Law School Case Brief
Doe v. Baum - 903 F.3d 575 (6th Cir. 2018)
When it comes to due process, the opportunity to be heard is the constitutional minimum. But determining what being heard looks like in each particular case is a harder question. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to set out a universal rule and instead instructs lower courts to consider the parties' competing interests. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has made two things clear: (1) if a student is accused of misconduct, the university must hold some sort of hearing before imposing a sanction as serious as expulsion or suspension; and (2) when the university's determination turns on the credibility of the accuser, the accused, or witnesses, that hearing must include an opportunity for cross-examination.
John Doe and Jane Roe were students at the University of Michigan. Halfway through Roe's freshman and Doe's junior year, the two crossed paths at a "Risky Business" themed fraternity party. While there, they had a drink, danced, and eventually had sex. Two days later, Roe filed a sexual misconduct complaint with the university claiming that she was too drunk to consent. And since having sex with an incapacitated person violates university policy, the administration immediately launched an investigation. After three months of thorough fact-finding, the investigator was unable to say that Roe exhibited outward signs of incapacitation that Doe would have noticed before initiating sexual activity. Accordingly, the investigator recommended that the administration rule in Doe's favor and close the case. Roe appealed. She argued that the evidence did not support the investigator's findings and asked the university to reconsider. The case went up to the university's Appeals Board, and a three-member panel reviewed the investigator's report and the Board reversed. Although the Board found that the investigation was fair and thorough, it thought the investigator was wrong to conclude that the evidence was in equipoise. Facing the possibility of expulsion, Doe agreed to withdraw from the university. Doe then filed a lawsuit claiming that the university's disciplinary proceedings violated the Due Process Clause and Title IX. He argues that because the university's decision turned on a credibility finding, the school was required to give him a hearing with an opportunity to cross-examine Roe and adverse witnesses. He also maintained that the Board violated Title IX by discriminating against him on account of his gender. The university filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted.
Was Doe's due process violated by the University?
The Court held that in a sexual misconduct hearing, the university deprived a male student his right to due process by failing to provide an opportunity for cross-examination because credibility was an issue. The Court noted that the university identified no substantial burden that would be imposed if it were required to provide an opportunity for cross-examination. Moreover, it held that the district court erred by dismissing the student's Title IX complaint under 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681(a), because he pled facts sufficient to cast doubt on the accuracy of the disciplinary proceedings. Lastly, since the disciplinary board credited exclusively female testimony and rejected all of the male testimony, the circumstances suggested the university acted with bias based on gender. Thus, the decision was reversed and remanded.
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