Seventh Circuit Finds Student’s Due Process Rights Violated in Expulsion

It can be difficult for a student who has faced disciplinary action for alleged misconduct to successfully show a Title IX violation by the school in the investigation and disciplinary process.  Even if they cannot show sex-based discrimination, in some cases, the student may be able to show the school violated their due process rights.

A medical student at an Indiana university filed suit after he was expelled from the university.  He appealed to the Seventh Circuit when the federal court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

According to the Seventh Circuit’s opinion, he was accused of physical abuse by a female student with whom he was romantically involved.  The Office of Student Conduct found him culpable and suspended him for a year.  The university placed conditions on his return.  The Student Promotions Committee for the medical school recommended expulsion, but the Dean rejected that recommendation.

The plaintiff applied to the MBA program at the university.  Although he disclosed the suspension in his application, he indicated there had been an exoneration. There was then an investigation by the Prior Misconduct Review Committee.  The Committee informed the Dean the plaintiff “gave false or incomplete information.”  The Dean then expelled the plaintiff from the medical school without giving him the opportunity to respond.

The plaintiff sued the university, alleging violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth’s Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The Seventh Circuit concluded the record did not support an inference that the plaintiff had been discriminated against on the basis of his sex. The court noted the plaintiff and the complainant had been instructed to stay away from each other. The plaintiff had been instructed to use university facilities in West Lafayette, but the complainant was able to remain in Indianapolis.  The plaintiff argued this was sex-based discrimination, but the district court rejected this argument, pointing out the plaintiff had been the principal aggressor and that it was not discriminatory to put the burden of the no-contact order on him.

The Seventh Circuit also pointed out that the plaintiff’s application to the MBA program and the Dean’s decision to expel him occurred much later.  The court also concluded that the university’s delay in investigating the plaintiff’s allegations that the complainant had hit him did not contribute to the Dean’s decision.  The Seventh Circuit also determined the delay was justified because the plaintiff did not pursue the allegation.

The plaintiff also argued the committees and panels had been trained to favor women.  However, the training materials supported a conclusion they were trained to favor complainants.  Although complaints are more often filed by women, that does not constitute sex discrimination by the university.  The Seventh Circuit concluded the plaintiff had not presented “the slightest evidence” that the people involved in resolving the complaints against him “acted at least partly on the basis of sex in [this] particular case.” Doe v. Purdue University.

The Seventh Circuit found the plaintiff’s due process argument stronger than his Title IX claim.  The court acknowledged that there had been hearings where the plaintiff had an opportunity to present evidence and argue his position.  Additionally, he had legal counsel.  He also persuaded the Dean to reject the recommendation for expulsion. The court noted that the Constitution only requires “some kind of hearing” with notice and an opportunity for comment.  Goss v. Lopez.

All of his opportunity to be heard, however, came before his application to the MBA program and before he was expelled. He was permitted to communicate with the Prior Misconduct Committee in writing, but was not given further opportunity to comment.  The Committee denied his application and forwarded information to the Dean at the medical school. He did not learn that the information had been given to the Dean until he got the letter saying he was expelled. The Seventh Circuit inquired as to whether the plaintiff and other students in similar situations were given notice and an opportunity to comment, and the response was “no.”

The university argued students do not have a property interest in a medical education.  The Seventh Circuit determined the university entitles medical students to complete their education except when certain events occur. The court concluded the plaintiff had a claim he was entitled to continue his education unless he violated one of those conditions. He had a property interest and was entitled to some kind of hearing.

The Seventh Circuit concluded the district judge abused his discretion in allowing the plaintiff to proceed under a pseudonym without finding he was a minor, at risk of physical harm, or subject to improper retaliation.

The Seventh Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the district court with instructions that the plaintiff’s name be made public if he chose to continue the suit.

If you have facing serious disciplinary action at your school, you need an experienced Washington Title IX and school discipline attorney helping you navigate through the disciplinary process and protecting your rights. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation to discuss your case.


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