In considering a motion for preliminary injunctive relief, the court must take into account the likelihood of success on the merits, the potential for irreparable harm, a balance of the hardships, and the public interest. Injunctions can therefore be difficult to obtain because the court is heavily focused on how likely the moving party is to win their case.
A student recently obtained a preliminary injunction enjoining his university from implementing a preliminary suspension. The plaintiff was a senior and student athlete at a Rhode Island university when a Title IX complaint was filed against him alleging sexual assault. A “Threat Assessment Team” (the “team”) recommended interim suspension because of “the egregious nature of the alleged behavior.”
The plaintiff appealed the interim suspension. He was allowed to finish the semester remotely and the issue of suspension was remanded to the team to reconsider based on his response to the complaint. The result was that the plaintiff was to be suspended on January 7, 2022, pending completion of the Title IX process.
The plaintiff sued the university, alleging it had breached its contract with him and seeking injunctive relief.
The trial court considered the plaintiff’s likelihood of success on his contract claim. Case law has held that a student’s relationship with a private university is contractual, with the terms generally including the student handbook.
In this case, the court found the relevant contract terms were contained in the university’s Student Conduct Procedures and Sexual Misconduct Procedure. The terms included language stating the university would not presume a student was responsible of alleged conduct violations without a hearing. The terms also provided a student would be given a chance to respond.
Pursuant to the Sexual Misconduct Procedure, the university would presume a respondent was not responsible and would provide respondents “meaningful opportunities to participate” in the Title IX process. The court concluded that a reasonable interpretation of this language was that the respondent had a right to participate in any significant aspect of the Title IX process that would affect his rights. The university could enact an emergency suspension upon “reasonable cause to believe” the misconduct would likely continue or the respondent presented” a significant threat . . .”
The trial court found the university failed to show it had presumed the plaintiff had not been responsible for the allegations against him. He was suspended based on the allegations the day after the complaint was filed and prior to any investigation. The trial court found the plaintiff was likely to succeed in showing the university could not have fairly found there was “reasonable cause to believe” the alleged misconduct would continue or that he would pose a threat to the community.
The court also found the plaintiff had shown he would be irreparably harmed without injunctive relief. The court noted that the suspension appearing on his transcript would have ongoing negative effects.
The court also found the balances weighed in favor of the plaintiff. The court noted there was a no-contact order protecting the complainant from contact by the plaintiff. The court also noted he had not contacted the complainant since before the no contact order was entered and he had not been involved in any other incidents from the time of the alleged assault to his suspension. The court also found it would not be a hardship on the university to let the plaintiff continue with his coursework and extracurricular activities during the Title IX process. The court noted the plaintiff would suffer “substantial” consequences from the suspension without further detail. The court also found that the university’s compliance with its procedures was in the public interest.
The court granted a preliminary injunction and enjoined the school from suspending the plaintiff pending the complaint resolution and from denying him participation in class and athletic activities until he was found responsible for a Title IX violation or the university performed a proper threat assessment according to the applicable procedures.
In this case, the plaintiff acted quickly and was able to protect his right to continue his education during the Title IX process. If you are facing allegations of sexual misconduct at your school, an experienced Title IX defense attorney can help you defend your rights throughout the entire process. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 for a consultation.