Tuesday, June 30, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday certified for publication a previous unpublished opinion which declares that a college freshman who was suspended even before classes commenced and brought an action to compel reinstatement is entitled to an award of attorney fees under the private attorney general statute.
Justice Kenneth Yegan of Div. Six wrote the opinion, filed June 9. The decision to order publication came at the request of attorneys Mark Hathaway and Jeanna Parker.
Although they did not represent the appellant, denominated “John Doe,” they specialize in cases of a like nature.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Anderle denied attorney fees following his dismissal of Doe’s action as moot. The University of California at Santa Barbara (“UCSB”), after completing its investigation, had found an allegation against Doe of dating-relationship violence to be baseless.
No Public Benefit
Anderle was of the view that the action was brought not to vindicate a public interest—only Doe’s personal interests—and therefore did not qualify for an award of attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure §1021.5, the private attorney general statute.
Disagreeing, Yegan said UCSB violated its own policies in conducting its investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits gender-based discrimination—including sexual violence—in federally funded educational institutions. He wrote:
“Doe’s action held the university accountable for its violation of these policies and enjoined an indefinite interim suspension issued in violation of those rules. The action enforced a student’s right to have the university comply with its own policies governing the time limits for resolving Title IX complaints and investigations. It confirmed the availability of injunctive relief to prohibit an interim suspension where the university unreasonably delays completion of a Title IX investigation, fails to consider less restrictive measures, and conceals critical evidence utilized in issuing the interim suspension order, all in violation of UCSB’s policies.”
“Doe’s action and the injunction he obtained will provide a significant benefit to a large group of people. The injunction should deter UCSB from violating its policies requiring prompt resolution of Title IX allegations, particularly where interim suspensions are issued. The deterrent effect of the injunction will benefit all students at UCSB, including those similarly situated to Doe, who will be assured that, once enrolled at a public university, they will not be unreasonably, arbitrarily, and indefinitely suspended in violation of the university’s own policies.”
The case is Doe v. Regents of the University of California, B293153.
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