Despite the recent attention given to courts reversing campus sexual assault disciplinary findings, a Federal District Court recently declined to issue a Temporary Restraining Order to halt a one semester suspension that was imposed by the University of Dayton. The case is Pierre v University of Dayton and the Order was issued by the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Western Division at Dayton.
The essence of the plaintiff’s request for a TRO was that due to Title IX violations and breach of contract he was denied a fundamentally fair hearing which resulted in an erroneous outcome. The plaintiff also alleged that due to the University of Dayton’s failure to accommodate his disability in the investigation and hearing process he was further denied the right to a fair hearing.
The Court applied the usual standards in deciding whether to issue the TRO (likelihood of success on the merits, would irreparable harm occur without the issuance of the TRO, would issuance of the injunction cause substantial harm to others, would the public interest be served by issuing the injunction).
As to the disability (ADA) claim, the plaintiff alleged that his disability prevented him from articulating himself while under stress and the University should have allowed him “meaningful representation.” The Court found that there were no grounds for this claim due to the fact that the plaintiff did not request an accommodation for the disciplinary process until it was over. The Court further noted that plaintiff was entitled to have legal representation throughout the disciplinary process and thus the University largely accommodated plaintiff’s inability to articulate and express himself as was claimed.
The Court further found that plaintiff’s breach of contract and Title IX violation claims did not meet the standards for the issuance of a TRO.
- The Court first found that plaintiff did not demonstrate that these claims were likely to succeed on the merits. In arriving at this decision, the Court recognized precedent that a court ” … will not interfere with a private university’s right to make regulations, establish requirements, set scholastic standards, and enforce disciplinary rules absent a clear abuse of discretion.” On this point the Court found there was no abuse of discretion as the University of Dayton reasonably followed its disciplinary rules and that the process comported with notions of fundamental fairness.
- Pointing to the fact that the plaintiff waited for a month to request the TRO and that courts have held that a school suspension is not irreparable, the Court found that plaintiff had not demonstrated that a failure to issue the TRO would cause irreparable harm.
- The Court was not persuaded that the issuance of a TRO would cause harm to Complainant in the disciplinary matter as it could craft the Order to allow the female student to pursue her education free from harassing behavior by the plaintiff.
- The Court lastly found that the public interest would not be served by issuing an injunction. This decision was based on the fact that the public interest is served by educational environments being free from harassment, and “[c]olleges and universities are afforded great latitude in administering their rules and regulations as courts recognize that those institutions’ primary responsibility is to provide an atmosphere conducive to study and learning for all students.” [emphasis added].
This is a decision that should be read by counsel and higher ed professionals involved in litigating these cases or administering Title IX claims. It also highlights the traditional deference that courts give to higher educational institutions in the disciplinary realm in the absence of facts and circumstances that give reason for the court to believe that notions of fundamental fairness have been abused.
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