College further argues for lawsuit dismissal

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • November 13, 2014

Lawyers for Emerson College and four administrators named in a civil lawsuit restated their arguments against the validity of the plaintiff’s case in a Nov. 10 filing. 

Jillian Doherty — a former student who alleges the school failed to take precautions against on-campus sexual assault and neglected to handle her rape case properly — filed the suit in August. In September, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, and in October, Doherty’s lawyer filed an opposition to that motion. Emerson was allowed to file a short reply to that opposition, which it did last week.

In this reply, submitted to the U.S. District Court in Springfield, the defendants reiterate and further support claims made in their motion to dismiss filed Sept. 29. It argues that the circumstances detailed in the lawsuit’s complaint do not meet legal standards, so the case should be dismissed in its entirety.

Doherty’s lawsuit claims violations of the federal gender equity law Title IX; violations of the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges to report campus crime information; and negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The defendants’ motion to dismiss points out that the Clery Act can only be enforced by the government—not through private lawsuits—and Doherty’s October opposition did not dispute this.

Emerson’s recent reply states that dismissal of Doherty’s Title IX claim is appropriate because the defendants’ actions were “not clearly unreasonable,” a legal standard that the filing argues would apply only if the school failed—or decided not—to respond after a sexual assault. Emerson argues that only the adequacy of its response to Doherty’s case is in question—not whether it responded at all—and “alleged inadequacies do not render Defendants’ response clearly unreasonable,” because that “the college has discretion on how it fulfills that duty.” 

Doherty’s lawyer, David P. Angueira of Swartz & Swartz, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Emerson’s reply also criticizes the plaintiff’s choice of legal precedents to support its case.

“The Opposition mistakenly relies on cases where a school decided not to investigate, adjudicate or otherwise remedy a sexual assault complaint — the opposite of how Emerson responded to Plaintiff’s complaint,” the reply states. “Emerson promptly responded in writing to Plaintiff’s complaint, formally investigated, held two disciplinary hearings, granted her appeal, and expelled the accused student.” 

The reply also argues that Emerson’s decision not to allow Doherty to study from home after her assault does not meet the necessary Title IX legal standard of “deliberate indifference.”

Emerson’s reply states that Doherty’s negligence claim is supported by a misinterpretation of a previous case where a student successfully sued her school for negligence in part because her college didn’t provide reasonable security measures. Emerson argues that in the previous case, the missing safety precautions made the assault “foreseeable”—which is necessary to a negligence claim—while in Doherty’s case, the college could not have foreseen that Doherty’s assailant “posed a risk of sexual assault to her.”

“Plaintiff’s assailant was not an intruder; he did not get access to campus or to Plaintiff by exploiting weaknesses in the campus security system,” the reply states. “Plaintiff and the assailant were both students at Emerson. They knew each other. The assailant invited Plaintiff to his dormitory room, and Plaintiff accepted the invitation.” 

The reply also denies liability for Doherty’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, arguing the plaintiff does not claim “extreme and outrageous misconduct” by the defendants in this lawsuit. 

“Lacking any such evidence,” the reply states, “her Opposition can only point to the misconduct of her assailant, a fellow student.”