John Doe v. Princeton Univ., No. 3:20-CV-4352-BRM-TJB, 2020 WL 1921956 (D.N.J. Apr. 21, 2020).
04/28/2020John Doe was expelled from Princeton University (the “University”) for violating the University’s policy against intimate partner violence. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging Title IX violations under erroneous outcome and selective enforcement theories, as well as a breach of contract claim. Plaintiff then filed a motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction, which the Court denied.
John and the complainant, Jane Roe, began dating in 2016, but their relationship was an intense and volatile one. This intensity extended to their sex life, where John and Jane consistently engaged in BDSM activities. Their tumultuous relationship ended in June 2019, and in September 2019, Jane met with the University’s Director of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration to report that she had been a victim of intimate partner violence. The University found John responsible for the allegations made against him and found Jane not responsible for John’s counterclaims against her.
To obtain preliminary relief, a movant must show "(1) a reasonable probability of eventual success in the litigation, and (2) that it will be irreparably injured . . . if relief is not granted . . . [In addition,] the district court, in considering whether to grant a preliminary injunction, should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest.”
Here, the Court held that John was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claims. The Court noted that John could not point to any specific evidence of gender bias throughout the proceeding. Instead, John merely made conclusory allegations of gender bias. Additionally, John’s assertions that there were procedural irregularities were not supported by the evidence. Even if John’s assertion that Jane was treated more favorably than him was correct, there was no indication this was the result of gender bias. For these reasons, John failed to show he was likely to succeed on the merits of his Title IX claims. Furthermore, none of the alleged breaches of contract were supported by the evidence. For example, John alleged the University’s decision to assign him a conflicted adviser breached the University’s sexual misconduct investigation procedures. However, John chose this advisor himself.
Interestingly, the Court held that there was no risk of irreparable harm without judicial intervention. The Court held that the inability to pursue a degree at the University, get a degree from another comparable university, and any damage to John’s personal and professional reputation could all be remedied by money damages. Additionally, the Court held that should Plaintiff succeed on the merits of his claims, he will have only suffered a temporary delay in his education analogous to a suspension, which does not rise to the level of irreparable harm. Furthermore, with or without injunctive relief, John would have a gap in his resume, because he would not be allowed to graduate until the litigation was resolved.
The Court’s position on irreparable harm goes against what some other district courts have held. For example, in Doe v. Pa. State Univ., 276 F. Supp. 3d 300 (M.D. Pa. 2017) the court found that even a suspension constituted irreparable harm because the plaintiff would have to explain, for the remainder of his professional life, why there was a gap in his education. Similarly, in Doe v. Rhodes College, Case No. 2:19-cv-02336-JTF-tmp (W.D.Tenn. Jun. 14, 2019), the court held that expulsion and its impact on a student’s ability to transfer elsewhere constituted irreparable harm. Not only did the Court reject those arguments here, but it argued that if John wins the case in the future, and the expulsion is vacated, John will have only suffered a gap in his education that is comparable to a suspension. But even if this was true, John would have been ‘suspended’ for something he did not do, and he would forever have to explain this gap in his education.
The Court denied John’s motion for TRO.