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Doe v. Miami University

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 9, 2018

John Doe, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Miami University; Steven Elliot; Rose Marie Ward; Alana Van Grundy-Yoder; Jayne Brownell; Susan Vaughn, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: November 29, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Cincinnati. No. 1:15-cv-00605-Michael R. Barrett, District Judge.


          Eric John Rosenberg, ROSENBERG & BALL CO. LPA, Granville, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Evan T. Priestle, TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Eric John Rosenberg, ROSENBERG & BALL CO. LPA, Granville, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Evan T. Priestle, Doreen Canton, TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellees.

          Before: GUY, MOORE, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.



         In the fall of 2014, John Doe and Jane Doe[1]were students at Miami University, a public university located in Oxford, Ohio. The two students knew each other and had engaged in several consensual "physical encounters." This case arises from an incident between John and Jane on September 14, 2014. Both parties had consumed alcohol, and John states that he was so intoxicated that he cannot remember what occurred. According to Jane's statement, the two engaged in some consensual sexual acts, but at some point Jane stopped consenting and John continued to engage in then non-consensual sexual acts for some period of time before he stopped. This accusation of sexual misconduct was evaluated by Miami University, and John was found responsible for violating the school's sexual-assault policy. He was initially suspended for approximately eight months, but this suspension was reduced by the University on appeal to four months. After the University's appeals process affirmed the original finding of responsibility, John brought suit against Jane, Miami University, and individual University employees who had been part of the disciplinary process. John voluntarily dismissed his claims against Jane after the two parties reached a settlement. The other defendants moved to dismiss John's six remaining claims under Title IX and § 1983 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and the district court granted their motion.

         On appeal, John argues that the district court erred in granting the defendants' motion to dismiss. We AFFIRM the district court's dismissal of John's Title IX hostile-environment claim, Title IX deliberate-indifference claim, and § 1983 substantive-due-process claim. Furthermore, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part the district court's dismissal of John's § 1983 procedural-due-process and equal-protection claims and related finding of qualified immunity. We REVERSE the district court's holding that John did not sufficiently plead his Title IX erroneous-outcome claim. We REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On the evening of September 13, 2014, John and his roommate attended "a party where John Doe consumed approximately six beers."[2] R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 22) (Page ID #1977). John then proceeded to "a bar and drank at least two more beers and four shots of alcohol before leaving the bar in the early morning hours of September 14, 2014." Id. At this point, John was sufficiently intoxicated that he cannot clearly remember what happened for the remainder of the night. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24 (Page ID #1977, 1978). Based on text messages he later found on his cellphone, John knows that he called Jane and "exchanged text messages with" her after he left the bar. Id. ¶ 23 (Page ID #1978).

         John recalls Jane getting into his bed some time before dawn on September 14. Id. ¶ 24 (Page ID #1978). His next memory is when he awoke the morning of September 14. Id. Jane was upset that her cellphone was "ruined." Id. ¶ 25 (Page ID #1978). "Because John Doe believed that he had been the last person to handle Jane Doe's phone, John Doe offered to buy her a new one." Id. During their trip to the store, Jane told John that "she was uncomfortable that he began to perform oral sex on" her. Id. ¶ 26 (Page ID #1978). John apologized for whatever he may have done, but informed Jane that he could not remember anything about his interactions with her the prior night. Id. "After John Doe purchased a new phone for Jane Doe, she told him that she forgave him and still wanted to be friends." Id.

         John attached to his complaint Jane's written statement about what occurred that night and stated that this is the only information he has about what happened besides his own incomplete recollection. Id. ¶ 6 (Page ID #1975); R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 1: Jane Doe Statement) (Page ID #2036-37). In her statement, Jane recalled that on the evening of September 13 she was out with a group of friends. R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 1: Jane Doe Statement at 1) (Page ID #2036). As she and her friends walked back home, she ran into John and his roommate, whom Jane had previously dated. Id. Jane described herself as a "little drunk." Id. Jane and one of her friends returned to John and his roommate's dorm room. Id. Once there, Jane's friend told her that she was going to sleep in Jane's room that evening. Id. John and his roommate then offered to let Jane stay in their room, and she accepted. Id. In her statement, Jane then describes a sexual encounter with John that transitioned between consensual and non-consensual acts:

I had made out with [John] a couple of times before then, so I decided to stay with them, I had just kind of assumed we might make out again. I did not know [his roommate] was going to stay there. At the time I thought I gave [my friend] my ID to get into my dorm to stay there. And she left. At this point I was kinda sobered up and thought [John] and [his roommate] were too. So they gave me a change of clothes and told me to pick a bed. I picked [John's] bed, because I thought that would be less weird. We got in bed and turned of [sic] the lights and we thought [the roommate] was asleep, [John] started kissing me and that was okay and what I expected and fine. He had asked me to do things before, and I had said no, and he had kept pressuring me to do things and I kept saying no, no, no. And he asked me again, if he could finger me and I said fine, because I was tired of him asking me. I am a virgin and Christian, and I don't do that. So he started doing that, and it was hurting. I said "[John] stop it is hurting." He said "Oh it will hurt at first, you will be fine in a couple of minutes." I said "Okay fine, whatever." It kept hurting and never got better. I kept saying stop and it hurts. [John] kept telling me to be quite [sic] because I would wake up [his roommate]. I finally got him to stop doing it, after telling him I pushed him away. We went back to kissing. He asked to eat me out. And I said no you are not doing that. We were kissing and then he just did it. I never said no. I pushed him away. He rolled over and went to sleep.


