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Doe v. Emerson College

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 23, 2015

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
EMERSON COLLEGE; LEE PELTON, individually and as President of Emerson College; RONALD LUDMAN, individually and as Dean of Emerson College; DAVID HADEN, individually and as Director of Housing and Residence Life; DANIELLE MASTRONARDI, individually and as Residence Director; KIM MARCELLA, individually and as Title IX investigator; and MICHAEL ARNO, individually and as Title IX investigator, Defendants

         Decided: December 22, 2015

          For Jane Doe, Plaintiff: David P. Angueira, LEAD ATTORNEY, Swartz & Swartz, Boston, MA.

         For Emerson College, Lee Pelton, Individually and as President of Emerson College, Ronald Ludman, Individually and as Dean of Emerson College, David Haden, Individually and as Director of Housing and Residence Life, Danielle Mastronardi, Individually and as Residence Director at Emerson College, Kim Marcella, Individually and as Title IX Investigator, Michael Arno, Individually and as Title IX Investigator, Defendants: Katrina N. Chapman, Holland & Knight (B), Boston, MA; Paul G. Lannon, Jr., Holland & Knight, LLP, Boston, MA.


         F. Dennis Saylor IV, United States District Judge.

         This is an action arising out of a college's investigation of an alleged sexual assault. Plaintiff Jane Doe is a student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted off-campus, once at a party in Cambridge and later in a Boston alleyway.

         Doe originally reported to Emerson officials and police that she was raped by a male MIT student at an MIT fraternity party. The complaint acknowledges that a DNA test was performed after the alleged assault, and that the evidence did not support her claim. The test did, however, show the presence of female saliva. More than a month after Doe first reported the assault, she changed her account to allege that a female Emerson student held her down while the MIT student raped her, and that the female student also performed oral sex on her. Emerson investigated Doe's allegations; the investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a sexual assault to satisfy a preponderance of the evidence standard.

         The complaint further alleges that the same two individuals later confronted her on a Boston street and pushed her into an alleyway, where the female grabbed at her crotch. Emerson investigated that allegation, as well, and concluded that the claim was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

         The complaint alleges that the defendants, Emerson and certain of its employees, failed to promptly and appropriately investigate the alleged assaults, subjecting Doe to a hostile environment and effectively denying her access to educational opportunities. The complaint names Emerson and six employees--including the President and Dean of Students--and includes four claims: (1) violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, against Emerson; (2) negligence against all defendants; (3) negligent infliction of emotional distress against all defendants; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Emerson and four employees. The Court previously denied Emerson's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the Title IX claim (Count One). The Court also previously granted Emerson President Lee Pelton's motion for judgment on the pleadings because the complaint did not include any specific allegations against him.

         Pending before the Court is defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Doe's state-law claims (Counts Two through Four). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         The facts are drawn predominantly from the complaint, and also occasionally from the answer to provide context. See R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergara-Nunez, 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006) (answer and other documents fairly incorporated in the pleadings may be considered for Rule 12(c) motion).

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Parties

         Emerson College is a private college in Boston, Massachusetts. (Compl. ¶ 2). Jane Doe is a resident of Washington, D.C. and a student at Emerson. ( Id. at ¶¶ 1, 96). She enrolled at Emerson as a first-year student beginning with the fall 2012 semester. ( Id. at ¶ 17).

         Lee Pelton is the President of Emerson. ( Id. at ¶ 3). Ronald Ludman is the Dean of Students. ( Id. at ¶ 4). David Haden is the former Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Housing and Residence Life. ( Id. at ¶ 5). Danielle Mastronardi is a former Resident Director. ( Id. at ¶ 6). Kim Marcella is the Director of Employment and Employee Relations. ( Id. at ¶ 7). Michael Arno is the Director of Student Conduct. ( Id. at ¶ 8).

         2. The Alleged Rape

         On October 13, 2012, Doe and several other Emerson students, including a female student (" Student A" ), left campus to attend an off-campus party in Cambridge. ( Id. at ¶ 22). The party was at a fraternity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ( Id. ). The complaint alleges that Student A had served Doe an alcoholic drink before the party that contained an unknown drug. ( Id. at ¶ 20).

         According to the complaint, while at the party, Doe was lured into a room by an MIT fraternity member who slammed her head against the wall and raped her. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25-27).

         When she returned to her dorm later that night, Doe told a friend that she was sexually assaulted by an MIT student at an off-campus party. ( Id. at ¶ 29). Doe's friend contacted an Emerson Resident Assistant. ( Id. at ¶ 30). The RA immediately went to Doe's room, spoke to her, explained to her that she had the option to file a report with the Emerson Police Department, and offered to accompany her to the police and call a counselor. ( Id. at ¶¶ 31-32).

         Doe chose not to report the assault that night to the police. ( Id. at ¶ 32). The RA explained to Doe that she would not disclose her account of the assault, except to share it with the on-duty Residence Director in order to ensure that Doe received the assistance she needed. ( Id. at ¶ 31).

         The next day, Residence Director Mastronardi visited Doe and offered her resource materials for victims of sexual assault. ( Id. at ¶ 33). The complaint alleges that Mastronardi asked Doe in " a condescending and disrespectful way" whether she was sure that she had been raped. ( Id. at ¶ 36). She also failed to hide the sexual-assault resource materials from Doe's roommate. ( Id. at ¶¶ 34-36). Mastronardi left the materials with Doe. ( Id. at ¶ 37). According to the complaint, those materials did not provide information on Doe's rights under Title IX. ( Id. ).

         After consulting a friend later that day, Doe decided to report the assault to the Emerson police. ( Id. at ¶ 39). The RA accompanied Doe to the Emerson Police office, where she reported the assault. ( Id. at ¶ 40). The Emerson police explained that they did not have the power to investigate a sexual assault by a non-Emerson student at an off-campus location. ( Id. at ¶¶ 43-44). The Emerson police contacted the Boston Police Department, who concluded that the Cambridge Police Department had jurisdiction. ( Id. ).

         3. The Initial Police Investigation

         On October 15, 2012, Doe went to Tufts Medical Center, where she received a rape kit. ( Id. at ¶ 45). Later that day, Doe searched online for the name of the fraternity house where she was assaulted. ( Id. at ¶ 46). According to the complaint, she looked at pictures of its members and recognized one of the fraternity members as her assailant, and notified her RA. ( Id. at ¶¶ 46-47). The RA notified the Cambridge police that Doe was able to identify her assailant and e-mailed the fraternity's webpage to the detective investigating the matter. ( Id. at ¶ 48).

         A few days later, Cambridge police interviewed Doe and other Emerson students who attended the party, including Student A. ( Id. at ¶ 49).

         During a November 15 meeting with Cambridge and MIT police, the officers told Doe that the lab results from her rape kit showed no DNA evidence to support her claim that a male MIT student sexually assaulted her. ( Id. at ¶ 50). The officers also told her, however, that the results showed traces of a female's saliva. ( Id. ).

         According to the complaint, fifteen minutes after the officers left the meeting, Doe " started having an anxiety attack mixed with flashbacks of that night." ( Id. at ¶ 51). For the first time, she recalled that Student A was present in the room while she was assaulted. ( Id. ). Doe now remembered that Student A performed oral sex on her and held her down while the MIT student raped her. ( Id. ). The complaint alleges that Doe did not recall Student A's involvement before November 15 because she had been drugged by Student A and because her assailant had slammed her head against the wall. ( Id. at ¶ 27). At ...

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