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Doe v. Brown University

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 6, 2017

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
BROWN UNIVERSITY, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

         Courts have recognized a private right of action under Title IX to remedy gender discrimination at federally-funded educational institutions ("schools") in cases of discrimination between two students at a school, and between a teacher and a student at a school. By bringing this case against Brown University and two of its administrators, Plaintiff Jane Doe seeks to expand the scope of Title IX protection to include persons experiencing gender discrimination who are not students or staff at the offending school.

         The Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 16. Because the Court finds that the expansion Ms. Doe advocates is not permitted under Title IX or the cases interpreting its language, the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted.

         I. FACTS[1]

         Jane Doe was a freshman at Providence College in 2013. In November of that year, she was at a bar in Providence, Rhode Island with friends when she was drugged, taken by taxi to a Brown University dorm, and sexually assaulted by three Brown University football players. Ms. Doe received treatment several days later at a Massachusetts hospital.

         Several months later, in February 2014, Ms. Doe reported the sexual assault to both the City of Providence and Brown University Police. Providence Police issued search warrants for the cell phones and dorm rooms of the Brown University students suspected of assaulting her. The cell phones revealed communications that referenced rape and contained explicit photographs of Ms. Doe taken at the time of the sexual assault. Later laboratory test results of Ms. Doe's hair indicated the presence of two over-the-counter drugs commonly used to incapacitate rape victims.

         In the fall of 2014, after Ms. Doe made several requests, Brown University agreed to conduct an inquiry into Ms. Doe's allegations under the student disciplinary code, but not under Title IX standards.[2] In 2016, after Ms. Doe's repeated inquiries with appropriate persons at Brown, Brown informed her that it never completed the inquiry concerning her assault and abandoned any disciplinary action against the three Brown students.

         Ms, Doe withdrew from Providence College[3] alleging that she was forced to do so because Brown's refusal to discipline her attackers allowed them free range of Providence, causing her to fear for her safety on the Providence College campus and in the general Providence area.

         Ms. Doe has now sued Brown University, Jonah Allen Ward, Senior Associate Dean of Student Life, and Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, Associate Dean of Student Life (collectively "Brown"), alleging that they failed to protect her under Title IX and acted with deliberate indifference by failing to act on or provide redress for her sexual assault. Specifically, Ms. Doe asserts that because Brown failed to respond effectively to her assault she was in fear for her safety on the Providence College campus and in the general Providence area, because "Brown students and/or associates of the men who assaulted her were not prohibited from being near her, or contacting her or her friends." This fear, she alleges, resulted in "a hostile education environment" at Providence College that caused her to suffer "substantial interference with her access to educational opportunities or benefits, " and ultimately caused her to withdraw from Providence College.

         In addition to her federal statutory claim, Ms. Doe also claims violations of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act ("RICRA") and Article 1, Section 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution.[4]

         All Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "A motion for judgment on the pleadings [under Rule 12(c)] is treated much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, " with the court viewing "the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences therefrom." Perez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergwa-Nunez, 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006)).

         The function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Godin v. Schencks,629 F.3d 79, 89 (1st Cir. 2010). If the Plaintiff is entitled to relief under any set of facts that are plausible and are "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, " the court must deny the motion to dismiss. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). However, "[i]f the facts articulated in the complaint are too meager, vague, or conclusory to remove the possibility of relief from the realm of mere conjecture, the complaint is open to dismissal." SEC v. Tambone,597 F.3d 436, 442 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A court must embark on a two-step analysis in considering plausibility. In re Cm-ran,855 F.3d 19, 25 (1st Cir. 2017). The court must first set aside conclusory allegations and second, it must ...


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