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Student’s suit against Butler in sex misconduct case voluntarily dismissed

January 28, 2019

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion to dismiss a case against Butler University brought by a male student who claimed he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct and expelled from the school as a result.

Christian Ayala sued Butler after an equity grievance panel at the university found that he had engaged in nonconsensual sexual activity with a female student identified as Jane Smith. He asserted that although the evidence and testimony of the plaintiff held the sexual activity was “completely consensual,” at least one member of the panel “improperly put the burden of proof” on him to show he had obtained actual verbal consent.

Ayala filed his original complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in August 2016. Originally, Ayala tried to conduct the case using the pseudonym “John Doe,” but the district court denied his request to continue the case anonymously.

In his original complaint, Ayala claimed that false allegations, lack of due process, and racial animus against him had far-reaching consequences. He applied to seven college and was rejected by them all when he had to explain why he was expelled from Butler. He asserted he suffered psychologically and was defamed so that his ability to succeed at another university and earn a good living throughout his adult life “was seriously placed in jeopardy.”

However, the Southern Indiana District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court found no factual disputes and the law favoring the defendants over Ayala’s claims which included of breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction or emotional distress. On Ayala’s Title IX claim, the court ruled there was no evidence to show that gender bias was a motivating factor behind the proceedings, the findings or the sanctions.

Ayala then appealed to the 7th Circuit in Christian Ayala v. Butler, 18-3468. In December 2018, the appellate panel ordered Ayala to file an overdue docketing statement within 14 days. On Jan. 2, 2019, Ayala filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss his appeal and on Jan. 24, the 7th Circuit ordered the appeal be dismissed.

Already the 7th Circuit is considering a similar sexual misconduct case originating from Purdue University. The appellate panel of Judges Diane Sykes, Amy Coney Barrett and Amy St. Eve heard oral arguments in John Doe v. Purdue University, 17-3565, in September 2018 but have yet to issue an opinion.

Another Title IX case, John Doe v. Columbia College Chicago, 18-1869, is in the queue at the Chicago circuit court. The parties have submitted their briefs and the court is trying to find a date for oral arguments.

Brooklyn history professor KC Johnson, who has been following and writing about the ongoing increase in sexual misconduct cases on college campuses, said Purdue is “teed up to be unusually significant,” regardless of the decision, because of the facts in the case.

However, Johnson said, the 7th Circuit has to issue an opinion soon or the case will lose its potential to set the tone for the rest of the appellate courts. Currently, the only rulings on these kinds of disputes come from the 6th Circuit, but similar cases are percolating in other circuit courts.

Johnson speculated the Purdue panel may be wrestling with the 7th Circuit’s own Charleston precedent. The 2013 case, Charleston v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois Chicago, 13-2081, set a very high standard for student due process claims by requiring students to first show they have a legally protected property or liberty interest in continuing their education at a particular university. 

In the Purdue oral arguments, Johnson noted, the judges did not seem sympathetic to the university.

“I was impressed with all the judges,” Johnson said of Sykes, Barrett and St. Eve. “They knew the case well and did not ask vague, general questions.”

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