7th Circuit reinstates student case against Purdue in sexual assault case

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Finding dismissal was premature, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a lawsuit against Purdue University brought by a male student accused of sexual assault.

The male student, using the pseudonym John Doe, claimed Purdue violated his rights under the 14th Amendment and Title IX after the school conducted a “constitutionally flawed” investigation into the allegations brought by his former girlfriend. He also claimed the university discriminated against him on the basis of sex.

At the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Doe’s lawsuit was dismissed. The magistrate judge ruled Doe’s due process rights were not violated because he was not deprived of his liberty or property. In addition, the district court dismissed Doe’s Title IX claims on the grounds that he did not show Purdue discriminated because he is a male.

However, the 7th Circuit reversed, finding the male student adequately alleged violations of both the 14th Amendment and Title IX. It remanded the case, John Doe v. Purdue University, et al., 17-3565, to the Northern Indiana District Court for further proceedings.

The court found Doe had adequately alleged that Purdue deprived him of a liberty interest. Citing Paul V. Davis and Hinkle v. White, the appellate panel held that Doe’s status changed after Purdue determined that he was guilty of a sexual offense. He was subsequently suspended for one year, which impacted him beyond the classroom.

“And it was this official determination of guilt, not the proceeding charges or any accompanying rumors, that allegedly deprived John of occupational liberty,” Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court. “It caused his expulsion from the Navy ROTC program (with the accompanying loss of scholarship) and foreclosed the possibility of his reenrollment in it.”

Noting the process to determine Doe’s guilt included the university crediting victim’s account of the alleged assault with hearing from her directly, the appellate court ruled Doe should be able to make his Title IX arguments.  

“Taken together, John’s allegations raise a plausible inference that he was denied an educational benefit on the basis of his sex,” Barrett wrote. “To be sure, John may face problems of proof, and the factfinder might not buy the inferences that he’s selling. But his claim should have made it past the pleading stage.”

The Purdue case is one of many in which university students have sued after determinations against them arising for allegations of sexual misconduct. https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/48402-students-accused-of-sexual-misconduct-suing-colleges-universities Other Indiana universities facing similar litigation include Ball State, Butler, DePauw, Indiana and Notre Dame.

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