Title IX / College Discipline Practice - Warshaw Burstein LLP | Doe v. Purchase College State University of New York
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  • Doe v. Purchase College State University of New York
    John Doe filed the Article 78 appeal to ask the Court to review SUNY Purchase's determination that he violated code C.8 of the SUNY Purchase Student Code of Conduct. The facts of the case, undisputed, stated that one evening Doe and a fellow SUNY Purchase student ("Complainant") watched a movie with some other students at Doe's dorm suite. When Doe decided to attend another party, Complainant asked and was permitted to stay at the dorm suite with the other students. When Doe returned to his dorm suite, Complainant asked another student to leave so the two students could be alone. Complainant then asked Doe if she could stay the night, and when given permission to changed into a pair of Doe's pajamas and got into his bed. At that point, Doe's roommate was asleep five feet away in the same room. The two students began to kiss, and the Complainant helped Doe take her pants off. After some sexual activity occurred, Complainant asked Doe to use a condom, and the encounter progressed to sexual intercourse.

    The following day, Doe attempted to contact the Complainant in a friendly, everyday manner. Three days later Complainant reported the encounter as a sexual assault. A Title IX Investigation concluded with Doe being charged with violating the Student Code of Conduct which prohibits any sexual act without consent or sexual intercourse with someone considered physically helpless.

    The Hearing Board determined that Complainants statements regarding whether she consented through words or actions were conflicting and unreliable as it pertained to the ability of consent and stated it was "concerned that some of [Complainant's] statements after her initial report were tainted by reading the supports of other witnesses and parties." Doe, however, testified that Complainant was of sound mind throughout the interaction and believed there was consent based on actions. Nevertheless, the Hearing Board concluded that while the kissing and removal of the Complainant's pants were consented to, the remainder of the sexual activity was not. The SUNY Purchase's Appeals Board found that Doe violated the Student Code of Conduct and suspended him for a year. Doe appealed to the Court. 

    The Court noted that their review of the case was limited to whether SUNY Purchase's decision was based on substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is relevant proof that would lead a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion or ultimate fact. The Court analyzed that the Hearing Board had concluded Complainant's testimony lacked credibility, while Doe's assertion that consent existed did not. The Court cited Education Law § 6441(1), which states that "consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity." The Court found a SUNY Purchases' decision that there was a lack of consent amounted to conjecture and speculation.

    The Court also distinguished the case from Matter of Haug v State Univ. of N.Y. at Potsdam (32 NY3d 1044), stating that the petitioner's actions in that case and Doe were utterly different. The petitioner in Matter of Haug had trouble remembering details of the evening due to intoxication and raised concern to the other student involved about being reported. Such actions were opposite from Doe's, where a clear memory and no evidence showing a consciousness of guilt existed.

    The Court granted the petition, annulling SUNY Purchase's decision and dismissing the charge that Doe violated the Student Code of Conduct. Additionally, the Court vacated all penalties against Doe and ordered the expungement of any references to such findings from his academic record.
    CATEGORY: Due Process