Khan v. Yale Univ., 85 F.4th 86 (2d Cir. 2023)
12/07/2023Saifullah Khan, a former student at Yale University, sued the university, various administrators, and a former classmate, asserting, among other things, defamation arising from the classmate’s allegation of sexual assault. The allegation resulted in disciplinary proceedings and Mr. Khan’s ultimate expulsion from Yale University. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut granted the classmate’s motion to dismiss for failure to state claims against her. This case came on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Court discussed the issue of whether Connecticut law would extend quasi-judicial immunity to Yale University’s disciplinary proceedings with Mr. Khan and his former classmate, Doe.
The Court first asserted that it “recognize[s] a proceeding as quasi-judicial only when the proceeding at issue is  specifically authorized by law,  applies law to fact in an adjudicatory manner,  contained adequate procedural safeguards, and  is supported by a public policy encouraging absolute immunity for proceeding participants.” Whether a proceeding is deemed ‘quasi-judicial’ is a fact-specific inquiry and will depend on the nature of the particular case.
The Court explained that although the “disciplinary proceedings were specifically authorized by Connecticut law. . .the  proceeding did not have adequate procedural safeguards to be recognized as quasi-judicial for the purpose of affording absolute immunity to Doe.” Specifically, the proceeding failed, among other things, “to require complainants to testify under oath or to subject them to explicit and meaningful penalties for untruthful statement, to provide Khan. . .the meaningful opportunity to call witnesses to testify,. . .to afford Khan the opportunity to have the active assistance of counsel. . ., and  to provide Khan any record or transcript of the proceeding that would assist him in obtaining adequate review of the  decision.” The Court held that the “collective absence” of the features of due process led it to conclude that the proceeding cannot be called ‘quasi-judicial.’
However, despite its conclusion that the proceedings were not quasi-judicial, the Court decided that “a qualified privilege should apply to statements made by alleged victims in a sexual misconduct hearing at [a university].” It reasoned that ‘[j]ust as our case law provides a qualified privilege to individuals reporting crimes to the police,  public policy. . .supports providing a qualified privilege for statements made by individuals alleging sexual assault to proper authorities at [universities].”
The Court further held that Doe’s qualified privilege had been defeated at the motion to dismiss stage because Mr. Khan had sufficiently alleged with particular facts that Doe made false accusations and, at this stage of the litigation, the Court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. However, at further stages in the litigation (e.g., the summary judgment stage), with a more complete factual record, the Court agreed to revisit the question of Doe’s qualified privilege.
As such, Mr. Khan succeeded on appeal and his case was permitted to proceed.