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Doe v. The University of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 20, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,


          Honorable Edmond E. Chang, United States District Judge.

         This case arises out of Plaintiff John Doe's challenge to the University of Chicago's handling of sexual assault allegations brought against him by two female students, Jane Roe and Jane Doe.[1] In his Amended Complaint, John Doe claims that the University violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §1681, et seq. R. 50, Amended Complaint (Am. Cmplt.) ¶¶ 93-126. He also brings state-law claims for promissory estoppel and for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.[2] Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 127-51. The University moves to dismiss John Doe's complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim. R. 64, Def.'s Motion to Dismiss.

         For the reasons stated below, the University's motion is granted as to Counts 4 (Promissory Estoppel), and 5 (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress). The Court also dismisses Count 1 insofar as it asserts a hostile-environment theory of Title IX liability. The claims of gender discrimination and retaliation under Title IX (Counts 1, 2, and 3) and the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 6) survive, albeit narrowly. As detailed in the Opinion, their survival is contingent on a particular interpretation of key allegations in the Amended Complaint, Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 46-48, and Plaintiff must file a position paper confirming that interpretation by the deadline set forth below.

         I. Background

         For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the allegations in the Amended Complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Documents attached to a complaint are considered part of the complaint for all purposes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c).

         A. Accusations by Jane Roe

         In Spring 2014, Jane Roe, a female University of Chicago student, accused John Doe of sexual assault. Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 15, 20. The University convened a disciplinary proceeding, which resulted in a finding that the preponderance of the evidence did not support the allegations. Am. Cmplt., Exh. 2.[3]

         Despite the no-liability finding, in Fall 2014, Roe began to publicly accuse John of sexual assault. She placed John's name on a document called the “Hyde Park List, ” which purported to identify “people known to commit varying levels of gender-based violence.” Am. Cmplt. ¶ 21. This list was distributed during student orientation week and published online. Id. Roe also told members of the University of Chicago community that John Doe was a “sexual predator, ” and falsely told fellow students that the University found John Doe “guilty” but failed to punish him. Id. After the publication of the Hyde Park List, John Doe brought Jane Roe's actions to the attention of University employees who had been involved in the earlier disciplinary process. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 22. In response, the University allegedly told John Doe that the University's confidentiality policies prohibited him from personally refuting Jane Roe's accusations. Id. The University also refused to discipline Jane Roe. Id.

         Roe continued to make the sexual-assault accusations in October 2014, when she blogged that the University was forcing her to participate in a class “with the person who sexually assaulted her.” Am. Cmplt. ¶ 23. Soon after that blog post, the University removed John Doe, over his strenuous objections, from the physics lab that he shared with Jane Roe. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 24.

         Finally, in November 2014, John Doe's adult sister responded (without John Doe's knowledge) to Roe's Twitter comments about the alleged sexual assault. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 26. Based on John Doe's sister's contact with Jane Doe, the University threatened to discipline him for violation of a “No-Contact Directive” that was in place in connection with the earlier disciplinary proceeding. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 26; Am. Cmplt. Exh. 2 (directing John Doe to refrain from contact with Jane Roe).

         B. Accusations by Jane Doe

         The Amended Complaint also details accusations of sexual assault by Jane Doe, another female University of Chicago student. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 14. John Doe and Jane Doe “hooked up” in September 2013, an encounter which Jane Doe described on her Tumblr blog. Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 27-28. According to the Amended Complaint, all sexual contact between John and Jane Doe was consensual. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 29. John Doe also alleges that this characterization is consistent with Jane Doe's blog posts, which describe the September 2013 encounter as “beautiful and sweet and all great things” and stated that Jane wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with John Doe in the months following the alleged assault. Id. at ¶ 51; Am. Cmplt., Exh. 3. By November 2014, however, Jane Doe began to claim on her blog that she had been sexually assaulted, and by December she had definitively identified John Doe as her attacker. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 30. Jane Doe continued to repeat her accusations against John Doe through Summer 2016. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 31.

