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Blank v. Knox College

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

January 26, 2015

JACK BLANK, Plaintiff,
v.
KNOX COLLEGE, Defendant.

ORDER & OPINION

JOE BILLY McDADE, Senior District Judge.

On September 23, 2014, the above-captioned civil action was removed to this Court from the Circuit Court of Knox County, Illinois pursuant to a Notice of Removal citing several sections of Chapter 89, Title 28 of the United States Code. ( See Doc. 1). Several days later, Defendant, Knox College, filed a motion to dismiss the removed Complaint. (Doc. 4). Plaintiff, Jack Blank, responded by filing an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 6). Defendant parried with another motion to dismiss. (Doc. 8). That motion is now pending before the Court, is fully briefed and ready for ruling. For the reasons stated below the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff was a student at Knox College. In the fall semester of 2013, two female students accused Plaintiff of sexual misconduct. At Plaintiff's request, Defendant conducted a grievance hearing[2] to address the sexual misconduct complaints. At this grievance hearing, Plaintiff presented some exculpatory evidence but was not allowed to present all of his evidence. One of his accusers did not appear at the hearing. Plaintiff was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses. After consideration of the information presented at the grievance hearing, including only a partial amount of the information offered by Plaintiff, Defendant determined that Plaintiff's conduct violated its policy against sexual misconduct as to both complainants. Defendant subsequently determined that Plaintiff should be suspended for two terms.

Plaintiff now brings a two count action seeking a preliminary injunction and compensatory relief. In Count I, Plaintiff asserts an Illinois state law breach of contract claim. In Count II, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant violated 20 U.S.C. § 1681, which prohibits sex or gender discrimination by any educational program or activity that receives federal assistance. He seeks to enjoin Defendant from imposing the two-term suspension he has already served, require Defendant to take steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment, expunge all findings of misconduct from Plaintiff's academic record, and compensate him for his expenses in pursuing this lawsuit.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Though detailed factual allegations are not needed, a "formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "The complaint must contain enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 602 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557; Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Bissessur, 581 F.3d at 602 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

"In ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the court must treat all well-pleaded allegations as true and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party." In re marchFIRST, Inc., 589 F.3d 901, 904 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081 (7th Cir. 2008)). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's complaint must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, "raising that possibility above a speculative level.'" EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

DISCUSSION

The Court will discuss Count II of the Amended Complaint first because it is the only claim encompassing federal law and the touchstone of this Court's jurisdiction over the matter.

As the Plaintiff himself states in his Memorandum in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, "to state a claim under Title IX, a plaintiff must allege 1) that he or she was excluded from participation in or denied benefits of or subjected to discrimination in an educational program; 2) that receives federal financial assistance; and 3) that the exclusion was on basis of sex, i.e., gender." (Doc. 11 at 10 citing Torrespico v. Columbia Coll., No. 97 C 8881, 1998 WL 703450, at *17 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 1998)). The Amended Complaint contains an allegation that Knox College is an educational institution receiving federal funds. (Doc. 6 at ¶ 23). The Amended Complaint also contains allegations that Plaintiff was not allowed to fully participate in the grievance hearing. (Doc. 6 at ¶¶28-32). What the Amended Complaint lacks are plausible allegations that the Defendant disallowed Plaintiff from participating fully in the grievance hearing because of his sex.

The closest Plaintiff comes to fulfilling the minimal pleading requirement is Paragraph 32 in which he states:

Defendant violated Plaintiff's civil rights on the basis of gender by denying a portion of relevant evidence he presented at hearing as well as failing to consider all of the relevant evidence he presented in hearing while fully considering any evidence presented by or on behalf of the alleged female victims in making its decision in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

(Doc. 6 at ¶32). Essentially, Plaintiff argues that he was discriminated against because (1) Defendant disallowed him from presenting all of the evidence he deemed relevant and (2) Defendant deemed his accusers' evidence more compelling than some of the evidence he was allowed to present, (3) all because his alleged victims are female. A careful reading of the quoted text reveals that Plaintiff never actually states that the sex of his accusers is the reason why the Defendant acted as it did in the grievance hearing. He leaves it to the Court to infer that connection, which is an unsound manner of pleading a Title IX claim since the crux of such a claim must be intentional sex discrimination. See generally, Parker v. Franklin Cnty. Cmty. Sch. Corp., 667 F.3d 910, 919 (7th Cir. 2012) (reaffirming that the purpose of Title IX is to ensure that federal funds are not used to facilitate intentional sex discrimination). But suppose Plaintiff simply affirmatively alleged: "Defendant violated Title IX when it made adverse evidentiary rulings against me, thereby denying me full participation in an educational program, and found my accusers' evidence more relevant, credible and compelling because my accusers are female and I am male." Even that, by itself, would be ...


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