Court order blocks release of student’s name in UNC sex assault case

Image from

Listen to this story (6 minutes)

  • A federal court order Tuesday blocks the University of North Carolina from releasing information that could reveal the name of a former student who is suing the school.
  • The student identified in court records as Jacob Doe asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction after learning that UNC has received a public records request related to the case.
  • US District Judge Max Cogburn's order blocks UNC from releasing any records that could reveal Doe's identity. Chief District Judge Martin Reidinger will hold a hearing as early as November about granting an injunction in the case.

A federal court order Tuesday bars the University of North Carolina from releasing information that could reveal the name of an expelled student who is suing the school. The student claims UNC botched a sexual assault investigation against him.

US District Judge Max Cogburn granted a temporary restraining order to the student identified in court proceedings as Jacob Doe.

Doe had asked for the temporary order and an injunction after university officials informed his lawyers last week about a public records request. Granting the request could have unmasked Doe’s identity.

UNC opposed Doe’s request. The ACLU of North Carolina Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing Doe’s request as well.

Cogburn revealed in his order that fellow US District Judge Martin Reidinger had agreed to issuing a tenporary restraining order in the case in February. Reidinger dissolved his order once UNC and Doe reached an agreement about keeping Doe’s name confidential.

“The Court will grant Plaintiff’s renewed Motion for Temporary Restraining Order on the same grounds that Chief Judge Reidinger saw fit to grant it eight months ago,” Cogburn wrote.

“Upon careful review of the pleadings, the Court finds that there is no substantial potential prejudice to the Defendants in maintaining the status quo during that short period of time until a hearing can be held on the Plaintiff’s request for preliminary injunctive relief,” Cogburn wrote. “Further, there is a probability of irreparable harm to the Plaintiff should the requested relief not be granted. As the balance of hardships and equities as to this discreet point of the disclosure of information over this short period of time tips decidedly in the Plaintiff’s favor, the Plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order is granted.”

Cogburn noted that he expressed “no opinion” about Doe’s claims or his request for an injunction.

The order indicates that Reidinger will return to overseeing the case. Cogburn planned to extend the temporary order into November “unless Defendant UNC consents to a different extension.”

At a future hearing before Reidinger, UNC will have to show “why Defendant should not be enjoined from any disclosure of Plaintiff John Doe’s name and disciplinary records to the press and the public until a final determination is made in this federal lawsuit.”

Doe’s suit claims UNC violated Title IX, as well as his civil rights under a federal law known as §1983. He also claims “breach of contract, negligent hiring, tortious interference with contract, and violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.”

The 192-page lawsuit alleges that Doe was a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 “when he became the subject of a targeted campaign to destroy his reputation, his education, and his connections to the UNC community,” according to the complaint filed in US District Court in February.

Doe alleges that four female UNC students engaged in a “premeditated and coordinated” campaign against him. One of the accusers “admitted that her actions in organizing the complaints against Plaintiff were intended to ostracize him from his friends, to have him excluded from his fraternity, and to have him lose his prestigious scholarship at UNC,” according to the complaint. Doe was a Morehead-Cain scholar at Chapel Hill.

“Plaintiff has been shunned and cancelled by most, if not all, of his friends and peers at UNC, his reputation has been permanently destroyed, his scholarship was revoked, he was excluded from his fraternity and his apartment and, most critically, he has been permanently expelled from the entire University of North Carolina System,” Doe’s lawyers wrote.

Doe says he was found “not responsible for any policy violations” related to two of the complaining students. He was found “not responsible for most of the charges” involving a third student. Yet “the reporting parties succeeded in what they set out to do.” Doe “has suffered immense, compounding, and irreparable harm since the University accepted the complaints, without question, in the spring of 2021.”

“The University permitted the reporting parties to weaponize UNC’s Title IX process,” according to the complaint. Doe blames university investigators, the school’s Title IX Coordinator, the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, the Emergency Evaluation and Action Committee, and hearing panel chairs and members. They “not only failed to ensure that the investigatory and adjudicatory processes were fair and objective, but rather contributed to the defective, prejudicial, and arbitrarily inequitable processes that were replete with gender bias against Plaintiff.”

The university expelled Doe. It barred him permanently in spring 2022 from reapplying to the Chapel Hill campus or applying to any other UNC campus, “derailing his educational goals and career aspirations, and permanently tarnishing his name and reputation,” according to Doe’s lawsuit.

“As a result of the Defendants’ unlawful, unfair, gender-biased, and improper conduct, Plaintiff was subjected to disciplinary processes that failed to comport with the University’s promises to Plaintiff as an enrolled student, the tenets of Title IX, and principles of good faith and fundamental fairness,” according to Doe’s complaint.

The most recent legal sparring in the case has involved the venue. UNC officials have filed paperwork seeking to have the case moved from North Carolina’s Western District to the Middle District.

Doe lives in Burke County, located in the Western District. The university sits in Orange County, located in the Middle District.