Dear Colleague Letter Rulings (Student Victories)

University Setbacks (losses)

Court cases can be difficult to interpret. Of course, a court ruling that flatly says a particular school violated the rights of a student is pretty clear. Other cases can be more ambiguous, but still are important. A court may rule that a school’s behavior was not so terrible that it rose to the level of violating a student’s constitutional rights, but the facts of the case may still make it clear that the school was not fair to the student. A settlement often occurs because a family will accept a deal that simply clears the student’s transcript and will not fight on to get a final ruling by the court.

 The simple fact that so many cases are being filed is the real message here. 

Families are spending personal resources to fight against giant institutions because they believe they have been treated so unfairly by the school.

The fact that so many of these cases are resulting in outright student victories or settlements is also remarkable. The schools have vastly superior resources to hire lawyers to fight the students, and courts have a long history of deferring to schools on matters of internal discipline. The “presumption of regularity” used to mean that judges generally assumed colleges were doing the right thing and deferred to the colleges with little enthusiasm for getting the courts involved in student discipline. That “presumption of regularity” has been deeply eroded in just a few years and has been eroding at an accelerating rate as more courts realize just how badly student discipline is handled by many colleges. Whether a particular college won, lost or settled an individual case is less important than the fact that some family believed it was compelled at great emotional and financial cost to seek relief in the courts.

Parents and prospective students should be aware of the need to ask more questions about a school that has been sued and to be particularly vigilant about schools that have been sued repeatedly, regardless of the outcome of the individual litigation.


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* indicates cases involving Title IX speech / sexual harassment claims.


This list does not include: John Doe v. University of Kentucky (CA6, 15 June 2017, Eugene Siler, which affirmed and reversed district court, sub nom. Doe v. Hazard, 15 Jan. 2016; affirmed on absention grounds, reversed on qualified immunity to a UK employee) (case was subsequently settled); the list also does not include Thomas Rossley, Jr., v. Drake University (S.D. Iowa, 12 Oct. 2018, Rebecca Ebinger, which denied SJ to university on selective enforcement grounds but granted it on erroneous outcome and fairness/breach of contract grounds) and John Doe v. Princeton University (D.N.J., 10 Jan. 2019, Michael Shipp, which both denied the student’s motion for a preliminary injunction and, on the same set of facts, denied the university’s motion to dismiss).

The list does not include cases at Amherst, CSU-San Marcos, Carnegie Mellon, Denison, Holy Cross, Idaho (state court), Macalaster, Occidental (state court), Rochester, Temple (Johnson), Texas, Texas A&M, UCSB (state court), and UMass, where the university settled despite prevailing in an initial opinion.

The list does not include Aquino v. RPI (N.D.N.Y., 26 Jan. 2016) & Doe v. Columbia University (New York County Supreme Court, 5 Nov. 2018); decisions/case files are sealed.

The list does not include one case at Occidental (Doe) and one at SUNY-Buffalo (Utley), where the state court decision was conflicting (annulling the school punishment but allowing some punishment against accused student).