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Faparusi v. Western Reserve Univ.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 28, 2017



          Christopher A. Boyko United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge that the Court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF # 5) and all Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice. Having reviewed the Motion, Response, Report and Recommendation and Objections, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and dismisses with prejudice Plaintiff's claims.

         Plaintiff is an African-American male who was enrolled as a student at Defendant Case Western Reserve University in 2014 (“Case Western”). During the 2015-2016 academic year, Plaintiff was a sophomore in Case Western's Biomedical Engineering department. Plaintiff is a resident of Tennessee. Defendant George O'Connell is the director of Student Conduct & Community Standards at Case Western and in 2016 was the Administrative Hearing Officer in Plaintiff's sexual misconduct administrative hearing. Defendant Kimberly Scott is the Title IX investigator at Case Western and investigated the allegations against Plaintiff that form the bases for the administrative action.

         According to Plaintiff's Complaint, on March 1, 2016, Plaintiff went to Raymond House on the campus of Case Western, intending to meet his lab partner to study for a physics final. Plaintiff was carrying his iPhone because it contained his study materials. Plaintiff went to the fourth floor of Raymond House and began studying. After some time he went down to the third floor, hoping to run into his lab partner in order to continue studying. Once on the third floor Plaintiff needed to use the restroom urgently and decided to use the women's restroom. According to Plaintiff, although the third floor restroom was a women's restroom, it was common practice for both sexes to use it.

         While Plaintiff was using a stall, two female students entered the restroom. Plaintiff recognized the voice of one of the females as a fellow student in one of his classes. This female student asked Plaintiff why he was in the women's restroom. Her companion became visibly upset with Plaintiff, accusing him of using his iPhone to take pictures of her in the women's restroom. She demanded Plaintiff delete the photos on his phone. The two females left the restroom and Plaintiff departed shortly thereafter. Later that same day, campus police arrived at Plaintiff's dorm room and informed him that they received a complaint that he was taking pictures in the women's restroom. The officers asked to see Plaintiff's iPhone. Plaintiff allowed the officers to inspect his phone and, finding no incriminating photos, the officers left. That same day Plaintiff received a letter from Darnell T. Parker, Associate Vice President for Affairs and Title IX Coordinator at Case Western, informing Plaintiff that the Title IX office on campus was going to conduct an investigation of the Raymond House incident.

         On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff's housing agreement was terminated, forcing him to seek off-campus housing. That same day, Plaintiff was questioned about the incident by Parker. Over the next few days Plaintiff met with school administrators and investigators. During these meetings Plaintiff denied taking pictures in the women's restroom.

         Plaintiff describes a number of issues with the investigation conducted by Kimberly Scott and Case Western. He points to inconsistencies in the witness statements, including disparate descriptions of Plaintiff's hair length, the color of his sweat pants and the color of his iPhone. Plaintiff further alleges he was only given notice of a single charge of Sexual Exploitation prior to his hearing and he was only permitted to review the hearing binder of evidence twenty-four hours before the hearing. During the administrative hearing, O'Connell made statements indicating he had ex parte communications with the complainants prior to the hearing without the Plaintiff being notified or being present. Plaintiff was ultimately found liable for Sexual Exploitation and Disorderly Conduct even though he had never been informed of the Disorderly Conduct charge prior to the hearing. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the finding, which was upheld by an Appeal Panel.

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges violations of his Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of Mistaken Identification, Lack of Notice of the Charge of Disorderly Conduct and Ex Parte Hearing against all Defendants. He also alleges Breach of Contract for deviations from the Administrative Process Hearing against Case Western and O'Connell. He further alleges a violation of his Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment for Bad Faith and Malicious Investigation against Case Western and Scott.

         On August 2, 2016, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, contending Due Process claims do not apply to student policies and procedures brought against a private university. Defendants further allege that Plaintiff's Breach of Contract claim fails because Plaintiff's Complaint admits Defendants followed all policies and procedures applicable to Plaintiff.

         The matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation in August of 2016 and on November 30, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report recommending that all Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice. The Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff's federal Due Process claims were brought under Title IX. Because Title IX does not apply to individuals, the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of all federal claims against individually named Defendants O'Connell and Scott. Turning to the claims against Case Western, the Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff failed to state any claim upon which relief may be granted under Title IX because his Complaint failed to sufficiently allege that Case Western's actions were the result of sexual bias against Plaintiff due to his gender and did not allege a pattern of decision-making improperly motivated by sexual bias or indifference due to sexual bias.

         The Magistrate Judge then considered whether Plaintiff's claims supported a Due Process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment. Because Case Western is a private entity, the Magistrate Judge determined that under applicable law, courts may not interfere with the right of a private university to enforce disciplinary rules unless that entity has clearly abused its discretion. However, because Plaintiff's Complaint implicates Title IX, the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal based on his analysis of Title IX.

         Lastly, the Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff's Breach of Contract claim fails as a matter of law because Sixth Circuit precedent does not require strict adherence to administrative procedures, rather, courts must consider whether the university abused its discretion in applying the disciplinary grievance procedure. Finding it did not, the Magistrate Judge recommends dismissing all of Plaintiff's claims.

         Plaintiff timely filed a number of objections. First, Plaintiff alleges the Report and Recommendation contains factual errors. According to the Report, Plaintiff was suspended for using a women's restroom when in fact he was suspended for taking pictures of women using the restroom. He further alleges mistaken identity as a defense, contending Scott had ample evidence from which to conclude Plaintiff was actually innocent, but instead, Scott altered her own reports to ensure Plaintiff was found liable. Plaintiff alleges O'Connell improperly relied on ex parte evidence and ignored other evidence. Plaintiff argues that unlike the caselaw relied on by the Magistrate Judge, this case presents a serious issue of mistaken identity. Plaintiff further objects to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of Counts I, II, III and V of his Complaint under Title IX. According to Plaintiff, Counts I and II of his Complaint are not premised on Title IX. In fact, according to Plaintiff, Counts I, II, III and V are all general Due Process claims. He further objects to the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation finding no abuse of discretion. Plaintiff argues that the incongruity of complainants descriptions of the perpetrator combined with the flaws in Case Western's disciplinary procedures provides ample evidence of an abuse of discretion.

         Lastly, Plaintiff contends he has stated a Breach of Contract claim under Ohio law by showing the above abuse of discretion, particularly as it relates to ...

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