Court Grants TRO Preventing University from Removing Student from Housing

To obtain a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), a party must show likelihood of success on the merits, lack of adequate remedy at law, and irreparable harm if the restraining order is not granted.  Additionally, they must show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage would occur before the opposing party can be heard.  If these requirements are met, the court must balance the potential harm to the parties and the public interest.  In a recent case, a university student sought a TRO to prohibit the school from removing him from student housing.

According to the district court’s memorandum opinion, a senior student, identified as “John Doe,” sued his university in a federal court in Illinois for Title IX, Fair Housing Act, and state law claims.  He moved for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the university from requiring him to move out of student housing and banning him from other residence and dining halls for the rest of the school year.

Likelihood of Success

In considering a temporary restraining order, the court must determine if, under the totality of the circumstances, the plaintiff has a likelihood of success on the merits for his Title IX claim. The court focused on the plaintiff’s Title IX claim.

For a Title IX claim to succeed, the university must receive federal funding.  The court found that the university in this case did receive federal funding.  The plaintiff must also show exclusion from participating in or denial of the benefits of an educational program.  The court found that exclusion from campus housing and residential and dining halls would constitute exclusion from benefits of an educational program.   Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the university discriminated against him based on sex.  The court found the plaintiff had shown a likelihood the university engaged in sex-based discrimination.

The disciplinary process was initiated when “Student 1” complained that John Doe physically attacked them on September 29-30.  John Doe, however, alleged Student 1 made a false accusation after John Doe and “Student 2” threatened to file Title IX complaints against Student 1 for homophobic comments and behavior.  The documents did not reference any investigation of Student 1.  The Outcome Letter mentioned that John Doe had reported “issues” regarding Student 1, but indicated those issues were related to language toward the LGBTQIA+ community.  The court noted that the alleged sexual-orientation discrimination could not so easily be separated from the accusations against John Doe considering the timing and the potential motive for fabrication.  The court called the denial of John Doe’s appeal “perfunctory,” noting it gave no explanation for rejecting his claims of procedural irregularity and missed evidence.

At the hearing on the TRO motion, the university argued the alleged assault should be considered separately from John Doe’s allegations of sexual orientation discrimination. The court noted that a person threatened with a discrimination complaint might be motivated to make a false allegation against their accuser.  The court acknowledged that Student 1’s allegations against John Doe could be true, but noted that the university’s failure to consider the potential motive constituted “ignoring the University’s potential participation in Student 1’s discrimination.”   The court noted that it did not need to consider notice and deliberate indifference to grant a TRO, but also pointed out that the university’s failure to consider Student 1’s potential motive to fabricate also constituted deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim.

The university also admitted it had not interviewed John Doe’s witness as part of its investigation against John Doe.

It seemed the university conducted an incomplete investigation and did not offer any explanation for its decision not to obtain or consider all of the information in either the Outcome Letter or appeal denial.  Additionally, the university failed to inform John Doe of all of the allegations against him before it issued the Outcome Letter, again with no explanation.

The court determined that, based on the totality of the circumstances with the information available at this stage of the proceedings, there was some likelihood of success on the sex discrimination claim.

Inadequate Remedy at Law and Irreparable Harm

John Doe argued he would suffer irreparable harm if he was kicked out of campus housing, other residence halls, and dining commons.  He testified he was working on several assignments and graduate school applications.  Finals were coming up.  He only had one weekend after the hearing to move out before the deadline given by the university.  The court concluded that the impact on his assignments, finals, and applications due to a “near-term eviction . . . and an inability to access social and study opportunities” constituted irreparable harm with no adequate remedy at law. The court also noted it did not have information regarding John Doe’s financial status or ability to find housing over a weekend, but homelessness also constituted irreparable harm.

Balance of Harms and Public Interest

John Doe’s loss of housing and access to residence and dining halls would negatively affect his academic work and professional opportunities. The court pointed out the university’s obligation to protect its students, specifically Student 1.

The university issued a no-contact directive and John Doe stated he had not interacted with Student 1 since it was issued.  The university acknowledged it did not know of any violations.  The court concluded the no-contact directive was a reasonable compromise of the competing interests.

With the no-contract directive in place and the public interest not favoring either party, the court concluded that equity weighed in favor of letting John Doe stay in campus housing and keep access to the other university buildings temporarily.

The court granted the motion through November 18, barring the university from enforcing its directives ordering John Doe to move out and banning him from residence and dining halls.

Seek Counsel Promptly

According to his complaint, John Doe was given notice of the November 7 move-out deadline on October 31. His complaint was filed on November 3 and the court entered its memorandum opinion and order on November 7, with a summary of the order posted on November 4.  This case shows the importance of contacting an attorney right away after learning of an investigation or disciplinary issue. The plaintiff had to act quickly to avoid being kicked out of campus housing in a week shortly before finals. If you are the subject of a disciplinary proceeding or a Title IX investigation, the experienced Seattle Title IX defense and school discipline attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, can help you protect your rights.  Call (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.


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