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Klunder v. Brown University

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 3, 2015

JOE KLUNDER, Plaintiff, Appellant,
BROWN UNIVERSITY; RUTH SIMMONS, in her individual and official capacities; CARLA HANSEN, in her individual and official capacities; MARGARET KLAWUNN, in her individual and official capacities; TERRY ADDISON, in his individual and official capacities; J. ALLEN WARD, in his individual and official capacities; RICHARD BOVA, in his individual and official capacities; PHILIP GRUPPUSO, in his individual and official capacities; DAVID KERTZER, in his individual and official capacities; YOLANDA CASTILLO-APPOLLONIO, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants, Appellees. ROBERT ENOS, in his individual and official capacities, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Leon A. Blais, with whom Blais & Parent, was on brief for appellant.

Jeffrey S. Michaelson, with whom Michaelson & Michaelson, was on brief for appellees.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Howard, Circuit Judges.


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TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Joe Klunder was removed from Brown University[1] and suspended for three semesters after a number of students and staff submitted complaints regarding Klunder's behavior. In response, Klunder filed an eleven-count complaint against Brown University and numerous individuals associated with Brown and its police department (collectively, " Appellees" ). At the heart of Klunder's complaint are allegations that Appellees' handling of his disciplinary proceeding and his removal from campus violated both his constitutional rights (actionable through 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and Rhode Island state law. The district court ultimately entered judgment in favor of Appellees on all eleven claims, and Klunder now appeals. He contends that the district court erred by: (1) finding that Brown University was not a state actor subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) allowing Appellees' motion to amend their answer to include a statute of limitations defense; and (3) ignoring a Rhode Island tolling statute which would have brought Klunder's claims within the applicable three-year statute of limitations. Finding all of Klunder's arguments meritless, we affirm.

I. Background

A. Factual background

In the fall of 2003, Klunder traveled from his family home in California to Rhode Island, where he began attending Brown as a freshman. The transition was not an easy one for Klunder, who claims to have struggled with underlying emotional conditions, the effects of his medications, and a perceived culture clash between his conservative upbringing in California and the liberal university setting at Brown.

During the spring semester of 2005, Brown began to receive a number of complaints about Klunder's behavior towards

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students and staff. First, Carla Hansen, an Associate Dean of Student Life at Brown, reported an incident with Klunder in her office in April 2005.[2] According to her report, she had a number of concerns about the interaction and was uncomfortable with Klunder's remarks about her physical appearance and with his intrusive questions about the nature of her physical relationship with her same-sex partner.[3]

Then, in May of 2005, two Brown staff members reported encountering Klunder in a restaurant. Both women said they felt uncomfortable when Klunder interrupted their conversation to ask if they were having " man trouble." Klunder then reportedly volunteered unsolicited information about a drunken phone call he had made recently to a former girlfriend during which he evaluated her skill at kissing. One of the staffers reported that this was her second run-in with Klunder, who had made inappropriate comments on the previous occasion as well.

After receiving these complaints, Associate Dean of Student Life Terry Addison wrote to Klunder to notify him that the complaints would be the subject of a hearing upon Klunder's return to campus in the fall of 2005. Klunder, however, elected not to return that fall due to unspecified family matters. He eventually returned to Brown in the fall of 2007, at which point Brown began to receive new complaints about Klunder's behavior.

One student employee of Brown reported that Klunder approached her to describe, unsolicited, his views on the proper subordinate role of women and a maneuver he used to trick women into making out with him. Then, on September 10, 2007, four students reported having a particularly disturbing conversation with Klunder. According to their reports, Klunder approached the unfamiliar students and began by complaining about " that black [fraternity] guy" who had been particularly noisy the night before. After admitting to using methamphetamine, cocaine, and Adderall, Klunder allegedly stated that he did not think that he could control himself if disturbed by noisy students again. He hypothesized that it might be strange to return to campus after a suspension if he were to stab a fellow student, but that he could plead diminished capacity to avoid serious criminal charges. Klunder informed the group that he had repeatedly " beat the shit" out of his father, and he proceeded to advise the students that if they shot someone in California, they should do it on their own property, or drag the body there after the fact, in order to get a reduced punishment.

After receiving these additional complaints, Dean Addison sent Klunder a second notice saying that new complaints had been received and that an investigation would take place. At the same time, Margaret Klawunn, the Associate Vice President for Campus Life/Dean for Student Life, issued an emergency letter stating that to ensure the safety of students and the community, Klunder would be barred from campus effective September 12, 2007, on an interim basis.

At a meeting with Brown administrators on September 12, 2007, Klunder was told of his removal from campus. Dean Addison escorted Klunder to his dormitory so he could pack his things. Afterwards, the

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pair were joined by Sergeant Robert Enos of the Brown University Police Department and Dean J. Allen Ward. Klunder alleges that he was ordered into the campus police vehicle driven by Enos and was taken to a nearby hotel. He claims that Dean Ward told him that he could not return to campus or to a public street neighboring Brown, and instead that he should remain at the hotel until he could fly home the next day.

Brown combined the complaints against Klunder from 2005 and 2007 and scheduled a non-academic disciplinary hearing for November 15, 2007. Klunder flew back to Rhode Island for the hearing where he was provided with a non-lawyer advisor to represent him and a package of materials that would constitute the evidence against him. At the hearing, Klunder had the opportunity to present evidence and to call and question witnesses. He provided a written opening statement but chose not to present any witnesses in his defense. After the hearing, the hearing officer provided Vice President Klawunn with his decision. Vice President Klawunn adopted this recommendation and rendered a formal decision ...

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