Sewanee rape case lawsuit heads to trial

Sewanee rape case lawsuit heads to trial

July 12th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Document: Civil Complaint

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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.