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Doe v. Wright State University

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

August 24, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

         DECISION AND ENTRY SUSTAINING MOTION TO DISMISS OF DEFENDANTS WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY, SARAH TWILL, MATTHEW BOAZ AND CHRIS TAYLOR (DOC #12) AND OVERRULING AS MOOT MOTION FOR LEAVE TO PROCEED ANONYMOUSLY OF PLAINTIFF JOHN DOE (DOC #2); PLAINTIFF JOHN DOE'S CLAIM ONE IS DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE AS AGAINST ALL DEFENDANTS, AND DOE'S CLAIM TWO IS DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE AS AGAINST TWILL, BOAZ AND TAYLOR IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND JUDGMENT SHALL ULTIMATELY ENTER IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS AND AGAINST DOE ON THOSE CLAIMS; DOE MAY FILE AN AMENDED COMPLAINT AS TO CLAIM TWO, AGAINST TWILL, BOAZ AND TAYLOR IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES WITHIN TWENTY-ONE DAYS OF THIS ENTRY, SUBJECT TO THE CONDITIONS SET FORTH HEREIN AND THE STRICTURES OF RULE 11; PLAINTIFF MAY FILE A RENEWED MOTION FOR LEAVE CONTEMPORANEOUSLY WITH AN AMENDED CLAIM TWO; IF DOE FAILS TO FILE A VIABLE AMENDED CLAIM TWO, THEN THE COURT WILL DISMISS CLAIM TWO WITH PREJUDICE IN ITS ENTIRETY AND ENTER JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANTS AND AGAINST DOE ON ALL CLAIMS

          WALTER H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff John Doe ("Doe"), a former member of the Wright State University ("WSU") Men's Varsity Tennis Team ("Team"), alleges that WSU and Sarah Twill ("Twill"), Chair of WSU's Student Appeals Panel, Matthew Boaz ("Boaz"), Director of WSU's Office of Equity and Inclusion, and Chris Taylor ("Taylor"), the Director of WSU's Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct (collectively "Defendants")[1], in their respective individual and official capacities, improperly removed them from the Team and terminated their enrollment at WSU. Doe claims that Defendants violated his right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (claims brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983) and Article I, Section Sixteen of the Ohio Constitution. Doc. #1. Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Doc. #12, and Doe's Motion for Leave to Proceed Anonymously as John Doe ("Motion for Leave"). Doc. #2. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is SUSTAINED and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave is OVERRULED AS MOOT.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[2]

         Doe was a Team member who received a full scholarship from WSU. Doc. #1, ¶ 3(a-b), PAGEID #2. In January 2016, Doe was informed that fellow Team members G.E. and T.S. had accused Doe and other Team members of digitally penetrating their anuses, id., ¶ 34(a-b), PAGEID #19, and "alleged that John Doe used homophobic and racist language." Id., ¶ 35. On or about January 21, 2016, and again on January 29, 2016, Doe met with Dr. Gary Dickstein, WSU's Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, to discuss the allegations made by G.E. and T.S. Id., ¶¶ 36-37. Dickstein and Boaz further investigated the complainants' allegations, id., ¶ 38, PAGEID #20, and on or about February 2, 2016, Doe was notified that he had been formally accused of the following violations of WSU Student Code of Conduct ("Code"): "bias; deliberate touching of another's sexual parts without consent; verbal harassment; and hazing." Id., ¶39.

         Prior to the hearings, Dickstein and Boaz prepared and submitted an investigative report and witness statements from several of Doe's teammates to the Gender-Based Harassment and Violence Panel ("GBHVP"), but Doe was not permitted to review those materials. Doc. #1, ¶ 55, PAGEID #23. Doe "subsequently learned that Dickstein[] and Boaz misrepresented, took out of context and embellished the statements of A.B., F.N., M.S., and A.M." in their reports to the GBHVP. Id., ¶ 55(a). Further, despite Doe and other Team members alleging that G.E. and T.S. had engaged in the same conduct that precipitated the hearings for Doe and others, they never faced possible discipline for that conduct. Id., ¶ 40(a), PAGEID #20.

         On or about February 10, 2016, the GBHVP conducted separate hearings for Doe and at least six other Team members regarding the alleged misconduct described above. Doc. #1, ¶ 41(a), PAGEID #20. Doe alleges that, through those hearings, WSU, using the GBHVP as a vehicle, "was determined to take any and all actions to protect the Complainants and find John Doe responsible." Id., ¶55(h). PAGEID #25. For instance, Doe claims that while the complainants were present at all the hearings, there were certain witnesses that testified at the hearings of other Team members, but not that of Doe. "As a result, John Doe did not have an opportunity to question or cross-examine many of the witnesses." Id., ¶ 41(b), PAGEID #20. Nor was Doe "allowed to be present or question the Complainants when they made impact statements to the [GBHVP]." Id., ¶ 55(c)(iii), PAGEID #24. "Doe was denied access to all of the documents [and] audio recordings related to all other members of the tennis team involved in this case." Id., ¶ 55(d). Doe was also denied the chance to present character witnesses or "the effective assistance of an attorney or other advisor." Id., ¶ 55(e-f).

