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Givens v. Dillard University

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 3, 2019


         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS


         Before the Court is defendant Dillard University's (“Dillard” or the “University”) motion[1] to dismiss plaintiffs Johnathan Givens (“Givens”) and Jovan Lambey's (“Lambey”) (collectively, the “plaintiffs”) second amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.


         Accepting all of the factual assertions in the plaintiffs' original, first, and second amended complaints as true, they are as follows: Givens and Lambey were both junior-year students at Dillard during the 2018-2019 school year.[2] The plaintiffs engaged in an alleged consensual sexual encounter with another female Dillard student on April 20, 2019.[3] The female student alleged that the encounter was not consensual and that the plaintiffs had raped her.[4]

         Dillard suspended the plaintiffs on an interim basis, pending the completion of evidence-gathering and a criminal investigation by the New Orleans Police Department's (“NOPD”) as well as the University's Title IX investigation.[5] This interim suspension and delay in the University's Title IX investigation is the subject of the plaintiffs' Title IX claim.

         The plaintiffs received notice of their interim suspension via email on May 9, 2019.[6] As part of the interim suspension, Dillard prohibited the plaintiffs from being on University premises and participating in any campus or community activity that involved the University.[7] The plaintiffs were permitted to complete their Spring 2019 coursework through electronic communications with professors.[8] The plaintiffs' interim suspension letters stated that they could “request a meeting with the Vice President for Student Success or designee to demonstrate why an interim suspension is not merited[, ]” but that “[r]egardless of the outcome of this meeting, the University may still proceed with the scheduling of a campus hearing.”[9]

         The plaintiffs, through their counsel, requested a meeting with the Vice President for Student Success, Roland Bullard (“Bullard”), to appeal their suspensions on May 13, 2019.[10] At the time this lawsuit was initiated, the plaintiffs' request had still not been granted.[11]

         Dillard's registration system enabled the plaintiffs to choose class schedules and on-campus housing for the fall 2019 semester, which would have been their first semester as seniors.[12] On July 31, 2019 and August 8, 2019, the Bursar's office at Dillard emailed Lambey and Givens, respectively, informing them of their financial aid status for the 2019-2020 school year.[13] Dillard accepted Lambey's track scholarship and loans as payment for the fall 2019 semester, as well as Givens's grants and loans as payment for the entire school year.[14] Dillard also allowed the plaintiffs to be on campus to visit administrative offices “in furtherance of starting classes in fall 2019.”[15]

         The plaintiffs characterize the emails from the Bursar's office as Dillard lifting the plaintiffs' suspension and clearing them to return to campus.[16] The emails do not reference the pending criminal charges or the plaintiffs' interim suspensions.[17]

         On August 26, 2019, the plaintiffs provided Dillard with written statements regarding their version of the events that led to the alleged consensual sexual encounter on April 20, 2019.[18] To date, the Orleans Parish District Attorney has neither accepted nor refused the criminal charges against the plaintiffs.[19]

         On September 4, 2019, the plaintiffs were advised by Dillard that they would be dropped from classes for non-attendance and potentially lose their tuition for the semester.[20] That same day, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit alleging a violation of Title IX and state-law claims for negligence and breach of contract.[21] The plaintiffs seek damages as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.[22] Dillard filed the instant motion, [23] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), on October 4, 2019, which the plaintiffs oppose.[24]


         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may dismiss a complaint or part of a complaint when a plaintiff fails to set forth well-pleaded factual allegations that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007). The complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547, 127 S.Ct. 1955)).

         A facially plausible claim is one in which “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. If the well-pleaded factual allegations “do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then “the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.' ” Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)) (alteration in original).

         In assessing the complaint, a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and liberally construe all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). Furthermore, “the Court must typically limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto.” Admins. of the Tulane Educ. Fund v. Biomeasure, Inc., 08-5096, 2011 WL 4352299, at *3 (E.D. La. Sept. 6, 2011) (Vance, J.) (citing Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000)). “[T]he Court may consider documents that are essentially ‘part of the pleadings'-that is, any documents attached to or incorporated into the plaintiff's complaint by reference that are central to the plaintiff's claim for relief.”44 Zerangue v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., No. 19-1939, 2019 WL 2058984, at *2 (E.D. La. May 9, 2019) (Feldman, J.) (quoting Causey v. Sewell Cadillac-Chevrolet, Inc., 394 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir. 2004)). “Dismissal is appropriate when the complaint ‘on its face show[s] a bar to relief.'” Cutrer v. McMillan, 308 Fed.Appx. 819, 820 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Clark v. Amoco Prod. Co., 794 F.2d 967, 970 (5th Cir. 1986)).

         The plaintiffs argue that Dillard's motion to dismiss should be converted into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 12(d) because Dillard's motion references matters outside of the pleadings, such as attached exhibits and affidavits.[25] Dillard asserts that it submitted no exhibits or affidavits in support of its motion to dismiss, and that its contentions are solely based upon the allegations contained within the original, first, and second amended complaints.[26]

         Rule 12(d) states, in pertinent part, that if “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must limit itself to the pleadings, with one exception. The Fifth Circuit has approved the consideration of documents attached to a motion to dismiss. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000). However, the Fifth Circuit made it clear that “such consideration is limited to documents that are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claim.” Scanlan v. Tex. A & M Univ., 343 F.3d 533, 536 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Collins, 224 F.3d at 498-99). When “matters outside the pleadings” are submitted in support of or in opposition to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, Rule 12(d) grants courts the discretion to consider those materials and convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment, but it does not require them to do so. Isquith v. Middle S. Utils., Inc., 847 F.2d 186, 193 n.3 (5th Cir. 1988).

         Although Dillard attached exhibits and affidavits to its memorandum[27] in opposition to the plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief, which are not considered by the Court, it did not attach such documents to its motion to dismiss. Therefore, the Court will properly consider Dillard's motion as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and assume as true the factual allegations asserted in the plaintiffs' original, first, and second amended complaints, as well as the exhibits attached thereto.[28]



         Count one of the plaintiffs' second amended complaint alleges that the “[p]laintiffs' rights to fair and timely review of the [University's] charges [against them] was violated by Dillard's inaction based on the conduct described [in the second amended complaint], ” in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.[29]

         Title IX's relevant provisions state that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) (emphasis added).[30] That provision is enforceable through an implied private right of action, patterned after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964's ban on racial discrimination in the workplace and universities. Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677 (1979).

         To state a plausible claim for relief under Title IX, a plaintiff-student must allege that he or she was treated unequally or discriminated against on the basis of his or her sex. See 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Generally, private challenges to disciplinary proceedings under Title IX proceed under one of four theories of liability: (1) plaintiffs claiming an erroneous outcome of a disciplinary proceeding, (2) plaintiffs claiming selective enforcement of university procedures to students of different sexes, (3) plaintiffs claiming deliberate indifference to sexual harassment or sexual assault on campus, and (4) plaintiffs claiming a university's actions were based on archaic assumptions about the roles or behavior of men and women. Davis v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 639 (1999) (recognizing liability for deliberate indifference that causes students to suffer harassment or make them vulnerable to harassment); Pederson v. La. St. Univ., 213 F.3d 858, 880-82 (5th Cir. 2000) (recognizing that classifications based on “archaic assumptions” are facially discriminatory and constitute intentional discrimination in violation of Title IX); Yusuf v. Vassar Coll., 35 F.3d 709, 715 (2d Cir. 1994) (recognizing Title IX claims for erroneous outcome and selective enforcement); see also Plummer v. Univ. of Houston, 860 F.3d 767, 777 (5th Cir. 2017) (recognizing the ...

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