Khan v. Yale University, Docket No. 3:19-cv-01966 (KAD), 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2690 (D. Conn. Jan. 7, 2021)
01/12/2021Saifullah Khan attended an off-campus Halloween party in 2015 where he met Jane Doe, a fellow undergraduate student at Yale University. The two then went to a musical performance on campus. When Doe started to feel unwell, the two left and Khan walked Doe back to her dorm where Khan says they engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. However, Doe reported the incident as rape. Khan was arrested and subsequently faced trial before a jury for first, second, third, and fourth-degree sexual assault and was acquitted on all counts. Following his acquittal, and despite public opposition, Khan was readmitted to Yale. In early October 2018, an article in the Yale Daily News leveled new allegations of sexual assault against Khan. In November 2018, Yale held a hearing on Doe’s 2015 sexual assault complaint. Khan was found responsible and expelled. Khan then filed this lawsuit against Yale University, several of its administrators and faculty members, and former Yale classmate Jane Doe. The claims against Doe were for defamation and tortious interference. Doe filed a motion to dismiss the defamation and tortious interference claims against her, arguing that because the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (the “UWC”) proceedings constitute quasi-judicial proceedings, she is entitled to absolute immunity from any liability for allegedly defamatory statements provided during those proceedings. The Court granted Doe’s motion to dismiss.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has identified six non-exclusive factors for courts to consider in deciding whether a proceeding is quasi-judicial, which include “whether the body has the power to: (1) exercise judgment and discretion; (2) hear and determine or to ascertain facts and decide; (3) make binding orders and judgments; (4) affect the personal or property rights of private persons; (5) examine witnesses and hear the litigation of the issues on a hearing; and (6) enforce decisions or impose penalties.” It is also important for courts to consider whether there is sound public policy reason for permitting the complete freedom of expression that a grant of absolute immunity provides.
Here, the Court held that Yale’s UWC proceedings constitute a quasi-judicial proceeding. Doe raised arguments to satisfy the six non-exclusive factors identified by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Khan argued that the private nature of the UWC proceedings cut against granting absolute immunity to Doe. However, the Court pointed out that there was no substantive difference between a Title IX proceeding conducted by a public versus a private university that would warrant the application of absolute immunity in the former but not the latter. Additionally, the UWC proceeding was authorized by federal law. Likewise, Connecticut law imposes upon Yale an obligation to adopt and disclose procedures for investigating and holding disciplinary proceedings in cases such as this. Taken as a whole, these factors weighed in favor of granting absolute immunity to Doe, so Khan’s defamations claim against Doe was dismissed.
Finally, the Court dismissed Khan’s tortious interference claims as time-barred. Khan attempted to tie the allegedly false 2015 rape accusations to Doe’s testimony during the UWC proceeding to extend the statute of limitations under the continuing course of conduct doctrine. However, because Doe’s testimony during the UWC proceeding was protected by absolute immunity, it could not serve as wrongful conduct to bring the 2015 accusations within the applicable statute of limitations. Khan’s tortious interference claims based upon Doe’s allegedly false rape accusations in 2015 were therefore dismissed as time-barred.# While the claims against Jane Doe were dismissed, Khan’s Title IX, breach of contract, breach of the implied warranty of fair dealing, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of privacy claims against Yale and the individual Yale Defendants remain untouched, as they were not the subject of Doe’s motion.CATEGORY: Civil Litigation