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Doe v. Devonshire

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 15, 2016

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
BETH DEVONSHIRE, PETER WIERNICKI, ED CABELLON and BETH MORIARITY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This case arises out of allegations by a disabled undergraduate student that school administrators unlawfully suspended him from on-campus housing for one year after his roommate accused him of engaging in lewd conduct in his room.

Pending before the Court is plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons that follow, that motion will be denied.

I. Background

A. The parties

Plaintiff John Doe (“Doe” or “plaintiff”) is a full-time, freshman student at Bridgewater State University (“BSU”). He has been diagnosed with “severe” emotional and learning disabilities including generalized anxiety disorder, sensorineural hearing loss, disorder of written expression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”).

Defendant Beth Devonshire (“Devonshire”) is the Director of the Office of Community Standards (“Director”) at BSU who suspended plaintiff’s on-campus housing privileges for the 2016 calendar year.

Defendant Peter Wiernicki (“Wiernicki”) is the Associate Director of the Office of Community Standards at BSU who investigated the charge that plaintiff engaged in lewd conduct.

Defendant Ed Cabellon (“Cabellon”) is the Appeals Officer at BSU who reviewed plaintiff’s appeal from the housing sanctions imposed by Devonshire.

Defendant Beth Moriarty (“Moriarty”) is the Director of Residence Life and Housing at BSU.

B. The Student Code of Conduct

The BSU Student Code of Conduct (“the Student Code”) sets forth the responsibilities of all members of the BSU community. Section B(16) of Part III proscribes

[c]onduct that is lewd or indecent such as public urination, public defecation, streaking, stripping, or solicitation of a stripper.

Violations of the Student Code are adjudicated pursuant to the Community Standards Procedures. Section A(3) of Part IV instructs the Director of Community Standards to assign an investigator to the case and schedule a conference with the subject of the investigation. Section B(1) of Part IV requires the investigator to hold an Administrative Conference with the subject to review the incident, discuss the disciplinary process and explore possible options for resolution.

If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute, the investigator is called upon to conduct a full investigation pursuant to section C(1) of Part IV and to submit his or her findings, determination of responsibility and recommended sanctions to the Director. If the investigator finds the subject responsible, he or she is to request the subject to submit a community impact statement and notify him or her of the Administrative Review. The investigator is to send his or her report to the Administrative Review Committee and, if approved, to the Director. The subject is then given written notification of the findings and sanctions.

Section C(3) of Part IV entitles the subject to the following rights during the disciplinary process: 1) to be notified of the allegations against him, 2) to review any written complaints, 3) to be informed about the Community Standards process, 4) to submit a written account or personal statement, 5) to present relevant information, 6) to be accompanied by an advisor during a Community Standards meeting, 7) to receive, upon written request, a copy of the investigatory report at the conclusion of the proceedings and 8) to present a personal or community impact statement on sanctions.

C. The alleged conduct

In the summer of 2015, plaintiff enrolled at BSU as a fulltime, first-year student, registered with the BSU Disability Resources Center and submitted a complete copy of his disability history to the school. BSU assigned Pamela Spillane (“Spillane”), a Learning Disability Specialist, to consult regularly with him and ensure that he received the appropriate disability accommodations.

Plaintiff entered into a Residence Hall Licensing Agreement (“the Housing Agreement”) with BSU that provided him with on-campus housing for the entire 2015-2016 academic year. The Housing Agreement provided that BSU could terminate the contract for good cause. BSU initially assigned him to a dormitory room in the residence hall with two roommates.

Plaintiff had not lived away from home before and had trouble adjusting to life on campus. In early September, 2015, he told his roommates and school administrators that his former girlfriend had committed suicide, her father had been murdered and he himself had previously attempted suicide. BSU notified campus police who took him to a hospital for a voluntary psychological evaluation. He admitted that he lied about those events because he was upset that another female student had rejected his advances.

In late September, 2015, plaintiff, while tossing a small ball around his dormitory room, hit one of his roommates with the ball which led to an argument. The argument escalated until the roommate pushed him into a desk and reported him to BSU administrators for violating the Student Code.

Plaintiff was charged with engaging in endangering behavior, harming behavior and disruptive behavior. Assistant Director Wiernicki investigated the incident, notified plaintiff of the charges, interviewed him at an administrative conference and ultimately found that he did not engage in endangering or harming behavior. Plaintiff and Wiernicki agreed, however, that he was responsible for engaging in disruptive behavior. There was no liaison from the Disability Resources Center present during the proceedings.

BSU directed plaintiff to attend an anger management evaluation and complete 20 hours of community service. BSU also placed him on probation and cautioned him that, due to his history of misconduct, he could be suspended or expelled from BSU if he violated the Student Code again. BSU reassigned plaintiff to a smaller dormitory room with two new roommates, which ...


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