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Doe v. Rhode Island School of Design

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

December 18, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,


          JOHN J. McCONNELL, JR., Chief United States District Judge.

         Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by John Doe ("John") in her bedroom during the first night of a study abroad program in Ireland organized by the Rhode Island School of Design ("RISD"). Ms. Doe now sues RISD, asserting negligence (Count I) and premises liability (Count II). ECF No. 19. RISD moves for summary judgment on each count. ECF No. 25.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES RISD's Motion for Summary Judgment on Count I but GRANTS its Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts relevant to deciding this Motion for Summary Judgment are undisputed.

         At the start of its 2015-16 academic 3rear, RISD, through its Continuing Education Office and Global Affairs Office, began planning a summer study abroad program in Ballyvaughan, Ireland (the "Ireland Program"). ECF No. 27-1 at 2, ¶¶9- 11. RISD identified the Burren College of Art ("Burren College") as its host school in Ballyvaughan. Id. at ¶¶ 11-14. Robert Brinkerhoff, a RISD Professor of Illustration, was the faculty advisor of the Ireland Program and chose Timothy Blaine-Kuklo, a student finishing a dual degree program at RISD and Brown University, to serve as his teaching assistant and resident assistant ("TA/RA"). Id. at ¶¶11, 14, 18. Among other responsibilities, Mr. Blaine-Kuklo was to be responsible for "[a]ssisting in the students' orientation to [their housing] accommodations" and with "health and safety requirements". ECF No. 33-26 at 1, ¶5.

         As part of its planning process, RISD worked with Burren College to locate the housing that its students would stay in during their four weeks in Ballyvaughan. ECF No. 27-1 at 4-6, ¶¶ 19-31. RISD informed Burren College that it wanted all its students to be housed together along with Mr. Blaine-Kuklo. Id. at ¶20. RISD did not provide Burren College with any other expectations or requirements for the housing, including with respect to security. ECF No. 33-2 at 25-26, ¶¶ 180-81, 185-87. The RISD employees planning the Ireland Program, however, understood their role to include arranging safe housing for the students. Id. at ¶¶180-81, Burren College initially recommended a large house near its campus, known as the "Lodge". ECF No. 27-1 at 4, ¶21. The Lodge, however, could not accommodate the fourteen RISD students participating in the program and Mr. Blaine-Kuklo. Id. at ¶24. As an alternative, the Burren College located housing in three adjacent houses with the Burren Atlantic Hotel and Holiday Village ("Burren Atlantic"), a local hotel owned by a private hotel property manager. Id. at ¶29; ECF No. 30-3 at 1. RISD accepted these accommodations and memorialized its agreement with Burren College in a Group Study Abroad Agreement. ECF No. 27-1 at 6, ¶30. In advance of the program, Burren College invoiced RISD for the costs of the Ireland Program, including the student accommodations at the Burren Atlantic. Id. at ¶31. The costs for the student accommodations were included in each student's registration fee for the program. See ECF No. 33"29.

         Prior to the start of the Ireland Program, Professor Brinkerhoff assigned housing for each of the fourteen RISD students and Mr. Blaine-Kuklo. ECF No. 27-1 at 9, ¶46. The assignments were made based upon each student's expressed preference to be in either a single or double bedroom. Id.

         The Ireland Program began on June 18, 2016. Id. at ¶7. Professor Brinkerhoff and Mr. Blaine-Kuklo arrived in Ballyvaughan before the students. Id. at ¶¶52, 53. Upon arriving, they each met with Julia Long, Burren College's Group Study Abroad Coordinator, Id. at ¶¶52, 54. Ms. Long discussed the student housing with Professor Brinkerhoff and Mr. Blaine-Kuklo, including securing the exterior of the houses. Id. Each of the three houses had a lock to its exterior door with only one key to lock and unlock it. Id. at ¶54. Ms. Long informed Mr. Blaine-Kuklo that he and the students would need to decide on a hiding place for this key. ECF No. 33-2 at 13, ¶138. Whether the bedrooms had locks and keys was not discussed. Id. at 14, ¶139.

         Ms. Doe and her fellow RISD students arrived in Ballyvaughan on June 18, 2016. ECF No. 27-1 at 11, ¶56. They were greeted at the Burren Atlantic by Professor Brinkerhoff and Mr. Blaine-Kuklo, who discussed with the students the need for a hiding spot for the exterior keys. ECF No. 33-2 at 14-15, ¶¶145, 147. Ms. Doe and John were each assigned to a single bedroom on the second floor of the same house. ECF No. 27-1 at 9-11, ¶48, 60.

         On the night of June 18, 2016, a group of students, including Ms. Doe and John, went out for drinks to celebrate their arrival and John's birthday. ECF No. 33-2 at 15, ¶151. Before midnight, Ms. Doe and John left together and John escorted Ms. Doe back to her room. Id. at ¶152. Prior to leaving her room, John asked Ms. Doe if she would kiss him. Id. at ¶154. Ms, Doe said she would kiss him on the cheek. Id. John left and Ms. Doe closed the door to her room and got into bed, wearing all her clothing. Id. at 16, ¶155. After sending text messages to a friend, Ms. Doe went to sleep. Id. at ¶156. Ms. Doe was unable to lock her bedroom, so the room remained unlocked while she slept. See ECF No. 27-1 at 11, ¶58.

         Later in the night, Ms. Doe awoke to the feeling of someone on top of her. ECF No. 33'2 at 16, ¶157. Feeling paralyzed, she realized it was John and that she no longer had clothes on. Id. John raped Ms. Doe, orally and by vaginal penetration. Id. at 17, ¶158.

         Ms. Doe reported the sexual assault to RISD. ECF No. 27-1 at 11, ¶61. She first reported it to Mr. Blaine-Kuklo, who, after discussing with Ms. Doe, reported it to RISD's Title IX Office. Id. at ¶¶61, 64. Ms. Doe subsequently submitted a formal complaint against John to RISD's Title IX Office and requested a noxontact order and his removal from the Ireland Program. Id. at 14, ¶74. John was dismissed from the Ireland Program the next day and ordered to leave. Id. at 15, ¶77. John accepted responsibility for the sexual assault and was suspended by RISD for three years, with possible re-admittance for the Fall of 2019. Id. at 16, ¶84.

         Prior to the Ireland Program, an allegation of sexual misconduct was reported to RISD during a 2013 study abroad program in Rome. ECF No. 33-2 at 1, ¶85. The student complainant alleged that another RISD student entered her room while she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her. Id. Following the report, an investigation was conducted under RISD's Code of Student Conduct. ECF No. 40 at 1, ¶85.


         When making a summary judgment determination, the Court must review the entire record and consider the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Canadian Univ. Ins. Co.,924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir. 1991). Federal Rule of Procedure 56(a) dictates that summary judgment should be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A genuine dispute of material fact is an issue that "may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" when "the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in favor of the nonmoving party." Rivera -Muriente v. Agosto-Alicea,959 F.2d 349, 352 (1st Cir. 1992) (citing United States v. One Parcel of Real Prop., 960 F.2d 200, 204 (1st Cir. 1992)). If there is a genuine dispute ...

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