Appeals Court Lifts Injunction Blocking Suspension in Sexual Assault Case

November 22, 2019

A federal appeals court, acting on an expedited basis, on Wednesday overturned a lower court judge's injunction that blocked Boston College from suspending a student who had been found by a campus judicial process to have sexually assaulted a fellow student.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit concluded that an August ruling by a federal judge had misinterpreted Massachusetts law as it now stands, instead "attempting to base its ruling on a prediction of future developments in Massachusetts contract law." The lower court judge imposed a temporary injunction blocking the college's yearlong suspension of the student, referred to as John Doe, on the grounds that he was likely to win his lawsuit. The judge asserted that Doe should have had a chance to confront his accuser, citing a First Circuit ruling under federal law in a case involving a University of Massachusetts student.

The judge erred in several ways, the First Circuit panel ruled Wednesday, most notably in asserting that "basic fairness" requires a "real-time process at which both of the respective parties are present and have the opportunity to suggest questions." There is no such requirement under Massachusetts law, the appeals court concluded, sending the case back to the lower court judge for further proceedings.

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