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Doe v. The College of Wooster

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

February 13, 2018

JOHN DOE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COLLEGE OF WOOSTER, et al., DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the motion of defendant Jane Roe (“Roe”) to dismiss the claims asserted against her by plaintiff John Doe (“plaintiff”). (Doc. No. 32 [“Roe MTD”].) Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. No. 36 [“Roe MTD Opp'n”]), and Roe has filed a reply. (Doc. No. 42 [“Roe MTD Reply”].) For the reasons to follow, Roe's motion is denied.

         I. Background

         On March 17, 2017, the Court issued a ruling that granted the motion of defendant College of Wooster (“Wooster”) to dismiss the claims asserted against it. (Doc. No. 28 (Memorandum Opinion [“MO”]).) The Court assumes familiarity with this prior decision and will only reproduce that portion of the decision that will assist the reader in understanding the dispute between plaintiff and Roe.

According to the [First Amended Complaint (“FAC”)], plaintiff and Roe were both students at Wooster. ([Doc. No. 6] ¶¶ 3, 5.) The two were “good friends” who had engaged in sexual contact in the past, but had never had sexual intercourse. (Id. ¶ 21.) On the evening of November 1, 2014, Roe was drinking with a number of her friends, first in a dorm and later at a couple of parties, including one hosted by a fraternity (Id. ¶ 23.) Roe saw plaintiff at the fraternity party, but the two did not speak. (Id. ¶ 25.) Later that evening, plaintiff called Roe requesting her assistance in getting into the dorm because he had misplaced his access card. (Id. ¶ 26.) After she admitted plaintiff into the dorm, Roe invited him into her room. The two removed their clothing and started kissing on Roe's bed. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff twice asked Roe if she wanted to have sex. Although she said “no, ” she continued to kiss Doe. (Id.) Eventually, Doe got out of bed and started to leave. Roe wanted plaintiff to “stay and cuddle with her.” (Id. ¶ 29.) The two argued, in part because plaintiff did not want “that type of relationship.” (Id.) Plaintiff left the room without having intercourse with Roe. In fact, plaintiff maintains that he has never had intercourse with Roe. (Id. ¶ 30.)
“On May 12, 2015-more than six months after the” incident-Roe filed a Report of Discriminatory Harassment/Sexual Misconduct with Wooster. (Id. ¶ 33, internal quotation marks and citation omitted.) In her report, she did not state that plaintiff had sexual intercourse with her. Instead, she wrote, “As [Doe] tried to remove his clothes, along with mine, I was able to mule kick him off of me. He then yelled in my face, shook me, and left the room.” (Id. ¶ 33(c), internal quotation marks and citation omitted.) Angela Johnston is the Secretary of Wooster and serves as the Title IX coordinator for the institution. (Id. ¶¶ 15(b), 34.) After receiving Roe's complaint, she emailed Roe and asked for a meeting. Roe responded that she was studying abroad but would “touch base” with Johnston when she returned on June 3, 2015. (Id. ¶ 35.)
***
On August 5, 2015, Johnston emailed Roe and, again, requested a meeting. Roe stated that she would consider meeting with Johnston when she returned to campus. (Id. ¶ 39.) Roe advised Johnston that her first year at Wooster was “horrible” and that she had not done well. (Id. ¶ 39(a).) Johnston responded by assuring her, “I'm sorry you didn't have a good first year; I'll do what I can to help you get off to a good start this year.” (Id. ¶ 39(b).)
***
Roe did not actually meet with Johnston until December 2, 2015. (Id. ¶ 43; see id. ¶¶ 41-42.) It was during this meeting that Roe “changed her story and told Johnston that she had been raped by John Doe (i.e. that John Doe had compelled her to have intercourse by force).” (Id. ¶ 43.)
***
On December 18, 2015, Johnston “informed John Doe by email, ‘a female student has filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against you.'” (Id. ¶ 48.) He was not told the identity of the complainant at that time. Two days later (December 20, 2015), Johnston informed Doe that Wooster had received a complaint that he had violated the Policy. (Id. ¶ 50.) Wooster started its investigation into the complaint on December 22, 2015. (Id. ¶ 51.) The private attorney retained by Wooster to investigate the matter, Katie Clifford, interviewed plaintiff on January 19, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 52-54.) Clifford's investigation was completed by February 10, 2016. (Id. ¶ 53.)

(Doc. No. 28 at 1002-04, footnote omitted.[1])

         Plaintiff received a copy of the investigative report on February 19, 2016, at which time he learned the “exact nature of the charges against him[.]” (FAC ¶ 58.) On March 2, 2016, Wooster conducted a hearing on the charge that plaintiff had violated the school's Equal Opportunity Policy. (Id.) At the conclusion of the hearing, plaintiff was found “guilty” of violating the policy. (Id. ¶ 59.) He was ultimately expelled from Wooster.

         On April 25, 2016, plaintiff initiated the present action in federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction solely against Wooster, asserting claims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. (Doc. No. 1 (Complaint).) On May 9, 2016, plaintiff filed the FAC. In addition to other changes, the FAC added Roe as a defendant and asserted separate claims against her for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Both of the state law claims asserted against Roe are premised on statements Roe allegedly made after and about the November 1, 2014 incident. The FAC asserts that the sexual misconduct report Roe filed with Wooster's Title IX office on May 12, 2015, which served as the impetus for Wooster's disciplinary proceedings, contained false and defamatory statements against plaintiff, “specifically the false allegation that he had engaged in conduct which could be considered to be a criminal sex offense under Ohio law.” (FAC ¶ 33(f).) The FAC further provides that, during Roe's interview with Wooster's investigator on January 19, 2016, Roe volunteered that “immediately after the incident she told a male friend, J.U., what had happened.” (Id. ¶ 54(b).) The pleading further asserts that, “the next day [Roe] told a female friend, M.C., that she had been raped.” (Id.) According to plaintiff, all of Roe's statements were defamatory and resulted in the intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 54(f), 92, 94-5, 99-100.)

         As set forth above, on March 17, 2017, the Court granted Wooster's motion to dismiss the claims against it, leaving only the claims asserted against Roe. Roe now moves to dismiss these remaining claims. She posits that plaintiff's defamation claim is time-barred, that she is entitled to either an absolute or qualified privilege for any statements she made regarding ...


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