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Doe v. Brown University

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 18, 2018

JANE DOE, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
BROWN UNIVERSITY in Providence in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, JONAH ALLEN WARD, and YOLANDA CASTILLO-APPOLLONIO, Defendants, Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND [Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

          Wendy Murphy, with whom Patrick T. Jones, Audrey R. Poore, and Jones Kelleher LLP were on brief, for appellant.

          Thomas R. Bender, Associate Counsel, Office of General Counsel, Brown University, with whom Steven M. Richard and Nixon Peabody LLP were on brief, for appellees.

          Jenna M. Labourr and Washington Injury Lawyers, PLLC, on brief for amici curiae Equal Means Equal, National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, Allies Reaching for Equality, and Faculty Against Rape, in support of appellant.

          Before Torruella, Lynch, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         In November 2013, Jane Doe ("Doe"), then a freshman at Providence College, was sexually assaulted by three students of Brown University ("Brown") on Brown's campus. After Doe reported the assault to the local authorities in the City of Providence, Brown notified Doe that it would conduct an inquiry to determine whether the students had violated Brown's Code of Student Conduct. Doe alleges that eventually, Brown abandoned the investigation and did not initiate any disciplinary action against the three Brown students. Doe then initiated this action seeking damages and equitable relief against Brown under Title IX of the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. The district court granted Brown's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and Doe now appeals that decision. For the reasons explained below, we find that Doe's complaint did not, on its face, allege sufficient facts for a plausible Title IX claim against Brown, and therefore affirm the district court's grant of Brown's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Because this case was decided on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, we take the well-pleaded facts from the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Najas Realty, LLC v. Seekonk Water Dist., 821 F.3d 134, 137, 140 (1st Cir. 2016).

         On November 21, 2013, Doe, a freshman at Providence College, [1] was socializing with some friends at a bar in Providence, Rhode Island. While at the bar, Doe was drugged "against her knowledge and will," transported by taxi to a Brown dormitory, and sexually assaulted by three males over an extended period of time. The assailants were all Brown students and members of Brown's football team. Doe received medical treatment at a Massachusetts hospital shortly thereafter.

         On February 3, 2014, Doe reported the sexual assault to the Providence Police Department. A Brown University Police officer was present while Doe gave a statement to the Providence Police. Between February and May 2014, the Providence Police executed several search warrants for the dorm rooms and cell phones of the Brown students suspected of assaulting Doe. The seized cell phones revealed text messages between the Brown students that referenced rape and contained explicit images of Doe, taken at the time of the alleged sexual assault.

         On June 19, 2014, Brown University notified Doe that she had a right to file a complaint pursuant to Brown's Code of Student Conduct, but mentioned nothing regarding Doe's right to file a Title IX complaint. Doe then explicitly requested that Brown investigate her sexual assault following Title IX standards. However, Brown insisted that it would only conduct an inquiry under the Code of Student Conduct. As a result, on October 11, 2014, Doe filed a complaint against Brown with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ("OCR").[2]

         In June 2016, after Doe had repeatedly requested an update on the status of Brown's inquiry, Brown responded that it never completed the investigation and had abandoned any disciplinary action against the three Brown students. On an unspecified date, Doe withdrew from Providence College out of fear for her safety and well-being while on the Providence College campus and in the general Providence area. This fear, she alleges, was a direct result ...


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