         Jane Doe's allegations against John Doe came to a head in Spring 2016. At the time, John Doe was the director of a student-performed theater program (referred to in the complaint as “the Show” in order to protect John Doe's identity). Am. Cmplt. ¶ 33. In early May 2016, Jane Doe published a series of tweets and a Facebook post criticizing the University for putting on a show “directed by the boy who sexually assaulted me/many others on this campus.” Am. Cmplt. ¶ 36; Am. Cmplt. Exh. 3. The Facebook post identified the Show and John Doe as the subject of Jane Doe's criticism. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 37.[4]

         C. The University's Response

         Upon learning about Jane Doe's tweets, John Doe emailed a complaint to several University officials. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 43-46; Am. Cmplt., Exh. 4. The complaint, sent on May 5, 2016, characterized Jane Doe's comments as “online sexual harassment” and stated that the email constituted a formal Title IX complaint. Am. Cmplt., Exh. 4. Jay Ellison, the University's Dean of Students, referred the complaint to Jeremy Inabinet, the Associate Dean for Disciplinary Affairs. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 44.

         While John Doe's May 5 complaint was under review, Inabinet met with Jane Doe. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 46. In a crucial allegation, the Amended Complaint asserts that Inabinet “intentionally and/or negligently encouraged and ‘approved' Jane Doe's filing of a false and retaliatory” Title IX complaint against John Doe. Id. Inabinet “encouraged” Jane to file her complaint by (1) advising her that her complaint would be adjudicated under the University's 2015 Student Manual, which had a more stringent sexual assault standard than the manual in place in 2013; (2) failing to tell Jane Doe that the University was obligated to proceed on John Doe's May 5 complaint against her; and (3) failing to advise her that her own complaint would subject her to disciplinary proceedings. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 48.

         In late May, Inabinet informed John Doe, via email, that the University would not proceed on John Doe's May 5 complaint. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 49 & Exh. 5. The email stated that Inabinet found “no evident violation” of the University's Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct. Am. Cmplt., Exh. 5. Instead, Inabinet suggested that Jane Doe's behavior might violate other University policies or be the basis of a defamation lawsuit. Id. Inabinet also referred the matter to Assistant Dean Stephen Scott. Id.

         Communications between Inabinet and John Doe continued to sour throughout the summer. On August 5, 2016, John Doe and Inabinet discussed the two dueling complaints on a phone call. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 56. During the call, Inabinet told John that the University would not consider Jane Doe's June 2016 complaint to have been filed in retaliation for John Doe's May complaint. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 50. Inabinet reiterated that the 2015 Manual's definition of sexual misconduct would be applied Jane Doe's complaint, and stated that John Doe would not be allowed to raise his complaints of harassment in response to Jane Doe's complaint. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 50. During the phone call, John Doe repeatedly asked Inabinet if he would have investigated the conduct exhibited by Jane Doe if it had been perpetrated by a male student against a female student. Id. Inabinet refused to give John a direct answer. Id.

         After the August 5 phone call, John wrote to Inabinet to ask UC to change its position. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 51. As proof that Jane Doe's allegations were false, John Doe provided Inabinet with Jane Doe's blog posts from Fall 2013. Id. As discussed above, these blog posts tended to undermine Jane Doe's claim that John Doe had sexually assaulted her. Id.; see also Am. Cmplt., Exh. 3. Inabinet did not dismiss Jane Doe's complaint or change any of the University's positions after receiving this evidence. Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 51-52. In light of the rapidly approaching deadline to respond to Jane Doe's complaint, John Doe filed this lawsuit. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 53.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94. 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 Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). These allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. And the allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         III. Analysis

         A. Count 1 - Title IX Hostile Environment and/or Discrimination

         Count 1 outlines at least two[5] different theories of recovery under Title IX. See R. 69, Pl. Mem. Opp. at 3-4. First, John asserts that the University's Title IX disciplinary process was biased against him because of his male gender. Am. Cmplt. ΒΆΒΆ 99-111. For purposes of discussion, this aspect of Count 1 will be labelled the general-discrimination claim; it overlaps with Count 3's selective-enforcement claim. Second, Count 1 alleges that the University is liable on a deliberate indifference theory of Title IX, specifically for failing ...

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