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Doe v. University of Kentucky

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 15, 2017

John Doe, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
University of Kentucky, Defendant, Denise B. Simpson, individually and in her official capacity as Director of the Office of Student Conduct, University of Kentucky; Victor Hazard, in his official capacity as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, University of Kentucky, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: April 27, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Lexington. No. 5:15-cv-00300-Joseph M. Hood, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Michael J. Cox, COX LAW, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant.

          Bryan H. Beauman, STURGILL, TURNER, BARKER & MOLONEY, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael J. Cox, COX LAW, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, E. Douglas Richards, E. DOUGLAS RICHARDS, PSC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant.

          Bryan H. Beauman, STURGILL, TURNER, BARKER & MOLONEY, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, William E. Thro, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellees.

          Before: GUY, SILER, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SILER, Circuit Judge.

         This case arises out of the federal district court's involvement in an ongoing disciplinary hearing against John Doe[1] at the University of Kentucky. For the reasons contained herein, we affirm the district court's decision to abstain, reverse the district court's dismissal of the claims against Defendant Denise Simpson, and remand to the district court to stay the case pending conclusion of the university proceedings.

         I.

         After a series of disciplinary hearings, Doe filed suit against the University and Simpson requesting both injunctive and monetary relief. The hearings were initiated after an unidentified individual lodged a complaint against Doe, alleging that he had engaged in nonconsensual sexual activities with a female student, identified as Student A. After conducting an investigation, a Hearing Panel was convened. It found that Doe had violated the Code of Student Conduct and assessed a one-year suspension of Doe. Doe appealed the ruling to the University Appeals Board ("UAB"), which reversed, finding a violation of Doe's due process rights and the Code of Student Conduct due to Simpson's withholding of critical evidence and witness questions from the Hearing Panel. The Hearing Panel held a second hearing, and it again found Doe had violated the University's sexual misconduct policy. Doe appealed, and the UAB reversed the ruling and returned the matter for another hearing. The UAB found multiple due process errors, including Defendants' improper partitioning of Doe and his advisors from Student A, improperly denying Doe the "supplemental proceeding" described in the Student Code, and finding ex parte communications between Student A, Simpson, and the Hearing Panel regarding sanctions.

         A third hearing was scheduled, but before it commenced, Doe filed an action in the district court seeking to enjoin Defendants from conducting the hearing based on alleged unconstitutional flaws in the University's policies, and also asserting due process and equal protection claims under the Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. Defendants responded by arguing that any constitutional problems would be cured in the third hearing, as new procedures would be in place.[2] Defendants also filed a motion requesting the district court to abstain from providing ...


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