Expelled UNC student opposes moving sex assault case closer to Chapel Hill

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  • An expelled student challenges the University of North Carolina's request to have his federal lawsuit moved to a venue closer to Chapel Hill.
  • The student identified as Jacob Doe lives in Burke County. He filed suit in the Western District. Chapel Hill sits in the Middle District.
  • Doe contends that some of the events that led to allegations against him took place in the Western District, both in Burke County and Charlotte.

A former student challenging his expulsion from the University of North Carolina opposes the university’s request to have his federal lawsuit moved closer to the Chapel Hill campus. The student argues that UNC botched a sexual assault investigation against him.

The student known in court documents as Jacob Doe filed suit earlier this year in North Carolina’s Western District. It comprises 32 counties, including the cities of Charlotte, Asheville, Hickory, and Statesville. Chapel Hill sits in the Middle District, which covers 24 counties.

State lawyers representing the university filed a motion on July 31 to transfer the case to the Middle District. Doe’s lawyers responded Monday.

“Plaintiff is a resident of Burke County, which is within the Western District of North Carolina and is within this Court’s division,” Doe’s lawyers explained. He entered into a contract for UNC-Chapel Hill’s “prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship” from his Burke County home in March 2019.

Some of the allegations that led to Doe’s expulsion also have ties to the Western District, according to the court filing. The document references interactions with female accusers at a Charlotte condominium and Doe’s family home in Burke County. Those accusers are identified as Jane Roe 3 and Jane Roe 4.

“Despite its knowledge that the University lacked jurisdiction over the Roe 3 and Roe 4 matters, because the events occurred off campus, did not occur in the context of any education program or activity, took place during school breaks, and did not result in any continuing adverse effects on campus, UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office nonetheless moved forward with the Roe 3 and Roe 4 investigations against Plaintiff,” Doe’s lawyers wrote.

“To justify these improper actions, Defendants falsely characterized the incidents reported by Roe 3 and Roe 4 as having ‘occurred within the context of fraternity-sponsored trips,’ notwithstanding that not only was this information false, but neither Roe 3 nor Roe 4 ever claimed that the trips were fraternity-sponsored events,” according to the court filing.

UNC’s lawyers made their case for a change of venue in July.

“In Spring 2021, Jacob Doe was expelled from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC-CH”) following several allegations of sexual misconduct. In his 192-page Complaint, Plaintiff complains that the process set by federal law and implemented in Chapel Hill through UNC-CH’s policies was biased against him,” wrote lawyers representing UNC.

“By filing this case in the Western District, Plaintiff has disregarded the convenience of witnesses and the parties and compelling interests of justice. For example, Plaintiff ignores the likelihood that most witnesses — including the Individual Defendants and other UNC-CH employees — reside in or near Chapel Hill,” UNC lawyers wrote.

“He likewise ignores that most documentary evidence is located and maintained in Chapel Hill. Moving this case closer to the witnesses, the parties, and the documentary evidence would substantially promote the convenience of the parties and witnesses,” the university argued. “Additionally, it would serve the interests of justice by decreasing the need for travel and potential delays in the proceedings. Therefore, this case should be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina for further disposition.”

The motion for a change of venue arrived in the Western District on the same day university and individual defendants filed briefs asking for the court to dismiss the case entirely.

A July 13 order from Chief US District Judge Martin Reidinger indicated that the case would proceed using pseudonyms for the plaintiff and his female accusers.

“Here, the Plaintiff has a strong interest in anonymity because of the extremely sensitive nature of the allegations made against him and the high risk of retaliation should these allegations be made public,” Reidinger wrote. “Moreover, allowing the Plaintiff and the four female students to proceed under pseudonym protects not only the Plaintiff from retaliation but the four students — none of whom are parties to this litigation — as well.”

Reidinger’s order applies to any part of the case extending through his decision about whether to grant summary judgment to Doe or the university. “Should the case proceed further than summary judgment, the Court will take up the issue of further privacy measures at that time,” the judge explained.

The university has argued that officials conducted a proper investigation of allegations against Doe.

“Plaintiff was found not responsible in the matters reported by Janes Roes 2 and 3. And Plaintiff was found responsible in the matters reported by Janes Roes 1 and 4,” a UNC court filing explained. “He was suspended for his assault of Roe 1 and expelled for his assaults of Roe 4. Plaintiff claims his sanctions in the Roe 1 and 4 matters resulted not from his own actions, but instead from UNC-CH’s bias against men. He claims that UNC-CH’s process, which twice produced results in his favor, was systemically biased against men when it produced results not in his favor.”

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.