A U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday that a former Yale University student can pursue a defamation lawsuit against a fellow former student who accused him of rape.
The ruling, by a three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, follows an earlier district court decision to dismiss the defamation suit on the grounds that the accuser’s claims were protected by “quasi-judicial immunity.”
The defendant, Saifullah Khan, was acquitted in 2018 of raping Jane Doe, as the plaintiff is known in the lawsuit. But Yale held a separate disciplinary hearing that found him responsible for the assault and expelled him.
In 2019, Khan sued Yale and Doe for conducting a “sham” hearing. Doe’s lawyer argued that she had absolute immunity from litigation because the hearing in which she made her case was “quasi-judicial.”
After the district court threw out the case, Khan appealed, arguing that the Yale hearing was not, in fact, quasi-judicial and therefore Doe should not be granted immunity.
Finding no binding state law dictating whether judicial immunity applies to hearings at nongovernmental institutions like Yale, the appeals court asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to weigh in. The members of the state’s highest court ruled unanimously that the proceedings at Yale did not qualify as quasi-judicial since they lacked sufficient safeguards for the respondent.
According to Wednesday’s appeals court ruling, “absolute immunity does not apply in this case because Yale’s disciplinary hearing was not a quasi-judicial proceeding in that it lacked procedural safeguards—e.g., an oath requirement, cross-examination, the ability to call witnesses, meaningful assistance of counsel, an adequate record for appeal—associated with judicial proceedings.”
“We’re delighted by the ruling and looking forward to holding Yale accountable for the harm it did to this extraordinary young man,” Norman Pattis, a lawyer for Khan, told Reuters in an email.