Doe v. University of Connecticut, No. 3:20CV92 (MPS) (D. Conn. Jan. 23, 2020).
02/11/2020John Doe, a student at the University of Connecticut (“UCONN”), was found responsible for sexual assault and suspended for two years. There was no guarantee of readmission following the two-year suspension, and UCONN stated it would not accept credits earned at another institution during the period of suspension. John Doe filed this motion for Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”), which the court granted under the heightened mandatory injunction standard.
John Doe was able to show irreparable harm because his readmission was not guaranteed. Additionally, because UCONN would not accept credits from another institution, John’s education was completely stalled. John would be required to explain the two-year gap in his résumé and the suspension notation on his transcript, both of which would seriously hinder his prospects.
The Court held that John Doe demonstrated irreparable harm. The Court found that John Doe demonstrated a clear likelihood of success on his due process claim. The two-year suspension for sexual assault changed John’s legal status because he could no longer be a student, it put his reputation at stake, and seriously damaged his career prospects. This constituted a liberty interest entitling John to procedural protections under the Due Process Clause.
On the question of “what process is due,” the court noted that UCONN’s finding hinged on the credibility of John Doe, and the complainant, Jane Roe. UCONN’s procedures hampered John’s ability to present a meaningful defense because UCONN refused to hear testimony from four of the five witnesses John identified. These witnesses would have undermined Jane’s credibility, and in a “he said/she said” situation, the credibility of those involved is instrumental in deciding what happened. Additionally, UCONN did not provide John with the right to respond to the accusations against him in a meaningful way. John had no opportunity to question or confront Jane’s witnesses against him, yet their statements to investigators were relied upon by the hearing officers in finding John responsible. The Court did not go so far as to say live cross-examination was required, but instead limited its holding to the fact that John did not have an opportunity to challenge these witnesses in any form during the investigation or at the hearing. The risk of erroneous deprivation of John’s rights under UCONN’s procedures far outweighed any burden additional procedural protections would impose on UCONN.
Finally, the balance of equities favored a TRO. Money damages would not compensate John for the harm he would suffer absent a TRO, while a TRO would inflict only slight harm on UCONN. Additionally, there is a public interest in avoiding violations of constitutional rights. For these reasons, the Court granted a TRO allowing John Doe to resume his studies at UCONN pending the outcome of his motion for a preliminary injunction.