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Law School Case Brief

Cohen v. Brown Univ. - 991 F.2d 888 (1st Cir. 1993)


A district court, faced with a motion for preliminary injunction, must assess the request in four particular ways, evaluating: (1) the movant's probability of victory on the merits; (2) the potential for irreparable harm if the injunction is refused; (3) the balance of interests as between the parties, i.e., whether the harm to the movant if the injunction is withheld outweighs the harm to the nonmovant if the injunction is granted; and (4) the public interest. Of course, a district court's conclusions at the preliminary injunction stage are only attempts to predict probable outcomes. Thus, a party losing the battle on likelihood of success may nonetheless win the war at a succeeding trial. If, in conducting this tamisage, the district court has made no clear error or law or fact, the court will overturn its calibration of the four factors only for a manifest abuse of discretion.


Plaintiffs, female students, filed a class action against defendants, Brown University and university officials, under Title IX, 20 U.S.C.S. §§ 1681-1688, alleging gender-based discrimination in the removal of certain women's athletic programs from varsity status. The trial court granted a preliminary injunction reinstating the programs, pending resolution of the action and defendants sought appellate review, asserting a violation of U.S. Const. amend. V, error in the burden of proof, and claimed an improper remedy.


Did the district court err in granting preliminary injunction to plaintiffs pending the final outcome of the case?




The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction reinstating certain women's athletic programs to varsity status pending the final outcome of plaintiff female students' gender-based discrimination action against defendants, university and officials. The district court committed harmless error in misplacing the burden of proof. Its subsidiary findings that great interest among female students would go unserved by the program cuts established that plaintiffs met their burden of proof. Thus, the district court's prediction of plaintiffs' probable success on the merits was adequately grounded. The interim remedy was within the district court's discretion.

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