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Doe v. Salisbury University

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 2, 2015

JOHN DOE Plaintiff
v.
SALISBURY UNIVERSITY, et al. Defendants

MEMORANDUM

James K. Bredar, United States District Judge.

This action was brought by John Doe (“Plaintiff”) against Salisbury University (“SU”), Humberto Aristizabal,[1] and John Doe Employees of SU (collectively named “Defendants”) alleging violations of Title IX, violations of the due process clause, breach of contract, liability under the doctrine of promissory estoppel, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. (ECF No. 1.) Now pending before the Court is Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[2] (ECF No. 25.) The issues have been briefed (ECF Nos. 25, 35, 36) and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons explained below, Defendants’ motion to dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

I. Background[3]

SU is a public university and a constituent of the University System of Maryland. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 3.) Plaintiff was enrolled as a student at SU from August 2011 until approximately May 22, 2014. (Id. ¶ 2.)

In October 2013, while Plaintiff was enrolled at SU, the University “launched an investigation into whether Plaintiff should be disciplined for conduct unrelated to the investigation and/or discipline Plaintiff seeks to enjoin in this action.” (Id. ¶ 11.) As a result of this 2013 investigation, Plaintiff was suspended from SU effective May 22, 2014, and Plaintiff was informed that he would “be eligible to return for the Spring 2015 semester upon successful completion of all sanctions,” (the “2013 Suspension”). (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff filed complaints with SU on April 28, May 2, and September 22, 2014, alleging that SU and its employees had discriminated against Plaintiff in the 2013 investigation and disciplinary action based on Plaintiff’s gender, in violation of Title IX. (Id. ¶ 14.) SU’s President rejected Plaintiff’s complaints as meritless on October 29, 2014. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff continued to serve his suspension while challenging SU’s disciplinary process.

To return as a student following the 2013 Suspension, Plaintiff was required to “apply for readmission once [he had] met the minimum criteria as outlined in [SU’s] dismissal policy and/or their notice of suspension.” (Id. ¶ 16.) In October 2014, Plaintiff completed his application for readmission. (Id. ¶ 17.) However, on November 20, 2014, SU informed Plaintiff that he must first complete a “reflection paper” regarding the conduct that gave rise to the 2013 Suspension, and then resubmit his application for readmission. (Id.) Plaintiff submitted the required reflection paper in November 2014, but never submitted a new readmission application. (Id. ¶ 18.)

On November 21, 2014, Defendant Aristizabal notified Plaintiff that SU’s Office of Institutional Equity had recently learned about a previously uninvestigated sexual assault allegation from 2012 against Plaintiff (the “2012 Incident”). (ECF No. 1-4.) Aristizabal’s letter explained that SU would now be “investigating these recently learned 2012 Allegations of sexual assault, rape, and other related claims.” (Id.) If the allegations are proven true, Plaintiff will be found “in violation of the University System of Maryland (“USM”) Policy on Sexual Misconduct, USM BOR V1-1.60, as well as the Salisbury University Policy and Procedures and in [sic] the Student Code of Conduct, Policies and Code.” (Id.) On November 25, Aristizabal mailed a follow-up letter “to provide [Plaintiff] with the details of the allegations made against [Plaintiff] in connection with” the 2012 Incident, including “a redacted copy of the Salisbury University Police Department report concerning this matter.” (ECF No. 1-5.) Aristizabal’s second letter also stated as follows: “You are requested to submit a written response to the allegations within ten (10) University business days, . . .” (Id.) That same day-November 25, 2014-Plaintiff “informed SU . . . that he would not be applying for readmission to SU.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff filed this action on December 10, 2014. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on January 7, 2015. (ECF No. 25.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on January 26 (ECF No. 35), and Defendants filed a reply on February 12 (ECF No. 36).

II. Standard of Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ . . . Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

III. Analysis

Plaintiff’s complaint (ECF No. 1) alleges eight claims: Count I[4] alleges “[h]ostile environment sexual harassment” in violation of Title IX; Count II alleges deliberate indifference in violation of Title IX; Count III alleges retaliation in violation of Title IX; Count IV alleges violations of Plaintiff’s rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count V alleges breach of contract; Count VI seeks liability under the doctrine of promissory estoppel; Count VII seeks declaratory relief; and Count VIII seeks injunctive relief. All eight claims were originally brought against SU, Aristizabal (individually and in his official capacity as SU’s Title IX Coordinator), and John Doe Employees of SU (individually and in their official capacities as SU employees).

As a threshold matter, Plaintiff abandoned many of these claims in Plaintiff’s response in opposition to Defendants’ motion to dismiss. (See ECF No. 35.)

A. Plaintiff’s Abandoned Claims

Plaintiff has now abandoned the following claims: (1) all Title IX claims (Counts I through III) against Aristizabal and John Doe Employees of SU (id. at 11 n.20); (2) that portion of Count IV alleging a § 1983 claim against SU (id. at 30 n.36); (3) that portion of Count IV alleging § 1983 claims for violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments against all defendants (id. at 31 n.38); (4) that portion of Count V alleging a breach of contract claim against defendants[5] in their individual capacities (id. at 25 n.29); and (5) Count VI alleging a claim for promissory estoppel in its entirety[6] (id.).

The Court is left to consider these remaining claims: (1) Count I alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title IX against SU; (2) Count II alleging deliberate indifference in violation of Title IX against SU; (3) Count III alleging retaliation in violation of Title IX against SU; (4) Count IV alleging deprivation of due process, brought under ยง 1983 against Aristizabal and John Doe Employees of SU in their individual and professional capacities; (5) Count V alleging breach of contract against SU, as well as Aristizabal and John ...


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