Friday, May 16, 2014

Court Dismisses Accused Student's Title IX Claim

Last year we blogged about a lawsuit filed against St. Joseph's University by a student who was suspended after the university found him responsible for raping another student. Among other claims, the plaintiff, Brian Harris, alleged that the university's failure to follow its own procedure amounted to a breach of contract, and that the university violated his rights under Title IX.  On Tuesday, however, a federal district court in Pennsylvania granted the university's motion to dismiss these claims and several of Harris's tort claims as well. The Title IX claim, the court reasoned, did not sufficiently allege that the university was motivated by the plaintiff's sex in the manner that it investigated and adjudicated the accusation of rape -- the outcome we predicted in our earlier post.  The breach of contract claim failed for relying on "conclusory and insufficient allegations" such as claiming that the university did not provide "fair" notice or employ "adequate" procedures rather than specifying what precisely amounted to a breach of contractual terms contained in the student handbook.

However, the court did not dismiss Harris's claim against the university for defamation  At this stage of litigation, the court's only inquiry is whether the plaintiff's allegations, if true, would constitute a violation of law.  Harris alleged that the university defamed him by referring to him publically as a perpetrator of sexual assault while knowing this to be false.  If the university produces evidence that establishes its basis for believing that to be true, then it should be able to get that claim dismissed later at the summary judgment stage.

Decision: Harris v. St. Joseph's University, 2014 WL 1910242 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2014).