Federal Court Dismisses Expelled Student’s Procedural Due Process and Title IX Claims

A Title IX complaint can result in severe consequences, including loss of scholarships and dismissal from school.  A former student recently sued his military college after he was expelled for alleged sexual misconduct.

The plaintiff, identified in the unpublished Fourth Circuit opinion as John Doe, was a student at a state-incorporated military college in South Carolina.  A female student filed a complaint accusing him of sexual misconduct.  The school’s Commandant’s Board heard the complaint and ultimately found the plaintiff committed a violation in one of the three alleged incidents of sexual misconduct.  As a result, Doe lost his Marine scholarship and was dismissed from the school with leave to apply for readmission after a year.  He appealed, but the appeal was denied.

He filed suit against the college and several officials, alleging violation of his right to procedural due process and sex-based discrimination.  The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

The plaintiff then appealed the dismissal.

A procedural due process violation occurs when state action deprives a person of their protected interest in life, liberty, or property.  A student generally has a protected property interest in remaining enrolled in a university.

Due process rights are dependent on the specific circumstances. A student facing serious disciplinary action generally must be given notice and an opportunity to be heard.

The Fourth Circuit concluded the plaintiff received adequate due process.  He did not allege he did not receive adequate notice of the charges against him or of the hearing.  He was allowed to offer testimony, call witnesses, and have a representative present.

The plaintiff argued the district court ignored his allegations showing the board was biased.  He claimed the director of the school’s sexual assault center provided support to the complainant during the hearing, but not to him. The Fourth Circuit pointed out the plaintiff did not allege he was not allowed to seek such support, but instead he alleged that his own representative was present at the hearing and had an opportunity to cross-examine the complainant.

The plaintiff also pointed out that the recorder during the hearing had been the complainant’s “Battalion TAC Officer.”  The Fourth Circuit noted the recorder was a non-voting member of the Board and the plaintiff had not alleged anything suggesting the recorder biased the Board.  The plaintiff also argued the Board stopped his representative’s cross-examination, but the Fourth Circuit pointed out he was not entitled to the same rights that are available to a criminal defendant.

The plaintiff did not identify any defects in the decision-making of the tribunal that decided his appeal.  The Fourth Circuit determined his allegations regarding the appeals tribunal were “bare and conclusory” and did not support a due process claim.  The Fourth Circuit determined the district court did not err in rejecting the bias allegation.

The plaintiff also argued the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, and gave the complainant’s evidence more weight.  The Fourth Circuit concluded, however, that the plaintiff’s challenges were to the merits of the Board’s decision and not the procedure.  The Fourth Circuit therefore determined the procedural due process claim was properly dismissed.

The plaintiff argued he was entitled to greater procedural protections while facing sexual misconduct allegations than would apply in other disciplinary proceedings, but the Fourth Circuit distinguished the case law he cited.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s due process claim.

The plaintiff also argued error in the court’s dismissal of his Title IX claim.  He argued the college engaged in a “Believe [t]he Woman” bias. He noted the majority of complainants in Title IX proceedings are women and most respondents are men.  The Fourth Circuit determined these statistics did not show bias and there could be other reasons for a disparity.  Additionally, the statistics did not support a conclusion of sex discrimination in the plaintiff’s case.

The plaintiff also pointed to the Office for Civil Rights’ “Dear Colleague Letter” from April 2011.  The plaintiff did not, however, tie the letter to discrimination in his case.  The Fourth Circuit determined the plaintiff failed to state a plausible Title IX claim.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit determined that the plaintiff did not allege facts sufficient to state a claim for violation of procedural due process or a Title IX violation.  Title IX cases are highly fact dependent, however.  If you have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, a skilled Washington Title IX defense attorney can protect your rights during the investigation, disciplinary proceedings, and beyond.  Set up a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC, by calling (206) 622-6562.


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