published Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Sewanee rape case lawsuit heads to trial

A $3 million federal lawsuit filed against the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., by a former student accused of rape is headed to trial.

The then-freshman student, identified only as John Doe in court documents, has denied rape allegations by the alleged victim, known as A.B., since she first reported the incident Aug. 30, 2008. Doe maintains the sex was consensual and that A.B. spent the night in his bed.

The victim’s allegation was not sent to the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office for further investigation or indictment, and no criminal charges were filed against Doe, according to court documents.

In his lawsuit, which goes to trial July 28, Doe said the accusations caused “damage” to his reputation. He also claimed the school created a breach of contract when it forced him to leave.

The university did not follow its own federally mandated due process rules when it held a five-hour hearing three weeks after the incident and required him to either take a semester suspension or leave the school for a year and reapply for admission, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit outlines violations of policy on handling sexual assault allegations and due process for those accused of such assaults. It requests at least $1 million in compensation and at least $2 million in punitive damages.

On Monday in Chattanooga, Doe’s Washington, D.C.-based attorneys, Charles Wayne and Elisha King, met with the university’s attorneys — Rosemarie Bryan, Aaron Love and Art Brock — before U.S. District Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice for the final scheduled hearing before the trial.

Mattice reviewed jury selection and court rules for the pending trial, set the date and heard arguments for recent filings by both sides.

Attorneys for both sides of the case declined to comment.

In a ruling Friday, Mattice allowed for the continued use of pseudonyms for Doe, A.B. and student witnesses scheduled to testify during the trial, which attorneys on both sides estimated would take four to five days.

Over nine pages of a 44-page ruling, Mattice detailed reasoning for keeping Doe and A.B.’s names private.

“[Doe’s] privacy interests substantially outweigh the presumption of open judicial proceedings in this case,” Mattice wrote.

The use of pseudonyms in civil cases is rare and initially was granted in this case by Magistrate Judge Susan Lee and continued at the request of Doe’s attorneys as the case proceeded.

In some court documents, the university’s attorneys worried that pseudonym usage would create problems during the trial, when attorneys might slip in questioning and say a name meant to be kept private.

Mattice ruled that the names should remain private to protect the parties’ reputation but noted that, with Doe’s presence in court, his identity likely will be revealed.

Sewanee Police Chief Robert White was unavailable for comment Monday about the department’s response to the initial call by A.B.

Doe and A.B., both freshmen at the university, were together from 9 p.m. Aug. 29 until 7 a.m. Aug. 30, 2008, and the pair had intercourse about 1 a.m. in Doe’s dormitory room, court documents state.

Doe claims the sex was consensual and noted that A.B. stayed in the room until the next morning, at one point leaving and then returning, according to court documents. When she left at 7 a.m., A.B. went to an emergency phone and called Sewanee police to report she had been raped, documents state.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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rolando said...

Yet another case of presumed guilt by a University. I hope he wins the $3Million.

Be interesting if the University calls A.B. as a witness...there goes her anonymity, too. A good moral lesson in that...

July 12, 2011 at 8:23 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

It DOES sound "fishy" on her part...Why would she leave and then come back?

"Me thinks the lady doth protest too much"...

July 12, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Schools and colleges do not handle discipline cases the way a court handles criminal cases. If the university in question did not follow its own policies, then the young man has a case. If they did, then he does not. Cases of date rape are the most difficult for a school to resolve. Don't try to pass judgment on this situation from outside, as we the public know nothing regarding the specifics.

July 12, 2011 at 9:35 a.m.
rolando said...

Well, you are back lkeith. Welcome. Hopefully you won't start with "that topic" again...

As for the school "difficulty" in resolving date rape allegations, "innocent until proven guilty" would be a good starting point. I suspect the university is about to learn a painful and expensive lesson on that topic. That $3million they are about to lose would have built a fine Women's Center, a Gay/Lesbian Front RecRoom, or something.


"The victim’s allegation was not sent to the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office for further investigation or indictment, and no criminal charges were filed against Doe, according to court documents. "

That little statement says buckets about A.B.'s veracity considering she stayed the night, left, then returned to the real victim's bed.

My guess? Drugs/alcohol with lowered inhibitions, then sex with morning after regret. [Had a few of the last, myself.]

Hopefully neither of them had one of those STD nasties.

July 12, 2011 at 1:49 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

This is a difficult case, and one's viewpoint might depend on whether you see your daughter in the place of the young woman, or your son in the place of the young man. It's not cut and dried. Admittedly, the pleading here (pdf file above) is only one side of the story, but it does give some insight into an all-too-common first-year scenario. Read items 46-50, pages 15-17, for the "facts" of the case from the young man's point of view. It's instructive reading for any 18-year-old, male or female, heading off to college.

The rest is about the procedural aspects of the university's compliance (or lack of compliance) with its own procedures and the doctrine of fundamental fairness. My sense is the university would have been smart to refund the young man's tuition, pro-rated, and encourage him to reapply after a year, rather than drive him away angry and in disgrace. My heart goes out to the young woman also, who was overwhelmed by new "freedoms" beyond her experience. The university probably will end up paying -- you're right, Rolando -- a large sum that could have benefited all the young men and women attending the university, perhaps educating them to be more prudent in their choices.

July 12, 2011 at 4:34 p.m.
rolando said...

Excellent thumbnailing, hcirehttae [that a hard login to type.]

It will depend on what the plaintiff's lawyer has to say...and the defense's answer. Interesting case. Hopefully the TFP will follow it through the preliminaries, at least.

July 12, 2011 at 6:43 p.m.
pizzaman2121 said...

lkiethlu, allegations of the U not following its own policies are all over the pdf. Did you read it?

July 13, 2011 at 1:14 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

Very nice post, hcirehttae...I agree totally.

July 13, 2011 at 2:41 p.m.
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