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Doe v. Brown University

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 22, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
BROWN UNIVERSITY, in Providence in the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; MELISSA CLARK, individually and as an agent of BROWN; MARGARET KLAWUNN, individually and as an agent of BROWN; and CHRISTOPHER DENNIS, individually and as an agent of BROWN, Defendants, Appellees.

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

          Philip Byler, with whom Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP and Samuel D. Zurier were on brief, for appellant.

          Thomas R. Bender, with whom Beverly E. Ledbetter and the Office of General Counsel, Brown University, were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          HOWARD, CHIEF JUDGE

         Jane Doe[1] brought suit against Brown University ("Brown") and three of its employees, alleging a number of contract and tort claims arising from Brown's sanctions against her for her second violation of the University's Code of Academic Conduct ("the Code"). The district court entered summary judgment in Brown's favor, which Doe now appeals.[2] We affirm.

         I.

         Because Doe appeals a grant of summary judgment, we present the facts in the light most favorable to her, the non-moving party. See Bellone v. Southwick-Tolland Reg'l Sch. Dist., 748 F.3d 418, 420 (1st Cir. 2014). Doe studied at Brown as an undergraduate from the fall semester of 2010 through her graduation in the spring semester of 2014. In 2013 -- the fall semester of Doe's senior year -- she enrolled in Public Health 320, a course taught by Professor Melissa Clark, one of the defendants here. Professor Clark's course included a two-part midterm examination consisting of an in-class multiple-choice examination, as well as a take-home exam that included four essay questions ("the take-home" or "the exam"). While grading the take-home exams, a teaching assistant noticed similarities between Doe's answer to the exam's fourth question ("Question 4") and that of T.L., another student in the class.[3] The assistant alerted both Doe and Professor Clark. Doe met with Professor Clark the next day, and, according to Doe, she "readily admitted" in that meeting "that she and other students, including T.L., had collaborated on the [e]xam." Doe also explained to Professor Clark that "the majority of the students in the class had worked in groups" on the exam, and that this collaboration was in line with Professor Clark's "regular[] encourage[ment of] such collaboration and group discussions in her course."

         A few days later, Doe received an email explaining that she would need to meet with Christopher Dennis, the Deputy Dean of the College (and another defendant in this case) about her exam. At the meeting with Dean Dennis, Doe again acknowledged her collaboration with T.L.

         In December 2013, Brown notified Doe that it had assigned her matter to the university's Committee on the Academic Code ("the Committee") for a hearing. Before the hearing, Doe submitted a written statement to the Committee in which she acknowledged that "after comparing my [take-home exam] with the other individual [T.L.], there are similarities between the two for question #4." Doe further explained that "it was late at night, and I was suffering from fatigue . . . . I was struggling on coming up with innovative ideas for [Question 4]. I used [T.L.'s] suggestions, and when she was explaining them to me, . . . the thoughts of whose were whose was blurred." Doe's statement concluded with a request that the Committee "understand where I am coming from and forgive me for my mistake."

         At the hearing, Doe chose not to call any witnesses, opting instead to admit to and to apologize for having relied on T.L. in answering question #4. See Doe, 209 F.Supp.3d at 474. Neither Professor Clark nor T.L. appeared as witnesses against Doe. Id.

         The Committee concluded that "by making unauthorized use of the work of another" on the exam, Doe violated Brown's Academic Code. After considering that this was Doe's second violation of the Code, [4] the Committee assessed the following sanctions: (1) a one-semester suspension, including termination of university access and related privileges; (2) notations on her academic transcript about the suspension stating "directed no credit in Public Health 320," and "violation of the Academic Code"; (3) parental notification; and (4) the denial of any future institutional letter of support, or alternatively a discussion of Doe's offense in all such letters.

         Doe appealed the Committee's decision to defendant Margaret Klawunn, Brown's Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services, in January 2014. Ten days later -- one day after the start of the spring semester -- Klawunn issued a decision affirming the Committee's decision and sanctions. Doe then transferred to Rhode Island College for her final semester. After completing her remaining credits there, Doe timely graduated from Brown with her class.

         In June 2015, Doe filed a thirteen-count complaint against Brown and the three individual defendants alleging various tort and contract claims. The crux of Doe's theory underlying her claims was that Brown's disciplinary process in her case was deficient and biased when compared to the procedures prescribed under the Academic Code, and further, that Brown had imposed overly punitive sanctions for Doe's violation. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss that included several attachments and the district court, after giving Doe the opportunity to submit additional documents and affidavits for consideration, converted the motion into one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Doe requested additional discovery. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d).

         On June 27, 2016, the district court entered a judgment dismissing Doe's claim for unreasonable publicity to one's private life and granting summary judgment to the defendants on all remaining claims.[5] Doe, 209 F.Supp.3d at 479. The court also denied Doe's request for additional discovery. Id. at 479 n.14. This appeal followed.[6]

         II.

         A. ...


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