argued John needed to show that any alleged errors of due process were intentional actions in a scheme against males.  The university pointed out that John and his attorneys participated in identifying the issues, finalizing the record, and confirming the procedures for the hearing.  The university noted that neither John nor his attorney raised any concerns or objection about the process.

The university also argued John had not presented evidence of anti-male bias by the panel or the appellate officer, nor in the text of the university’s policies and procedures.  The university contended that John had changed his story during the hearing and witnesses testified they saw him on Jane’s bed.

John pointed to a university newspaper article that claimed the university did not take sexual misconduct allegations seriously.  He claimed this “public pressure” led the university to intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence.

When a plaintiff alleges an “erroneous outcome” Title IX claim, they must allege facts raising an “articulable doubt” on the proceedings’ outcome and then allege circumstances indicating a “motivating factor” in that outcome was gender bias.  The court noted that John had not submitted evidence that the university had made an erroneous decision based on gender bias. The court pointed out other courts have rejected erroneous outcome claims based on public pressure.

The court also concluded John failed to show any irregularities resulted from anti-male bias.  His arguments were based on the panel’s and appellate officer’s weighing of the evidence and credibility determinations.  The court noted that most courts have concluded evidence of anti-male bias does not raise a reasonable inference of anti-male bias. The court concluded John was not reasonably likely to succeed on the merits.

The court also rejected John’s claim that he would be irreparably harmed if he did not receive the preliminary injunction.  The university argued that disciplinary status was not reflected on transcripts and that the three-semester suspension did not prevent John from receiving the same educational opportunities upon his return that he currently has.  The court denied John’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Despite multiple allegations of procedural improprieties, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, noting that the plaintiff had not raised procedural issues during the Title IX process.  If you have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at your school, a skilled Title IX defense lawyer can fight to protect your rights during the investigation, hearing, and after.  Schedule a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562.


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