         Jane discussed the incident with several of her friends. Id. at 2 (Page ID #2037); R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 28) (Page ID #1979). One of her friends informed a Resident Advisor ("RA") that John had sexually assaulted Jane. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 28) (Page ID #1979). The RA informed her superiors at Miami about the alleged sexual assault and also expressed concern that John might harm himself because of the accusation. Id. ¶ 29 (Page ID #1979).

         On September 16, 2014, Miami University's Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Michael Curme emailed John and informed him that the University had received a report that he had sexually assaulted another student two days before. R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 3: Summ. Hr'g Notification at 4) (Page ID #2042). Curme told John that he was required to attend a summary suspension hearing the following day. Id. Following that hearing, the University imposed several restrictions on John, including one that prohibited him from contacting Jane. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 31) (Page ID #1980); R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 4: Summ. Hr'g Dec. at 5) (Page ID #2047).

         On or about September 19, 2014, Miami University's Emergency Case Manager Tim Parsons met with John to explain the disciplinary process at Miami. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 34) (Page ID #1980). John applied for, and received, a Medical Leave of Absence from the University, effective September 23, 2014, because of his psychological distress resulting from the accusations. Id. ¶¶ 37-38 (Page ID #1981).

         Also on September 23, 2014, defendant Susan Vaughn, the Director of the University's Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution, provided John a Notice of Alleged Violation. Id. ¶ 39 (Page ID #1981); R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 6: Notice of Alleged Violation) (Page ID #2052). The notice informed John that there was an allegation that he had "sexually assaulted a female resident while both she and you were intoxicated." R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 6: Notice of Alleged Violation) (Page ID #2052). According to the notice, this was an alleged violation of Section 103 of Miami University's Student Conduct Regulations. Id.; R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 8: Miami Univ. Student Handbook at 39-40) (Page ID #2095-96). The notice informed John that he must attend a Procedural Review meeting the following day. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 39) (Page ID #1981). The purpose of the meeting was to review with John the alleged violation and potential consequences. R. 39-2 (Pl. Ex. 6: Notice of Alleged Violation) (Page ID #2052). At that meeting, John denied that he had committed a violation and requested that the violation be adjudicated by an Administrative Hearing Panel. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 43) (Page ID #1982).

         On October 1, 2014, Procedural Hearing Officer Kelly Ramsey informed John and Jane that the hearing panel would convene on October 7. Id. ¶ 50 (Page ID #1984); R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 11: John Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1) (Page ID #2193); R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 12: Jane Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1) (Page ID #2196). Ramsey further informed John and Jane of the identity of the panel members and that objections to their inclusion based on bias could be filed by October 3. R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 11: John Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1) (Page ID #2193); R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 12: Jane Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1) (Page ID #2196). The panel members were defendants Vaughn, Professor Alana Van Gundy-Yoder, and Professor Steve Elliott. Id. John alleges that he had insufficient time to investigate the proposed panel members and contest their inclusion before the deadline. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 52) (Page ID #1985). Ramsey also told John he had to submit a witness list, supporting documents, and any written statements by noon on October 3. R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 11: John Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1-2) (Page ID #2193-94). Jane received the same instructions. R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 12: Jane Doe Notice of Hr'g at 1) (Page ID #2196). The University did not, however, hold Jane to the October 3 deadline and allowed her to submit a written statement on October 6. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 51) (Page ID #1984-85).

         Miami University held the Administrative Hearing Panel on October 7. Id. ¶ 55 (Page ID #1985). John alleges that he was not provided the names of the witnesses who testified against him prior to the hearing or a summary of their proposed testimony. Id. ¶ 57 (Page ID #1986). He also alleges that he was not given access to the disciplinary report compiling the evidence against him. Id. ¶ 102 (Page ID #2001). John describes Vaughn-who had been the person responsible for initially reviewing the evidence against him and choosing to pursue disciplinary action-as dominating the hearing and trying "to deflate John Doe's credibility while inflating Jane Doe's credibility." Id. ¶ 58 (Page ID #1986). John also describes Vaughn's body language during the hearing as "suggesting she believed John was lying" and alleges that she told him "I'll bet you do this [i.e., sexually assault women] all the time." Id. ¶ 66 (Page ID #1988-89).

