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Painter v. Adams

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

October 17, 2017

JONATHAN ADAMS, et al. Defendants.


          Max O. Cogburn, Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#92) and plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File (#107). The Court held a hearing on August 16, 2017. Having considered the Motions and reviewed the pleadings, the Court enters the following Order.


         I. Background

         This case arises out of an allegation of sexual assault at a public university and later university proceedings related to that allegation. The facts have been reviewed in prior Orders of this Court, notably in its Order (#70) entered on September 6, 2016. Plaintiff alleges that his Due Process rights were violated and he has suffered a suspension from school, losing his commission in the Army, and an imminent blemish on his academic record if he applies to graduate school. (#100) at 3-4. Put another way, this is a case of a male student, accused by a fellow student of sexual misconduct, who argues that a public university's Title IX system of student discipline violated his constitutional rights, specifically Due Process. The public university afforded him two hearings, and he was found responsible for the alleged sexual assault in each. See (#100) at 2-3. Plaintiff contends that the university violated his right to procedural Due Process at both hearings and in the procurement of a “No Contact Order, ” which prohibited contact between the accusing student and the plaintiff. (#100) at 11-14.

         II. Applicable Standard

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material only if it might affect the outcome under governing law. Id. The movant has the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations omitted). Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. That party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in his pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324. Instead, that party must present sufficient evidence from which “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cnty., Md., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995).

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence and any inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “‘Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Matsushita v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). The question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the evidence “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         B. Procedural Due Process

         Students enrolled in public universities are entitled to due process protections in disciplinary proceedings. See Bd. of Curators of Univ. of Missouri v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 90 (1978). As the Supreme Court put it, “[o]nce it is determined that due process applies, the question remains what process is due.” Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 577 (1975). Both substantive and procedural due process protections apply; however, substantive due process claims are difficult to maintain. Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 574 (4th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff's substantive due process claim was earlier dismissed. See Order (#70).[1]

         On plaintiff's remaining claim, procedural due process requires -- at a minimum --adequate notice of the allegations presented and an opportunity to be heard before a neutral decision-maker. See Tanyi v. Appalachian State Univ., No. 5:14-CV-170RLV, 2015 WL 4478853, at *3 (W.D. N.C. July 22, 2015). While a full-scale trial is not required in student disciplinary proceedings, the level of procedural protections depend on: (1) the nature of the interest protected; (2) the danger of error and the benefit of additional or other procedures; and (3) the burden on the government such procedures would present. Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that determining whether the process plaintiff was afforded was substantial involves genuine issues of material fact that are not yet resolved, precluding summary judgment.

         III. Discussion

         On July 11, 2017, a hearing was noticed for August 16, 2017, on defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Two days before the hearing, plaintiff filed his Motion for Leave to File (#107) additional evidentiary materials, which will be considered before considering the defendants' motion.

         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File

         In his Motion for Leave to File (#107), plaintiff seeks leave to submit additional evidentiary materials in opposition to summary judgment. The materials consist of the transcript of his own deposition and his responses to interrogatories. Id. The plaintiff's request would add approximately 455 pages of additional material to the case record and defendants did not object within the time allowed. Under Rule 56(c)(1)(A), the Court will grant the Motion and will consider the proffered material in the two exhibits (#107-1) and (#107-2).

         B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         In their Motion for Summary Judgment (#92) and supporting Memorandum (#94), defendants contend that no genuine issue of material fact remains for trial and that they are entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. First, defendants contend that plaintiff's only remaining claims are brought under Section 1983 and that plaintiff has named no cognizable state actor or state entity in his Amended Complaint. Second, defendants assert that even if a state defendant were named, the Eleventh Amendment bars the suit. Third, the defendants argue that even if this action is not barred, the record demonstrates that plaintiff's procedural due process rights were adequately protected by the university in the administrative hearings.

         1. Whether ...

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