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Doe v. Purdue University

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, LaFayette Division

March 25, 2019

MARY DOE AND NANCY ROE, Plaintiffs,
v.
PURDUE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss Counts V-III and Sever Plaintiffs' Remaining Claims [DE 11], filed by Defendants on January 9, 2019. Defendants seek to dismiss Counts V, VI, VII and VIII of Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and seek to sever the remaining claims into two separate actions. Plaintiffs filed a response on February 13, 2019, and Defendants replied on February 20, 2019.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs, who were female students at Purdue University, allege that they were assaulted in unrelated incidents by male students at Purdue. Plaintiffs separately reported the incidents to Purdue. According to the Complaint, Purdue investigated and found that Plaintiff Mary Doe had “fabricated” her allegation, and Plaintiff Nancy Roe had “reported [her] assault maliciously.”[1]Purdue expelled both Plaintiffs, but the expulsions were reduced to two-year suspensions on appeal. Plaintiffs state that Purdue “has implemented a policy . . . wherein women who cannot prove their claims to the satisfaction of Purdue decisionmakers face discipline up to expulsion at Purdue, ” and allege that both Plaintiffs were wrongly suspended. In Counts I through IV, Plaintiffs allege claims against Purdue pursuant to Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. In Counts V and VI, Plaintiffs allege claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Purdue and two university administrators, Katie Sermersheim and Alyssa Rollock, acting in their official capacities. In Counts VII and VIII, Plaintiffs allege Section 1983 claims against Semersheim and Rollock in their individual capacities.

         Defendants seek to dismiss the Section 1983 claims in Counts V and VI, arguing that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because all Defendants are instruments of the state of Indiana and thus immune to suit in federal court. Defendants seek to dismiss the Section 1983 claims against the individual defendants in Counts VII and VIII, arguing that the Complaint does not allege any conduct by those Defendants in their individual capacity. Finally, Defendants seek to sever the remaining claims into separate actions for each Plaintiff, because there is “no intersection” between the alleged assaults or the subsequent disciplinary proceedings for the separate Plaintiffs.

         II. Analysis

         A. Section 1983 Claims Against Purdue

         Defendants seek to dismiss the Section 1983 claims against Purdue in Counts V and VI, arguing that Purdue, as an instrument of the State of Indiana, is protected by Indiana's immunity to suit in federal court. See Thomas v. Illinois, 697 F.3d 612, 613 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[T]he Eleventh Amendment bars the suit. The suit is against a state and a state agency and Congress did not abrogate the states' sovereign immunity from suit under section 1983, as it could have done.”) (citations omitted); Kashani v. Purdue Univ., 813 F.2d 843, 844 (7th Cir. 1987) (holding that Purdue is “an arm of the state entitled to the protection of the Eleventh Amendment”). In their response to the instant Motion, Plaintiffs clarify that “their Section 1983 claims are against Rollock and Semersheim [the individual defendants] only.” Therefore, the Section 1983 claims against Purdue in Counts V and VI are dismissed.

         B. Section 1983 Claims Against Rollock and Semersheim

         Defendants seek to dismiss official capacity claims and individual capacity claims, made pursuant to Section 1983, against Defendants Rollock and Semersheim. The Court considers the official capacity claims (within Counts V and VI) and individual capacity claims (within Counts VII and VIII) in turn.

         i. Official Capacity Claims (Counts V and VI)

         Defendants argue that immunity under the Eleventh Amendment extends to lawsuits against Rollock and Semersheim, two university administrators, for actions made in their official capacities as state agents. See Joseph v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wisc. Sys., 432 F.3d 746, 748 (7th Cir. 2005) (“[S]tate officials in their official capacities are also immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.”) (citations omitted). Plaintiffs argue that their claims fall under the Ex Parte Young exception to the Eleventh Amendment immunity to suit. Under the Ex Parte Young doctrine, a plaintiff may sue state officials if they seek prospective relief to prevent an ongoing violation of federal law. MCI Telecomm. Corp. v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., 222 F.3d 323, 337 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted); Marie O. v. Edgar, 131 F.3d 610, 615 (7th Cir. 1997). In applying the doctrine, the Court “need only conduct a ‘straightforward inquiry into whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as prospective.'” Amundson ex rel. Amundson v. Wisc. Dep't of Health Servs., 721 F.3d 871, 873 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Service Com'n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002)).

         Within their request for relief, Plaintiffs seek “reinstatement to Purdue University with all attendant benefits and . . . removal of the discipline from their records.” Plaintiffs argue that reinstatement, and removal of discipline from their records, is prospective injunctive relief that triggers the Ex Parte Young exception. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs are merely seeking relief for past acts, and neither Defendant is alleged to be engaged in an ongoing violation of federal law, making Ex Parte Young inapplicable.

         The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that their claims for reinstatement to Purdue and removal of the discipline from their records are cognizable under Ex Parte Young. Defendants point out that Rollock and Semersheim last interacted with the students months ago, and neither is alleged to be “presently” violating federal law. But ongoing harm can trigger Ex Parte Young even if a defendant is no longer taking affirmative steps that allegedly violate the law. See, e.g., Doe v. Cummins, 662 Fed.Appx. 437, 444 (6th Cir. 2016) (holding that Ex Parte Young applied to expungement of discipline from university students' records since “the individual defendants would merely be compelled to remove the negative notation . . . that resulted from the allegedly unconstitutional disciplinary process. This is nothing more than prospective remedial action.”); see also Nelson v. Univ. of Tex. at Dallas, 535 F.3d 318, 321-324 (5th Cir. 2008) (holding that reinstatement to a job can be sought through Ex Parte Young, and listing cases showing that “almost every circuit has ...


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