Pennsylvania Federal Court Temporarily Halts Penn State Campus Sexual Assault Suspension

Pennsylvania State University is the latest university to have a Court issue an Order halting the suspension of a student based on a sexual misconduct finding.  This is a briefly written 4 page Temporary Restraining Order that represents another instance of a Court interjecting itself into a campus disciplinary finding, something that traditionally courts have been loath to do.

It is my understanding that this case was one of the first (if to the first) to be handled through Penn State’s new investigatory process for campus sexual assaults.  It is noteworthy that the Court, without specification of the new disciplinary system’s inadequacies, indicated that the suspended student demonstrated that he was likely to succeed on the merits of his constitutional due process claim based on the potential inadequacy of the procedure afforded him during the disciplinary process.

The Court also put great weight on the fact that the plaintiff could suffer immediate and irreparable harm if the disciplinary suspension was put into effect.  The Court based this determination on the fact that if his student status was interrupted plaintiff, a Syrian national, would be subject to immigration deportation proceedings to Syria where he would face the potential for serious bodily harm and related injuries.

The Court set this matter for a hearing on a preliminary injunction on November 23, 2015.  Upon the conclusion of that hearing (if it goes forward as scheduled) we should be able to learn what defects may be present in Penn State’s new disciplinary process, or whether the impetus of the granting of the TRO was to preserve the status quo pending a hearing on a preliminary injunction given the fact that the plaintiff would have been subject to deportation to Syria without the issuance of the TRO.

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