         The hearing panel found John responsible for violating Section 103 of the Student Conduct Regulations. Id. ¶ 61 (Page ID #1987); R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 15: Admin. Panel Hr'g Dec.) (Page ID #2233). The totality of the panel's fact-finding is reproduced below:

You stated that you and [Jane] were friends and have spent time together in the past. Both of you agreed to go to your residence hall room, where you engaged in consensual kissing and some consensual sexual contact. However, at some point, [Jane] indicated she did not want to have oral sex and asked you to stop but the act continued.

R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 15: Admin. Panel Hr'g Dec.) (Page ID #2233). The panel sanctioned John by suspending him for three terms-fall, winter, and spring-until May 2015. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 61) (Page ID #1987); R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 15: Admin. Panel Hr'g Dec.) (Page ID #2233). Upon John's re-enrollment, he was to be placed on disciplinary probation for one year. R. 39-3 (Pl. Ex. 15: Admin. Panel Hr'g Dec.) (Page ID #2233).

         On October 13, John appealed the hearing panel's decision to the Chair of the University Appeals Board, defendant Rose Marie Ward. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 69) (Page ID #1989-90); R. 39-4 (Pl. Ex. 18: Oct. 13, 2014 Appeal Ltr.) (Page ID #2237-38). On November 11, 2014, Ward informed John via letter that the University Appeals Board had denied his appeal. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 73) (Page ID #1991); R. 39-4 (Pl. Ex. 20: Appeals Bd. Dec.) (Page ID #2242). John then appealed this decision to Vice President of Student Affairs, defendant Jayne Brownell. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 75) (Page ID #1991-92); R. 39-4 (Pl. Ex. 21: Nov. 14, 2014 Appeal Ltr.) (Page ID #2243-44). Brownell affirmed the University Appeals Board's decision to uphold the hearing panel's finding of responsibility, but reduced his suspension period such that it ended on January 23, 2015. R. 39 (Am. Compl. ¶ 77) (Page ID #1993); R. 39-4 (Pl. Ex. 23: Brownell Dec. at 1) (Page ID #2249).

         John filed suit against the University and several individual defendants in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on September 17, 2015. R. 1 (Complaint) (Page ID #1-55). John voluntarily dismissed the two state-tort claims that he brought against Jane after the two parties reached a settlement. R. 32 (Voluntary Dismissal) (Page ID #1873). The remaining defendants moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). R. 42 (Mot. to Dismiss at 6) (Page ID #3139). The district court granted the defendants' motion. Doe v. Miami Univ., 247 F.Supp.3d 875, 896-97 (S.D. Ohio 2017). John now appeals the district court's judgment with respect to Counts 3 through 7.


         We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., 842 F.3d 902, 906 (6th Cir. 2016). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. On a motion to dismiss, "[w]e must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all allegations as true." Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir. 2012).

         We have previously applied the Twombly/Iqbal standard of pleading without modification in Title IX cases. See, e.g., Tumminello v. Father Ryan High Sch., Inc., 678 Fed.Appx. 281, 283-84 (6th Cir. 2017); Doe v. Cummins, 662 Fed.Appx. 437, 443 (6th Cir. 2016). In other words, a complaint alleging Title IX violations must plead sufficient factual allegations to satisfy Twombly and Iqbal. See Keys, 684 F.3d at 609-10.

         Nevertheless, John argues that we should adopt the Second Circuit's recent decision in Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 2016), which modified the pleading standard for Title IX claims. Appellant Br. at 28-34. In Columbia University, our sister circuit considered what a plaintiff asserting a Title IX claim must allege in order to plead sufficiently the required element of discriminatory intent. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d at 56. The Second Circuit analogized between what it required of plaintiffs in Title VII employment-discrimination cases and what it should require of plaintiffs alleging Title IX claims. Id. It concluded that a complaint under Title IX "is sufficient with respect to the element of discriminatory intent . . . if it pleads specific facts that support a minimal plausible inference of such discrimination." Id. This modified pleading standard "reduces the facts needed to be pleaded under Iqbal." Id. at 54 (quoting Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 310 (2d Cir. 2015)).

         Whatever the merits of the Second Circuit's decision in Columbia University, to the extent that the decision reduces the pleading standard in Title IX claims, it is contrary to our binding precedent. Columbia University is partially premised on the Second Circuit's decision in Littlejohn, 795 F.3d 297. In that case, the Second Circuit reconciled Twombly and Iqbal with the Supreme Court's holding in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), by holding that "[t]o the same extent that the McDonnell Douglas temporary presumption reduces the facts a plaintiff would need to show to defeat a motion for summary judgment prior to the defendant's furnishing of a non-discriminatory motivation, that presumption also reduces the facts needed to be pleaded under Iqbal." Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 310. In contrast, we reconciled these cases differently in Keys, 684 F.3d at 609-10, and held that a plaintiff asserting a Title VII claim must plead sufficient factual allegations to satisfy Twombly and Iqbal in alleging the required element of ...

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