         "On February 16, 2016, John Doe was informed that he had been found responsible for all of the violations and was going to be expelled from WSU. This Notification letter was signed by Taylor[.]" Doc. #1, ¶ 42, PAGEID #20. The letter informed Doe of his right to appeal, which he did on February 19, 2016. Id., ¶¶ 42-43, PAEGID #20-21. On March 9, 2016, Doe "submitted an Amended Statement of Reasons for Appeal[, ]. . . rais[ing] a number of grounds for appeal, including that WSU failed to comply with the procedures in the Code[.]" Id., ¶ 43, PAGEID #21. On March 16, 2016, the WSU Appeals Panel issued a "Unanimous Denial of Appeal and Finding of Appropriately Imposed Sanctions" to Doe. Id., ¶ 44. Twill, as Chair of the Appeals Panel, signed the denial and informed Doe that he "had been immediately expelled from Wright State University." Id., ¶ 44(a) (internal quotation marks omitted). Due to his expulsion, "Doe is not eligible for readmission [to WSU, ] and a notation will be placed on his transcript indicating disciplinary expulsion." Id. "Twill referred John Doe to Taylor if he had any further questions." Id., ¶ 44(b).

         On November 4, 2016, Doe filed the instant Complaint. Doc. #1. In Claim One, raised against the Individual Defendants in their individual and official capacities[3], id., ¶ 48, PAGEID #22, Doe sought a declaration that the Defendants, through their enforcement of the Code against Doe, violated his rights to Due Process under the United States and Ohio Constitutions. Id., ¶ 58, PAGEID #25. In Claim Two, raised against Twill, Boaz and Taylor in their individual and official capacities, Doe claims that Defendants "have acted under color of law in violating the Plaintiffs' rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution'" Id., ¶ 62. Doe seeks money damages from Twill, Boaz and Taylor in their individual capacities for these alleged violations. Id., ¶ 61, PAGEID #25. As to Doe's claims against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities, he claims to be "entitled to an Injunction from this Court prohibiting the imposition of, or reporting of, any disciplinary actions under the WSU Code of Student Conduct against the Plaintiff." Id., ¶ 66, PAGEID 26. In Claims Three and Four, Plaintiffs alleged that, through its application of the Code and Doe's expulsion, WSU violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, id., ¶¶ 68-82, PAGEID #26-28, and breached the contract between WSU and Doe that arose out of Doe accepting an athletic scholarship and enrolling at WSU, respectively. Id., ¶¶ 83-90, PAGEID #29-32. Finally, in his Prayer for Relief, Doe seeks "a Permanent Injunction vacating any discipline against John Doe and prohibiting further disciplinary proceedings in a manner that violates the contract between the parties or John Doe's constitutional rights." Id., PAGEID #32.

         On January 13, 2017, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss, Doc. #12, and on January 27, 2017, Doe dismissed Claims Three and Four without prejudice, Doc. #15, leaving only his Due Process Claims One and Two to be adjudicated.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the [plaintiff] is entitled to relief." The complaint must provide the defendant with "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint on the basis that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The moving party "has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to [adequately] state a claim for relief." DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991)). The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "is to allow a defendant to test whether, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief even if everything alleged in the complaint is true." Mayer v. Mylod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir. 1993). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must "construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its [well-pleaded] allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, 695 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Treesh, 487 F.3d at 476).

         Nevertheless, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Unless the facts alleged show that the plaintiff's claim crosses "the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id. Although this standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " it does require more than "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555. "Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Legal conclusions "must be supported by [well-pleaded] factual allegations . . [that] plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Id. at 679. "Although for the purposes of this motion to dismiss we must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Main, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).

         Rule 15(a)(2) directs courts to give leave to amend "when justice so requires." Thus, a plaintiff whose claims are dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) is often granted leave to file an amended complaint. Nonetheless, a court need not grant leave to amend if doing so would be futile. "A proposed amendment is futile if the amendment could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Riverview Health Inst. LLC v. Med. Mut. of Ohio, 601 F.3d 505, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

         "The objection that a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised by a party, or by a court on its own initiative, at any stage in the litigation." Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). "[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden to prove that [subject matter] jurisdiction [exists]." Global Tech., Inc. v. Yubei (XinXiang) Power Steering Sy$. Co., Ltd., 807 F.3d 806, 810 (6th Cir. 2015). If the Court determines that it lacks jurisdiction over certain claims, then it must dismiss those claims. See Ammex, Inc. v. Cox, 351 F.3d 697, 702 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Riggs v. Island Creek Coal Co., 542 F.2d 339, 343 (6th Cir. 1976)) ("parties cannot waive the requirement of subject matter jurisdiction.").

         Defendants have raised a "facial attack on the subject matter jurisdiction alleged in the complaint[, which] merely questions the sufficiency of the pleading. In reviewing such a facial attack, a trial court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, which is a similar safeguard employed under [Rule] 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss." Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990) (emphasis removed).

         C. Eleventh Amendment and 42 ...


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