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Court rules Notre Dame must allow dismissed student to take final exams

May 9, 2017

A senior at the University of Notre Dame will sit for the last two final exams of his undergraduate career this week after a federal judge ruled the university could not prevent him from taking the exams even though he was dismissed from the campus after a disciplinary action.

During the Fall 2016 semester at Notre Dame, a student, referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit, began repeatedly making suicidal comments to fellow student and on-again, off-again girlfriend, referred to as Jane Roe. Roe reported Doe’s behavior to the school’s Division of Student Affairs, specifically complaining about the volume of texts she received and their “manipulative nature,” while also voicing concerns about Doe’s well-being.

School faculty determined that Doe’s behavior could be in violation of campus community standards laid out in the “Red Book,” or student handbook, but ultimately chose to forgo an administrative investigation against him. However, Roe was told she could still request an investigation about Doe through April of 2017.

Communication between the two students resumed, with Roe sending Doe frequent messages asking him to sleep over, meet her in Illinois and expressing her love for him. However, Roe later had a change of heart and decided to move forward with the investigation.

The university issued a no-contact order to both parties, and Doe deleted all of his messages with Roe from his phone. Roe, however, kept the messages and chose only to release the ones that were incriminating against Doe to the school as part of their investigation. The full extent of the messages were not released until Doe filed formal litigation.

Doe launched a counter-complaint against Roe, but the two cases were not consolidated. The school’s Office of Community Standards schedule an administrative hearing for Roe’s complaint, and Doe received a letter advising him that he was possibly in violation of the school’s policies regarding stalking, “willful damage to the reputation or psychological well-being of another,” dating violence, and abusive and harassing behavior.

Doe was allowed to review the administrative investigation documents, but he could only do so in the OCS office and he could not make photocopies of the documents. Additionally, Doe was only given 2 ½ days to review the additional documentation Roe submitted against him.

After the administrative hearing, the hearing panel found that Doe was in violation of all four community standards, with the majority of its decision letter consisting of a series of quotes from the limited text messages Roe sent to the investigator. The panel never considered the all of messages between the two students, including messages in which Roe solicited Doe’s attention, but instead ordered that Doe be dismissed with the option of reapplying to the school in the spring of 2018.

Doe moved for a case review and submitted a video in which Roe can be heard saying her real intentions in the disciplinary proceedings were to “f--- up his reputation.” But the Conduct Case Review Board denied review to Doe’s case, so he was formally dismissed from campus April 13.

Doe moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and sought an order instructing Notre Dame to let him sit for his last two final exams, which are being administered this week. He raised claims of breach of contract and Title IX claims, and Judge Philp P. Simon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, addressing only the breach of contract claims, granted Doe’s request on Monday.

Specifically, Simon wrote that a jury could conclude the disciplinary process against Doe was arbitrary and capricious in light of a variety of factors, including “the lack of meaningful notice” to (Doe) of the allegations against him, the school’s failure to obtain and review the entire texting history and its limits on the hearing testimony, among other factors.

Further, the judge wrote preventing Doe from taking his final two exams would harm him by forcing him to place a gap in his educational career until he can return to the northern Indiana campus next spring. That gap could hinder Doe’s future career plans because he would have to explain why he left school and would, thus, be forced to disclose the disciplinary proceeding, the judge said.

Finally, Simon determined allowing Doe to take his exams would not unduly burden the university, but taking the opposite approach would place a great burden on Doe’s future. Thus, he ruled the school must allow Doe to sit for the exams for his last two classes, though he allowed the school to maintain Doe’s exclusion from the campus and the withholding of his degree.

A Notre Dame representative declined to comment on Simon’s decision in John Doe v. University of Notre Dame, 3:17-CV-298.

 

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