TRO Against Brown University’s Interim Suspension of Student for Alleged Sexual Assault

A judgment by Judge Mary McElroy, D.R.I. In Stiles v. Brown Univ.:

Plaintiff is a Brown senior and was a player on the Varsity Lacrosse Team. Jane Roe (a former student) filed a Title IX complaint against Brown in November 2021 after the plaintiff was accused of sexual assault following an incident that occurred on October 30, 2021. Brown Threat Assessment Team met that day to assess whether the Prohibited Behavior is likely to continue. [plaintiff]This poses a substantial threat to health, safety, or welfare of other people and the University community. Threat Assessment Team asked questions regarding the allegations, potential threats to community and patterns of similar violations. Although most questions were answered negatively, the Threat Assessment Team suggested an interim suspension due to the severity of the alleged behavior.

John made an appeal to Vice President Eric Estes on November 30th 2021 and submitted his Title IX complaint response. John was partially granted his appeal on December 6th 2021 by Mr. Estes. John could complete the current semester remotely. Brown’s threat assessment group was then remanded with the issue of John being suspended for the spring semester. On December 10, 2021, the Threat Assessment Team affirmed its conclusion that the plaintiff’s “Prohibited Conduct was likely to continue” as well as Mr. Estes’ decision that the plaintiff should be suspended beginning on January 7, 2022, pending an investigation and resolution of the Title IX complaint….

“Student and Private University Relationships are essentially contractual.” A university’s student manual usually has the applicable terms. A student handbook is often read by the courts according to their reasonable expectations. This gives the terms the meaning they should be expected the student will take. …

Brown’s Sexual Misconduct Procedures and Student Conduct Procedures are the operative contracts. The Student Conduct Procedures allow the plaintiff “not to be presumed to be responsible for any alleged violations, unless this is so determined through the appropriate student conduct hearing”, and “to be afforded an opportunity to respond to relevant questions.” John will have “meaningful participation” in Title IX because the Sexual Misconduct Procedure “presumes” that the Respondent “is not responsible” for any alleged Prohibited Conduct. It includes all phases of the process that could affect John’s rights such as access to school, continuing education or participation in school-sponsored activities.

If there is a reasonable basis to believe that “Prohibited Conduct” is likely to continue, or that Respondent is a substantial threat to health, safety and welfare of other students, the university community, the Sexual Misconduct Procedure allows for “interim measures”, such as emergency removal from campus, suspension, and/or expulsion pending resolution.

However, these facts indicate that in the two assessments it performed, the Threat Assessment Team failed show any indication that they gave the plaintiff the presumption that he wasn’t responsible for the conduct alleged. It instead focused on the nature and unsubstantiated allegations, and then removed the plaintiff from campus. The plaintiff therefore is likely to succeed on his claim that Brown could not fairly determine if there were “reasonable cause to believe” that the plaintiff would likely continue his alleged prohibited conduct or otherwise be a threat to the university community….

Without an injunction, the plaintiff must meet his burden of proving irreparable harm. According to the plaintiff’s transcript, he has been suspended from school for the spring 2022 semester. Not speculative, it is possible to assume that such a note on his permanent file will have long-lasting negative consequences. Univ. Conn. (D. Conn. January 23, 2020). (Finding irreparable injury where student would also have to explain suspension on UCONN transcript and that a true explanation would severely hinder his prospects.” Doe v. Middlebury Coll.(D. Vt. Sept. 16, 2015.) The student is found to be in irreparable danger if he “would have had to explain for the rest his professional lives why his education either stopped before completion or contained a gap”. King v. DePauw Univ. (S.D. Ind. Aug. 22, 2014) (finding irreparable harm where plaintiff would “forever have either a gap or a senior-year transfer on his record,” noting the inevitability of questions by future employers or graduate schools for which “any explanation is unlikely to fully erase the stigma”)….

The plaintiff is the beneficiary of the balance of the equity. Brown’s desire to protect the accuser of the plaintiff is diminished by the fact that although a no contact order has been placed between them, he has not reached her since the date it was entered. He responded only to her text messages. Indeed, the plaintiff was on the campus for nearly three weeks without incident between the alleged assault and the date of the suspension….

Brown University will not deny the plaintiff its contractual rights under Student Conduct and Sexual Misconduct procedures. It can suspend him from campus until Jane Roe’s Title IX suit is settled.